How do we feed ourselves?

How do we feed ourselves?

The food and farming sector is different from every other sector because it’s vital for our survival. We need food for our health, continued life, and continued participation in our communities.

How can we take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, making healthy local food accessible to all and good for the planet? (Pic: Pixabay)

Food can be a powerful force for good, reconnecting us with our natural world, with our local places, and with each other, and making us more resilient, as people and communities.

Food resilience has become ever more critical in the face of multiple threats, from the increasing cost of food and energy to growing global instability.

How can we take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, making healthy local food accessible to all and good for the planet?

In 1984, Britain produced enough food to feed itself for 306 days of the year. By 2021, the country only produced enough to feed itself for 233 days.

In terms of meat, Wales produces mostly beef and lamb but eats mostly pork and chicken. Only 0.1% of our land is used to grow fruit and vegetables, producing 19,551 tonnes a year. That’s enough to give 3.5% of the population their five a day!

The war in Ukraine has made us even more aware of our reliance on imports for up to 40% of our food. Before the war, Ukraine was producing 12% of the world’s wheat and 46% of its sunflower oil. Russia is also a major producer of wheat and seed oils.

So what can we do?

In Wales about 400,000 tonnes of food are wasted each year. If only 1% of that is edible it would be enough to contribute to over nine million meals! Thankfully there are groups ensuring some of this food goes where it’s needed. FairShare Cymru distributes surplus food to organisations working to address poverty. Swansea Community Fridge provides surplus food to all on a take what you need pay what you can basis.

Sometimes farmers and growers have no choice but to leave some crops unharvested. The food gets left in the fields or is ploughed back in the soil. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as unpredictable weather reducing demand, overproduction, and because crops don’t meet the cosmetic specifications required by retailers.

FairShare Cymru are looking at working with growers on a gleaning project. This would involve teams of volunteers salvaging fresh, nutritious food from farms and directing it to organisations such as homeless hostels and charities. Similar schemes in England have already salvaged tonnes of excellent but unharvested produce, including apples, cabbages, cauliflowers, spring greens and kale.

But we can also grow a lot more food!

Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principals in farming. We should be driving increased production of, and demand for, sustainably and regionally produced, nutritious, culturally appropriate foods as part of a green economic recovery.

In a world of increasing urbanisation, producing food in and around cities has the potential to improve nutritional and health outcomes, alleviate poverty, provide habitat for wildlife, create sustainable cities, and reduce food miles and transportation costs.

Not that long ago, market gardens were providing most towns and cities with a flow of fresh produce, so it makes sense to revive and improve upon this model. There are exciting opportunities to use the peri-urban fringe (land adjacent to urban settlements) to provide more agroecologically produced food and to connect urban and rural economies through food growing.

Research has found converting just 1.4% of land growing cereals and grassland around London to vegetables could produce an additional 1.3 million kilos of food for communities.

And peri-urban farming would provide a lot of additional social, economic and ecological benefits. It would generate goods and services that support community wealth building, provide jobs and training, give people access to green space and outdoor learning at the edge of built up cities, and support community development through community owned resources, events and volunteering.

Carbon capture and storage, above and below ground, through farming approaches that work with natural cycles would in effect create ‘carbon sinks’ surrounding urban space and would benefit natural capital assets such as flood risk adaptation.

We’ve said before that trees are great and we want to see more of them. However, there is a danger that corporations are ‘pricing out’ farmers by buying up land for tree planting. So how can we address this?

Agroforestry is a great example of agroecology. It means combining trees and farming and demonstrates how food production and nature can co-exist. Grazing farm animals under trees gives them shelter and food, while their manure enriches the soil. And planting trees on land normally used to grow cereal crops means you can provide another crop, such as fruit, nuts or timber. This provides another income stream for farmers and also protects soils from erosion, because the trees’ deep roots help create a healthy soil structure.

And what about within our towns and cities themselves?

Currently only 1% of urban green space is used for allotments, but research shows urban and under utilised green spaces could produce nearly 40% of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetables!

A recent study found ‘citizen scientists’ in Brighton and Hove, who were growing fruit and vegetables on their allotments, gardens and balconies, were able to harvest a kilo of fruit and vegetables per square metre in a season. This puts their yields within the range of conventional farms! And some people were harvesting up to 10 kilos per square metre. This is just from insect pollinated crops, so it’s probably an underestimate.

The urban growers were each able to grow an average of £550 worth of produce between March and October. £380 worth of this was from insect pollinated produce, such as squash, courgettes, blackberries, tomatoes, apples and beans, weighing an average of 70 kilos. Berries were the most attractive crop to pollinators. Growers used less pesticides than conventional farming techniques, using them in under 10% of pest cases. If you’re wondering, the most common pests were slugs, snails and aphids, and the worst affected produce was soft fruit and beans.

Urban and peri-urban farming can further be supported by removing the current 5 hectare eligibility criteria for farming support. This would make it easier for small growers to produce sustainably grown nutritious local food.

We need to take action to transform food and farming in South West Wales, so that healthy local food is accessible to all and good for the planet. We believe food can be a powerful force for good. It can reconnect us with our natural world, our local places, and with each other, and make us more resilient, as people and communities.

On behalf of Swansea Council, 4theRegion is convening a Green Recovery Conference & Exhibition on June 16th to showcase the businesses, projects and organisations who are leading the city’s green recovery. Food will be a big part of that! You can register for free here, and if you’d like to be involved, please contact zoe@4theRegion.org.uk

Everybody’s Business

Everybody’s Business

At 4theRegion we want to ensure South West Wales is a welcoming and safe region where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and progress fulfilling careers. Building cohesive communities is about developing neighbourhoods, social spaces and workplaces where difference is welcomed and celebrated. This involves moving beyond narratives of ‘us’ and ‘them’ towards a greater sense of trust and a shared sense of belonging.

How can businesses play a role in supporting cohesive communities? (Pic: fauxels)

Building a more cohesive society is everybody’s business. We are all part of the social fabric, the strength of which can be an important influence on our wellbeing as communities and individuals. We all have a responsibility to build and maintain the relationships, connections and understandings which make up that social fabric. Cohesion is a shared objective, in which every person, community and organisation has a role to play.

So how can we support social cohesion?

A new report from Belong looks at just that! Everybody’s Business, produced in conjunction with the Intercultural Cities Network, sets out how businesses can play a role in supporting cohesive communities, and how local authorities can support them in doing this. The report draws its findings from a series of roundtable conversations with local authorities and businesses in a number of towns and cities across the UK, including Swansea.

Belong use the term ‘social cohesion’ to describe how well people from different backgrounds mix, interact and get along with each other. Those differences can be ethnicity, faith, social class, age, gender, sexuality, or a range of other differences that might potentially divide us.

There’s lots of potential to support community cohesion within a business! Research shows that workplaces can provide the opportunity for people from different backgrounds to connect in a way that leads to more positive attitudes towards diversity and higher levels of social cohesion. If you work in a diverse workplace you’re more likely to have friends from different backgrounds, although your interactions will need to be more than passing for the effects to extend beyond the workplace.

By their very nature, some businesses represent vital social infrastructure providing opportunities for people to meet and mix across different boundaries. And the experience of the pandemic has made clear the vital importance of these shared spaces! As ‘third places’, other than home and work, they provide a venue where members of the community can interact with one another informally, and where collective space can be provided for community initiatives such as charitable fundraising.

So how can you as a business help maximise the positive impact you have?

First and foremost, recruiting a workforce which fully reflects the diversity of local communities, across all functions and levels of seniority, is necessary for any business that wants to support social cohesion.

As a business, you can promote an inclusive culture through cohesion aware management. This means creating a climate of openness and trust, ensuring demographic attributes (ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc) do not overlap with functional roles and supporting meaningful interactions between people of all backgrounds across the workforce, are key elements of workplaces that support cohesion.

You can enable minorities and diverse groups to lead innovation. Ensuring that innovation is led by diverse teams and people from under represented groups enables better understanding of the needs of communities and increases awareness of market and product opportunities that might otherwise be missed.

You can invest in social infrastructure in the local community. What can you do to support welcoming, inclusive community spaces? This could be in the course of your everyday operations or, for example, through the innovative use of your commercial property.

Businesses can also deliver added social value by supporting community organisations and initiatives which build cohesive communities.

You can do this by partnering with a local community group or charity. Imagine if more businesses were regularly twinned with a local community group or charity as part of an ongoing relationship? This could involve sponsorship or support in kind, and would help deepen the connections between a business and the community around it.

You can provide direct support through employee volunteering. You can enable more employee volunteering which aids charities, community groups and hubs supporting community life and bringing people together. This helps to connect employees to the community and to people from different backgrounds.

You can localise your supply chain. By applying the ‘think local’ principle to as much of their supply chain as possible, businesses can extend more opportunities to the local community, and help to strengthen the networks of social and economic ties that can support cohesive communities.

And, wherever possible, you should evaluate the impact of work that you’re doing to support social cohesion.

It’s great to see the report citing our members Gower Gas and Oil as example of what businesses in the region are already doing! The heating services company has led a variety of initiatives to address social isolation. The #DontDanceAlone social media campaign, in partnership with The Wave and Swansea Sound, has raised awareness of isolation amongst older people and helped raise money for older people’s charities. Gower Gas and Oil also help coordinate the Gower Isolation Support Group, which helps ensure that isolated older people are visited regularly, with a view to ensuring positive social and health outcomes, which was particularly important during lockdown.

And what can local authorities do to support businesses to do all this? The report says they can provide leadership by being clear about how businesses can support local cohesion objectives and playing a coordinating role in helping them do so. They can incentivise businesses to act through highlighting cohesion outcomes in their approach to procurement and social value, and by recognising businesses that do this well. And they create an evaluation framework based on local needs, providing a robust and rigorous framework for evaluating cohesion oriented activity that businesses carry out, including shared measures and reporting.

Everyone has a role to play in building and maintaining cohesive communities. And it is particularly good to see a report which focusses on the often under appreciated role businesses can play in supporting social cohesion. If you’d like to find out more about how businesses can be a force for good, join us at the Introbiz Expo on April 7th!

4theRegion is an alliance of people, businesses and organisations across South West Wales, who love where we live and want our region to flourish. We connect people, share good news and enable collaboration, through our forums, events, projects and comms, for a future that promotes the wellbeing of people and planet. Support our movement and be part of the solution!

What is green recovery?

What is green recovery?

When the coronavirus pandemic hit global economies, governments pledged to rebuild, create jobs and spark growth. But many people recognised we can’t just go back to doing things the way we did before. So what would our rebuilt economy look like?

Three Cliffs Bay

We need to think about the problem of “growth”. Traditional ideas of economic recovery have focussed on growth, but wouldn’t it be better for us to be aiming for wellbeing, whether or not the economy grows?

Economist Kate Raworth has said “Mainstream economics views endless GDP growth as a must, but nothing in nature grows forever and the economic attempt to buck that trend is raising tough questions in high-income but low-growth countries. That’s because today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive. What we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow. That radical flip in perspective invites us to become agnostic about growth and to explore how our economies—which are currently financially, politically and socially addicted to growth—could learn to live with or without it.”

Green recovery means accelerating development along a more sustainable path. Natural Resources Wales says this means reducing carbon emissions, increasing resilience to climate change, reversing the decline in biodiversity, connecting people and nature and tackling unsustainable levels of production and consumption, while ensuring job creation, skills development, new markets and vulnerable groups are prioritised.

The region will need £4.3bn in investment by 2035 to tackle climate change. We’ll need to reduce carbon emissions by 58% in the domestic heat and power sector, 56% in the commercial and industrial sector and 51% in road transport. This means more wind and solar farms, more electric cars, a tidal lagoon, and the creation of around sixteen thousand new jobs!

Some of the most exciting proposals so far are in marine energy. The Blue Eden project, led by DST Innovations, would see a battery factory, data centre and thousands of homes powered by a new tidal lagoon. It would create two and half thousand permanent jobs. Meanwhile, Hiraeth Energy and Magnora Offshore Wind just announced proposals for two offshore windfarms in the Celtic Sea, which could power half the homes in Wales.

We need to move away from just making, using and disposing things, and instead conserve resources and ensure long term sustainability.

Ministry of Furniture recently fitted out the WLGA’s new offices with chairs made from recycled PET plastic bottles and desks, lockers and planters recycled from the WLGA’s legacy furniture! They also provided new 100% biodegradable bar stools made from hemp and resin.

The Welsh Government has pledged to use more Welsh wool as insulation, after it dropped in price during the pandemic. Wool insulation also forms part of a project by J.G. Hale Construction and SO Modular to build and retrofit flats in Aberavon. Using innovative insulation materials doesn’t stop with wool, they’re also using mushrooms and wood fibre!

Would you like your own tree?

Trees are great! They give us shade, clean our air, capture carbon and support biodiversity. They also provide timber, which is a more sustainable than traditional building materials like cement. The Welsh Government has announced that every household in Wales will get a free tree to plant. At 4theRegion, we welcome the commitment to more tree planting and recognise the importance of ensuring the right trees are planted in the right places.

And what about food?

We once had a thriving oyster trade, which gave Oystermouth its name. The population collapsed in the twentieth century, but now millions of oysters are being put on the seabed in Swansea Bay, in a process likened to growing a forest. In addition to being food, oysters store carbon and improve water quality.

New oyster bars are exciting, but we want to see affordable, nutritious, locally produced sustainable food available to everyone. Currently only 1% of urban green space is used for allotments, but research shows urban and under utilised green spaces could produce nearly 40% of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetables! And urban food production is just as productive as conventional farming. Obviously we don’t want to see our parks ploughed up, but there is clearly land in towns and cities where we can grow useful amounts of fruit and vegetables. There are already plans to develop a “farm” near Morriston Hospital. Giving local people the opportunity to grow and eat healthy locally sourced food will help reduce pressures on the health service. It would also reduce the hospital’s carbon footprint, with fresh food literally coming from across the road!

What about jobs and skills?

Retrofitting, for example, requires electricians, plumbers, surveyors and builders. What if all contracts included a condition to take on apprenticeships? This would provide real life experience in areas like renewable energy, retrofitting, energy and water efficient technologies, and building techniques using non-traditional materials.

Last year, nearly six hundred and fifty homes in Swansea benefitted from the largest energy retrofit scheme of its kind in the UK, as part of a partnership between Pobl Group and Sero. It meant the community could generate up to 60% of its electricity requirements, reducing energy bills and carbon emissions! A wider roll out will see seven thousand homes retrofitted and three thousand three hundred homes built as “Homes as Power Stations”.

In the past, we have aimed at growth, whether it creates wellbeing or not. Instead we should be aiming for wellbeing (especially in light of the Well-being of Future Generations Act), whether or not the economy grows. Green recovery means we can reduce our carbon emissions, reverse the decline in biodiversity and tackle unsustainable levels of production and consumption while creating jobs, developing skills and protecting vulnerable groups and communities.

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming conference on green recovery! Join our mailing list to be the first to know.

 

Buying more from each other

Buying more from each other

What can we do to keep more of our spending in the region? By this we mean both the money we spend as individuals and businesses, and the public money spent by local authorities and major organisations.

Did you know if every individual and business in South West Wales spent an extra £100 a year with regional businesses we’d have an extra £108m circulating and multiplying in our economy? This doesn’t just keep more wealth in our local economy. Buying more from each other helps develop supply chains and creates more opportunities for people and businesses.

This principle is already well understand, for example the Well-being of Future Generations Act says public organisations should spend 95% of their budgets within Wales. But there remain a lot of barriers to buying locally. Local businesses struggle to compete against online shopping and out of town retail parks. Tendering processes are complicated and place a lot of pressure on suppliers.

So what’s working well in the region?

Swansea Council has been able to put out contracts worth under £140,000 to local businesses, and recently announced that firms in the Swansea Bay City Region benefitted from £34.6m from the construction of Copr Bay phase one, with £17.9m benefitting Swansea based businesses.

Community wealth building means local economies are reorganised so that more wealth is retained locally and income is recirculated. It’s emerged as a powerful approach to local economic development, with progressive procurement as one of its main pillars. Progressive procurement can develop dense local supply chains, SMEs, employee owned businesses, social enterprises and cooperatives and other forms of community business. These types of businesses are more likely to support local employment and to retain wealth and surplus locally.

Hywel Dda University Health Board want to adopt a more locally focused approach to procurement, driven by community wealth building principles. They recognise the potential of working with other anchor institutions (organisations which have an important local presence, such as councils and universities) in areas of common spending, such as food procurement and collaborative working, in order to maximise the local impact of £2.5bn in total spending in the Health Board area.

So what more can we do?

There are clearly some areas the government would need to lead on, for example taxation of big corporations to help create a level playing field for local businesses. But there are also things we can do as businesses, communities and individuals. It’s been great to see the creation of a directory like South Wales Food & Drink, which helps connect people with local food and drink producers! Food and drink are relatively easy to procure locally, but how do we improve procurement of other local goods and services such as clothes and stationery? Could they have their own directories to connect suppliers with customers? And what if we had local distribution centres for food, clothes and stationery, operating in a similar way to an Amazon Fulfilment Centre?

We also need to consider the environmental impact of what we buy. Natural Resources Wales estimates nearly 90% of our carbon emissions are from procurement. And this isn’t just an issue for the public sector. By producing, distributing and purchasing the things we need as locally as possible we can all help reduce carbon emissions. Think of all those empty offices. Imagine if they were vertical farms providing local communities with nutritious locally grown food!

At 4theRegion, we know that if businesses and organisations in South West Wales buy more from each other, we can keep more wealth here in our local economy, develop our supply chains, and create more opportunities for people and businesses.

If you agree that buying locally is important, and want to be part of an alliance that work proactively to enable more local sourcing at all levels, please join us! Subscribe to our newsletter, become a member, come along to our events, or get in touch!

Heritage Christmas event set to provide a boost for Morriston

Heritage Christmas event set to provide a boost for Morriston

The people of an historic Swansea area are to take a big step forward this weekend – by taking a colourful step back.

Morriston Tabernacle – a Victorian gem at the heart of the community

Residents and businesses of Morriston are being encouraged to take part in a Victorian-themed Christmas event.

Shops are being invited to dress their windows in period style, entertainment is planned for Woodfield Street, the main shopping street – and residents will be asked to shop locally.

Business staff are being urged to dress like the Victorians – anything from the landed gentry to miners and copper workers.

The Christmas event – this Saturday, November 27 – is being organised by Swansea Council which already has a regeneration project focused on the celebrated Victorian landmark Morriston Tabernacle.

Peter Taunton – a town crier set to appear at Morriston Victorian Day

Those playing part in the fun will include Peter Taunton – a town crier, Ceri Phillips – a storyteller, Susan – a vintage barrel organ, and Pontarddulais Town Band.

Other attractions will include a circus skills workshop hosted by Swansea-based Circus Eruption, an appearance by the Mari Lwyd figure – and 11am and 3pm screenings of Morriston Tabernacle short film Towards the Light at the chapel.

Susan the barrel organ – set to appear at Morriston Victorian Day

Council cabinet member Robert Francis-Davies said: “Morriston has great heritage and we all want it to have a great future.

“The Victorian Christmas event – the day after Morriston’s annual Christmas lights switch-on and parade – will help focus attention on shopping locally. It will bring more people to town – and more business.

“We hope that local businesses, groups and individuals will throw their support behind the initiative. It should be a fun and colourful day!”

Pontarddulais Town Band – set to appear at Morriston Victorian Day

Fliers have been distributed to shops on Woodfield Street – and businesses are being encouraged to run special offers on the day.

The plans include food and drink stalls, children’s entertainment, music and heritage exhibitions.

Roads will remain open as activities and performances take place. The Glantawe Lions will sponsor a competition for the best shop window displays.

Funding for the event is from the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns Town Centre Business Fund.

Morriston Victorian Day 10am-6pm, Saturday November 27

Ceri Phillips – a storyteller set to appear at Morriston Victorian Day

Swansea Council

Law Firm Opens New Ammanford Office

Law Firm Opens New Ammanford Office

Leading regional law firm Peter Lynn and Partners has opened a new Ammanford office, with leading local lawyer Gary Jones joining as a consultant after closing his highly regarded practice.

Peter Lynn, Gary Jones, Chris Tymanowski, Greg George and staff from the Ammanford Office

The site, located on College Street in the town centre (opposite The Co-op), is the third West Wales office to be opened over the last 15 months and marks a spectacular period of growth for the firm.

“We are thrilled to complete the opening of our new office,” said senior partner Peter Lynn, “and are delighted to expand our network of branch offices into Ammanford.”

The Ammanford office will be home to a range of experienced lawyers, many of whom grew up in the area or have strong connections with the town.

“Our strength is in our staff and the diverse range of legal advice we are able to offer,” continued Peter, “and with a vibrant network of community offices, it’s important to us that the staff at these locations are not only experts in their area of law, but come from that community too.”

The announcement is the latest development for the firm, which has over 85 lawyers and support staff, eight offices and a portfolio of clients that range from individuals and small businesses to multi-national, multi-million-pound global corporations.

“We have ambitious plans to continue expanding our high street presence throughout Wales over the coming years,” said Peter, “and have multiple locations lined up that we will be announcing shortly.”

The new office is located at 42 College Street, Ammanford, SA18 3AF and is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Call 01269 597978 or email info@plandp.co.uk

MJR Marketing