West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the tag “Pembrokeshire”

Children Must Have Free School Transport if Walking Route is Dangerous

News: Pembrokeshire County Council to pay for transport if walking to school is unsafe

Children faced with unsafe walks to and from school should be offered free transport, even if they do not normally qualify on grounds of long distance, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet decided on Monday March 9th.

There is no budget for this, so the annual cost of around £121,000 would have to come from the contingency fund.

Children aged 5 to 7 qualify for free transport if they live more than two miles from their nearest school, as do children from 8 to 16 who live further than three miles away.

The county council has relied on commercial bus services to carry school pupils who live nearer than the qualifying distances for free transport. The Cabinet’s hand was to some extent forced by a proposed charge of £1 each way from September 2020 for pupils travelling on the 302 bus service from Johnston to the senior school in Milford Haven. The charge would amount to £10 a week per child. The current concessionary arrangements end in September, and parents, Johnston Community Council and local county councillors raised the issue of the proposed cost, which would hit the budgets of many families.

Johnston is a long village, mostly between three and four miles from Milford Haven, and so in the free transport zone. But the part of Johnston nearest to Milford is just under three miles distant along the busy A4076 main road.

An unsafe route along a main road is one without a continuous pavement or a verge as a ‘step aside’ from traffic, and even if there is a ‘step aside’, if the road must be crossed, and it is too busy to cross without danger, it is unsafe .

The Welsh Government ’s ‘Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance’,* dated 2014, makes clear that the walking route to the nearest school must be ‘safe’. There is a guide to determining the safety of a walking route in ‘Assessment of Walked Routes to School’ by Road Safety GB and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published in 2012 and updated 2016.

Chart from guidance in ‘Assessment of Walked Routes to School’, by Road Safety GB and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Education authorities must provide free transport for pupils to reach their nearest school if the route is unsafe, even if the children do not qualify on grounds of distance from the school.

If a route is unsafe to walk, the presence of a commercial bus service is immaterial.

Cars and lorries are dangerous companions for children walking to school, and arguably a factor which should be taken more into account when an education authority decides to close a school, or indeed to open a new one.

The fact that the costs of providing transport are often excluded from education budgets, but fall into another department like transport or highways, means that transport may not be given sufficient importance when education decisions are made.


*See especially sections 1.62 and 1.63.




News: Open Week is Chance to See One Planet Development in Action

In the week starting Monday July 22nd 2019, to Sunday July 28th, a selection of One Planet Developments in Wales will open up to visitors.

In 2018 a similar Open Week familiarised members of the public with One Planet Development, a policy of the Welsh Government.  Although a decade old, the policy still draws criticism from some as a back-door way of building a new home in the countryside.

One Planet Developments (OPDs) are smallholdings from which the occupants have to draw at least 65% of their basic household needs. The policy, explained in One Wales: One Planet – the sustainable development scheme of the Welsh Government, published in 2009, superseded the earlier and even more stringent Policy 52 of Pembrokeshire County Council and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  The nine smallholdings in the televised Lammas eco village at Tir y Gafel, Glandŵr, Pembrokeshire, were given permission under Policy 52.

By late May 2019, Wales had more than 40 smallholdings given planning permission under either Policy 52 or One Planet Development.  The majority are in Pembrokeshire, with rising numbers in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire and a scattering elsewhere in Wales.

One Planet Developments like this one in Pembrokeshire benefit biodiversity and generally improve the soil, so that fertility increases year on year. 

Pembrokeshire’s Cllr Huw George called in April[i] for a halt to new One Planet permissions, so that Welsh Government can properly monitor and assess whether the smallholdings are being managed fully in accordance with the requirements of the policy. He felt it unfair that applicants could receive permission for eco homes but farmers could not build homes for their children.

This view is not uncommon. The policy was introduced not to spite farmers but to assist Wales’ transition to a One Planet world. The Welsh Government decided that current levels of resource use and the consequent environmental damage are unsustainable given that there is only one Earth and not multiple others. One Planet Developments are off-grid, produce their own energy and much of their own food, and organise their own water supply and drainage. Vehicle use is restricted. Buildings are constructed of local renewable materials. Running a One Planet venture is hard work, the outputs and inputs have to be carefully recorded and sent off to the local planning authority for annual monitoring.

Monitoring, the concern raised by Cllr George, is difficult for local authorities which have been forced by funding shortfalls to cut services every year since 2010. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned in September 2016 that departmental expenditure limits in Wales in 2019-20 would be 11.6% lower than in 2010-11. The monitoring of One Planet Developments is a task that did not exist in 2010, and as the number of permissions rises, will become more onerous. Between 2010 and 2020 councils in England and Wales will have lost almost 60p in every £1 previously received from the Westminster government, leaving them increasingly reliant on council tax, business rates, and grants from anywhere and everywhere, as well as monies that councils raise themselves from rents, charges, interest and dividends. So Cllr George has a point – when planning departments have less money, how can they monitor growing numbers of OPDs?

This is just one of the difficulties associated with the policy. In theory, if occupants fail to produce 65% of their basic needs from the land, or otherwise contravene the conditions of their permission, that permission can be withdrawn and they would have to leave. This is a harsh outcome if the failures are due to factors beyond their control, such as terrible weather, flood or drought, illness or accident, or advancing old age, and indicates that the policy still needs several tweaks.

Two more OPDs received permission from Pembrokeshire County Council on May 21st. Both are in the area of Mynachlog-ddu Community Council, which objected to both.  Hywel Vaughan, chair of the community council, was critical of the planning officer’s recommendation to approve the ventures, and he wrote about the second: “Although it is difficult to oppose the application because several specialists representing different organisations support the application, residents of the community are worried about the adverse damage this development will have on the area’s beauty.”

Cllr David Howlett said “the policy is being used to plonk properties in rural areas”, and Cllr Michael Williams called the policy “fundamentally flawed”.  Despite these reservations, one application was approved unanimously and the other by a majority of eight to one.

The first application approved, 18/0934/PA, is on 2.7 hectares (almost 7 acres) at Parc y Dderwen, formerly part of Pencraig Farm, Llangolman, for Lauren Simpson’s and Phil Moore’s fermented foods enterprise. Launched in 2018, the business already supplies 16 shops with foods including sauerkrauts, pickles and kimchi. Michael Ritchie of Bryngolman Farm, Llangolman, representing “a number of objectors”, said the business was already established, so there was no need to live on the land. The proposed site for the house was on top of a ridge, he said, and other buildings were too large and strung out over the site with “all the visual appeal of an urban allotment”. “It’s an elaborate attempt to get a smallholding on the cheap,” he said. But the objection did not succeed.

Parc y Dderwen will include an orchard, market garden, polytunnel, workshop and cold store, with bees, poultry, new woodland, hedgerows and ponds contributing to biodiversity. The house would be a design by Mark Waghorn[ii] of Llandeilo, who specialises in One Planet, ultra-low-impact structures.

Lauren Simpson and Phil Moore have both worked for the Ecological Land Co-operative[iii]. This co-op provides land for smallholdings in England, where demand is high but there is no similar policy to One Planet Development.

The second application approved, 18/1126/PA, by Rory Horton and Etta Happe, was for Baradwys, formerly known as Rhosfach, a larger area of 9 hectares (22 acres) near Llangolman. The original idea for a herd of alpacas was broadened to include Angora rabbits when part of the land was revealed as a habitat for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This habitat will be managed in co-operation with Natural Resources Wales and cannot be fully utilised for alpacas. Angora rabbits need less space than alpacas and also provide quality fibres for natural textiles.

The land will accommodate two polytunnels, a caravan until a permanent home is built, a barn, studio, and agricultural buildings including one for the rabbits and two field shelters for alpacas.

These two enterprises are in their very early stages, but for people keen to visit established OPDs, the Open Week will be a good opportunity. More information about the Open Week, organised through the One Planet Council, will be available before July 22nd.

The One Planet Council / Cyngor Un Blaned, representing enterprises established under the policy, has an informative website at http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/ and a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/oneplanetcouncil/.



[i] ‘Put a stop to eco-homes being built, says councillor’, BBC News online, April 29th 2019.

[ii] https://www.mwd.wales/studio

[iii] Ecological Land Cooperative: Our Team https://ecologicalland.coop/contact .

Scolton Manor — Mutating into a Money Pit?

Update 1

Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet did not make a decision when they met on November 30th. Instead, members asked the Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider what to do, and to report back. So the dilemma,whether to pay a higher rent for Scolton Manor, try to buy it, or lose it, continues.

County council’s financial headache

The benefit of paying a low rent for years has mutated into a painful headache for Pembrokeshire County Council.

The county museum, at Scolton Manor outside Haverfordwest, belongs to the Welsh Church Fund (WCF), which seeks a much higher rent or plans to put the property on the market.


Losing the use of Scolton Manor would cost Pembrokeshire County Council over £555,500

The county council is reported* to pay an annual rent of £13,875 — £1,156 a month — to WCF for the manor and the surrounding 60 acres of country park, together valued at £2.182 million in 2007. The council bears the costs of maintenance, but does not seem to have been over-generous in this regard. Visitors see buildings which are in fair but far from fantastic repair, and grounds suffering from an insufficiency of gardeners — both factors which affect the capital value of the property. So as well as receiving a small rent, WCF has the worry that parsimonious maintenance may be making the property less attractive to buyers.

WCF seeks to secure a big increase in the rent, possibly to around £90,000 a year — or to sell the property, the only one it owns.

Outside buyer for Scolton would cost county council hundreds of thousands of £s

And if the county council were not the buyer, rather a lot of grants would have to be repaid. The European Union provided over £350,000 for restoration of the walled garden, which is in progress. Pembrokeshire Beekeepers Association are four years into a ten-year lease, and have been awarded grants of £50,000 for their activities at Scolton. Sport Wales is also a grant provider, for keep fit exercise trails. In total, clawback of grants would cost the county council more than £555,500.


Scolton Manor’s walled garden (dressed for Halloween): received large grant

The slightly down-at-heel ambiance at Scolton does suit the house displays quite well, conveying a sense of what it might have been like to live in a modest gentry house where the occupants were not inclined to flash the cash, probably because they could not afford to do so. The homely atmosphere continues in the cafe, which was short-staffed when we visited, resulting in a long wait and making do without the right cutlery (my husband had to eat his lunch with a teaspoon).


Room display in Scolton Manor, for which Pembrokeshire County Council pays a low rent 

If the county council loses the right to occupy Scolton, bang goes the museum and the country park, unless other premises can be found — and that would cost even more money, over and above the Scolton-specific grants that would have to be repaid.

As for the WCF, its remit is to provide grants to places of worship and other community venues, but the low rent paid by Pembrokeshire for Scolton, and lower returns than hitherto on financial investments, restrict the amounts which can be distributed. Each of the former Dyfed authorities is entitled to receive a fixed percentage of the distributions — Ceredigion 25%, Carmarthenshire 41% and Pembrokeshire 34%, but a fixed percentage of not very much is even less. Realising the value of Scolton Manor, or even receiving a far higher rent for it, would let WCF make more generous grants.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet is expected to discuss  the dilemma on Monday, November 30th.

* Western Telegraph, November 25th 2015, ‘Pembrokeshire County Council recommended to buy Scolton Manor or face substantial rent increase or demand for return of grants’. More detail in the report to be considered by the council’s cabinet.


Pembrokeshire Mistake Gives Public More Time to Campaign Against Schools Change

Council forgot it does not own school 

Inept administration in Pembrokeshire might in the end result in parents and students getting what they want – a choice of post-16 education in Haverfordwest.

The county council forgot it did not own Tasker Milward, a Church in Wales Voluntary Controlled comprehensive school it wanted to close, and forgot to discuss its proposals with the owners, the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity, thereby wasting two years of council planning and giving parents and students new hope that their wishes will not be overruled.

Cllr Jacob Williams (Ind, East Williamston), on his highly readable blog, tracks two years of deliberations over complex, linked proposals which in the most recent incarnation were to

  • Close Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton comprehensive schools in Haverfordwest
  • Close Ysgol Glan Cleddau primary school in Haverfordwest
  • Open a 3-16 Welsh-medium school on the Tasker Milward site
  • Provide for 16+ Welsh-medium education at Ysgol y Preseli, 24 miles distant
  • Open an English-medium 11-16 school on the Sir Thomas Picton site
  • Move all 16+ English-medium education to the Pembrokeshire College campus in Haverfordwest

Parents and pupils have strongly opposed the plan to axe 16+ education in the schools, and Cllr Williams pointed out at yesterday’s council meeting that although the option to attend Pembrokeshire College at 16 already exists, the majority of young people choose to remain at school.

Maurice Hughes, chair of the trustees of the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity, had written to the county council stating that the trustees cannot agree to the use of the charity’s assets for the fulfilment of the local authority’s statutory obligations, or for the benefit of people outside Haverfordwest (which the reorganisation plan would involve). The charity’s remit is for education solely within Haverfordwest, he pointed out.

The negotiations which the charity trustees are insisting upon mean that the whole proposal is back to square one, no further forward  than in November 2013 – although an indirect part of the same plan, creating more post-16 places at Pembrokeshire College’s Pembroke campus, a dozen miles from Haverfordwest, is already under way! The extra places would be needed so  that more students could be diverted there from the college’s Haverfordwest site, to make room for the post-16s who would have no option but to attend, if the successor schools to Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton catered only for pupils aged 11-16.

Protest led to change for St Davids

Families in Haverfordwest became even more annoyed about their impending loss of choice when proposals for a similar ‘rationalisation’ in and around St Davids were amended following intervention by Cllr David Lloyd (Ind, St Davids), to allow both the comprehensives scheduled for closure, Ysgol Dewi Sant, St Davids, and Ysgol Bro Gwaun, Fishguard, to remain open for pupils aged 11-16.  The county council also intended to close Solva primary school, but a determined campaign by parents led to a rethink, and the current plan is to maintain Solva’s school as a campus of a new Church in Wales Voluntary Aided school for pupils aged 3-16, also encompassing the Dewi Sant and Bro Gwaun campuses.

Now, the restarting of consultations over school reorganisation in Haverfordwest gives that community longer to ratchet up their opposition and to persuade the county council to rethink.

Complicated cost-benefit sums

All the planned changes are, of course, responses to cost pressures whereby it seems cheaper to centralise education on a very few sites, and force pupils to travel. Even if you were looking just at the economics, they are not straightforward. A new school can be substantially more energy-efficient than a 1960s quick-build, for example, but you have to do calculations to work out if the premises savings are outweighed by the transport costs – and what about climate-changing emissions from the transport, let alone the waste of time for pupils?

At least in Pembrokeshire, when county councillors make a fuss on behalf of the communities they represent, changes of plan are possible.  Next door in Carmarthenshire, a huge effort by the people in and around Llandovery to keep open their comprehensive, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, was met only with a refusal to listen to them, and a determination to stick to the original plan, come what may.


Toilets Flushed Away to Detriment of Public’s Convenience

UPDATE September 6th: Pembrokeshire Tops the Toilets Table 

Pembrokeshire’s ‘Public Toilets’ page may be blank, but my attention has been drawn to another page on their website, headed ‘Public Convenience Cleansing‘. This page reports that since August 1st 2014 the maintenance and cleaning of the county’s 73 public toilets has been outsourced to Danfo UK Ltd. Seventy-three is a good number — certainly compared with Carmarthenshire’s 28 — and 52 of them cater for disabled persons. No less than 26 are open 24 hours in summer, and 16 have 24-hour opening throughout the year, again far better than in Carmarthenshire — also a centre for tourism — where only one place, Whitland, is listed as having 24-hour toilets. Whitland is close to the county boundary, so maybe the Pembrokeshire influence has crept over.

Llansawel's convenient toilets, handily signposted

Llansawel’s convenient toilets, handily signposted

Local authorities do not have to provide public toilets. No one has to supply toilets for the public, except I think the operators of motorway services, although businesses need to do so for their employees. Numbers of public toilets are in steep decline: a House of Commons Library note* in 2010 recorded that in England alone in 2000 there were more than 6,600, but in 2005 only 5,084 in England and Wales combined.

Imagine West Wales without any public toilets. After Pont Abraham at the end of the M4 we don’t even have any motorway service areas, as there are no motorways. Elderly folk, and parents with small children, would probably have to stay home a lot more, or gamble on the chance of finding a convenient deserted wood. The Wales Government has made a gesture towards toilets in the Public Health Wales Bill 2015, which requires local authorities to publish a public toilets strategy – but a strategy is not actual provision.

Ceredigion County Council has more toilets than Carmarthenshire but fewer than Pembrokeshire. Ceredigion publishes a list of 39 locations, 14 of which are open 24 hours all year. In addition, 13 businesses in the county have joined in a Wales Government scheme — initially but not now funded by the government – for businesses to make toilets accessible to the public. They range from The Talbot in Tregaron, via Siop y Ffrydiau in Cenarth, to The Guildhall in Cardigan.

As for Pembrokeshire, until alerted to ‘Public Convenience Cleansing’ (see Update, above), I was unable to find any information about public toilets on their website. There is a public toilets page – but it is blank.

In Carmarthenshire, only one of the 28 toilets is listed as open 24 hours, in West Street, Whitland, run by the town council. The county council list says it is free, but according to the town council it costs 20p. Many of the other toilets have restricted opening, so if you are going on a trip, as well as finding out where the toilets are, you also have to investigate the opening hours. No point relying on the facilities in Ammanford’s Co-op car park after 5pm, because that’s when they shut, according to the county council’s list.

Unless you have an amazing memory, it’s probably a good idea to take the list with you. You don’t want to be in need of a toilet in Glanamman after 2pm, or any time at weekends, or in Kidwelly after 5pm, or in Llanddowror between noon on Friday and noon on Monday.

The British Toilet Association points out that a “lack of adequate toilet facilities can also impact on an individual’s physical and mental health, as well as affecting the wider environmental health of the population”, and our ageing population surely requires more toilets than in previous decades. There’s a huge disparity between the modern house with at least two, and often three toilets, and the world outside with hardly any.

I’m glad to say that here in Llansawel  — photo above — we do have public toilets, free, in the village hall car park – a boon for people visiting the play park and riverside walk and picnic area. They are signposted, too!


*House of Commons Library Note number SN/SC/976, Public Conveniences, by Louise Smith, 2010

More for Me, Less for You

Jumping Out of an Underfunded Pension Scheme

Interesting arithmetic in Jacob Williams’ run-down of illegal (as judged by the Wales Audit Office) in-lieu-of-pension payments for the most highly paid officers in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire county councils. In both authorities, the chief executives opted out of the local government pension scheme and received ‘pay supplements’ to compensate them for losing the benefit of employer’s pension contributions.

In Pembrokeshire — but not stated to be so in Carmarthenshire — the ‘pay supplement’ for the chief executive, Mr Bryn Parry-Jones, amounted to 14.7% on top of his salary, made up of 12% to replace the employer’s contributions that would have been paid into the pension scheme for his own future benefit, and 2.7% that was supposed to go into the pension scheme as a whole, to help meet the costs of scheme management and to restrict future deficits.

Thus a payment of 2.7% of the chief executive’s salary went directly to him, rather than into the pension fund for the benefit of all members. The Wales Audit Office report says (paragraph 55) that “there would be some additional cost to the Council, as a future actuarial assessment would be based on fund assets that had not received the additional contributions”.

One of the main excuses for the ‘pay supplement scheme’ was that it would not cost the council a penny extra, but as applied in Pembrokeshire it diverted much-needed money away from the fund, the Dyfed Superannuation Scheme.  This scheme, which is administered by Carmarthenshire County Council,  had 38,341 members as at March 31st 2012 — 17,569 making contributions, 11,365 with deferred pensions, and just 9,407 receiving pensions. The pension fund was not looking too healthy when the chief executives of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, and another unnamed officer in Pembrokeshire, were walking away. At March 31st 2013 the present values of  its liabilities were £492.63 million, but the fair value of its assets was just £369.15 million, according to figures published in Pembrokeshire County Council’s financial statements for 2012-13. Many thousands of past, present and future local government employees will rely on this fund for a reasonable standard of living in retirement.

The fund will need to receive substantial excesses of inflows and investment gains over pension payments out during the next several years. Given the heavy pressure on local authorities to cut spending and say goodbye to staff, and the end of rapid economic growth, from whom are those financial inflows to come? The problem is not unique to Dyfed — local government pension funds all over the UK face similar pressures.

Pat Dodd Racher

How to Save Family Farms for the Future: COCA Shows the Way

Caerhys Organic Community Agriculture (COCA): members have this spectacular view of the Pembrokeshire coast from the vegetable field.

CSA? Community Supported Agriculture? What does it mean exactly? I have a much clearer idea after attending Wales’s first ‘Community Supported Agriculture Gathering’ in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, and the most important message for me was the importance of having an experienced farmer at the heart of a CSA project.

In the case of St Davids, they are the Miles family, notably farmer Gerald and his wife Ann, and their son Caz, at Caerhys just half a mile from the North Pembrokeshire coast at Berea.

The Miles family at Caerhys have diversified into beef, pigs, B&B, liveries, and now vegetables.

In the upside-down world we live in, where people who kick balls into nets and tap balls into holes in the ground can receive annual incomes with five or six noughts after the £ sign, family farm businesses are near the bottom of the scale and are fortunate if they make a living from their land. But while we can live without golf or soccer tournaments, without food we can’t do anything. The Miles family farm is 160 acres and used to produce milk, but falling milk prices led to the sale of the dairy herd in 2003. The farm had become organic in 1998, and the Mileses diversified into a Welsh Black beef suckler herd, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, horse and pony liveries, and bed and breakfast.

Despite these ventures, the farm income was not sufficient to support Caz, although for Gerald and Ann their aim is to pass the farm from one generation to the next. This continuity strengthens rural communities and helps to maintain the social fabric.

A shelter fence encloses a seedling area — and the scarecrow’s hood doubles as a pocket for the weekly ‘to do’ list for the plot.

And then along came COCA, Caerhys Organic Community Agriculture. COCA dates from March 2010, when a small group of local people came up with a plan to bring more business to the farm and at the same time to supply local households with fresh vegetables.

The first crops were planted in June 2010, on two acres in a gently sloping field facing the ocean. By 2012, 40 households were receiving vegetables weekly. The target is for 70 member households by the end of 2012. This number, says COCA, should be enough for financial sustainability, including a regular wage for Caz.

The core group of 12, including Gerald and Caz, could not have made as much progress without grants from several organisations, more than £12,000 between June 2010 and March 2012, as follows:

  • £1,000 to launch the project, from St Davids Eco City, June 2010.
  • £500 for seeds, from Co-operative Bank, October 2010.
  • £2,100 for a polytunnel, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, February 2011.
  • £2,500 to pay a membership recruitment officer, one day a week for six months, from TYF Adventure’s 1% Fund, March 2011.
  • £995 for a muck spreader and roller, Co-operative Bank, April 2011.
  • £1,000 for wages for a professional grower, St Davids Eco City, May 2011.
  • £500 for a caravan to accommodate a volunteer worker, St Davids Eco City, December 2011.
  • £3,424 for tools, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, March 2012.

Grant-funded polytunnel, growing tomatoes and cucumbers. COCA hopes to add two more.

In addition, Pembrokeshire Local Action Network for Enterprise and Development (PLANED), Organic Centre Wales, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens have all backed COCA with help and advice. The scheme members have dug into their own pockets, and work as volunteers, in addition to paying an annual subscription, £24 for 2012, and £40 a month by standing order for a full share of vegetables, for a family, or £20 for a half share, suitable for one or two people. A family buying a full share would spend £504 for the year, which works out at £9.69 a week.

This sturdy farm building is COCA’s ‘share shed’, where the produce is distributed.

The quantities, as well as the range, vary according to weather and season. The cold wet ‘summer’ of 2012 has delayed plant growth and made harvesting difficult.

This was a full share for the week starting May 4th, before the Jet Stream shifted south and abolished summer.

  • 2kg potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 560g carrots
  • 170g radishes
  • 2 leeks
  • 40g stir-fry mustard greens
  • 110g purple sprouting broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Bag of lettuce
  • Bag of rocket
  • Beetroot
  • Spinach

The heavy toll from the dreadful weather is clear from the much smaller share on July 6th:

  • 1kg potatoes
  • 600g carrots (bought in)
  • 150g carrots (home grown)
  • 500g onions (bought in)
  • Mangetout

By paying the same amount every month, members are providing COCA with a stable income, which is essential to meet the continuing costs of production.

Raspberries by the polytunnel. As well as soft fruit like this, COCA is planting fruit trees.

Organic produce is more ‘expensive’ than produce grown with synthetic fertilisers and other agrochemicals including pesticides, because the chemical products are artificially cheap — they do not factor in the cost of using irreplaceable fossil fuels, or of poisoning  the environment. The synthetics replace human skill (in using crop rotations to build soil fertility, for example) and effort (hours of weeding!).

COCA still faces challenges – to gather a minimum of another 30 members, to engage new members in volunteering on the farm, to raise funds for two more polytunnels, and to maintain enthusiasm over the long term — but in the less than two-and-a-half years since the idea was floated, a huge amount has been achieved. I don’t think the COCA model can be copied exactly, because every location and every community are different, but reckon COCA shows the value of the community working with one or more family farms, and not in competition against them. The farmers bring machinery, buildings, years of experience and detailed knowledge of the land. The community can create a stronger local market, resulting in an income stream that can protect the farm business.

Gill Lewis, of the COCA core group, with newly lifted garlic which is drying under cover. Another core group member, Rupert Dunn, organised the Community Supported Agriculture Gathering, held on July 14th 2012. 

It was quite a coincidence, but in The Archers today, on Radio 4, farmer David Archer ended the episode saying “I remember dad saying to me once…. ‘It’s family farms that make a nation strong’…. It’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?”

Patricia Dodd Racher, July 16th 2012

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