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Charitable status delight as CoFarm plants for agroecology future

CoFarm Foundation has now been entered on the Charity Commission’s register of charities, a major milestone that means the agroecology collective is now a registered charity in England and Wales.

Co Farm from left Dominic Walsh and Peter Wrapson . Picture: Keith Heppell. (45464358)
Co Farm from left Dominic Walsh and Peter Wrapson . Picture: Keith Heppell. (45464358)

The foundation is only the third out of 185,000 registered charities in the UK to make explicit reference to promoting agroecological food and farming in its charitable objects. This marks an important step for agroecology in the UK, a movement that strives to nurture biological, crop and cultural diversity in food production, which CoFarm is proud to be a part of.

The foundation is also the first and only registered charity dedicated to the development and promotion of co-farming.

CoFarm Foundation will now be able to significantly step up its fundraising activities to create a network of community-based agroecological farms that enable communities and nature to thrive.

“We’re so pleased that CoFarm Foundation has finally achieved registered charity status. 2020 was an extremely challenging year for start-up charities like ours, as demand soared while capacity to deliver was reduced by being unable to access vital sources of funding,” said Gavin Shelton, the foundation’s founder and CEO.

“We’re confident this will give our fundraising efforts a much-needed boost, enabling us to deliver greater impact for communities and for nature and by creating fairer, more inclusive local food systems based on the regenerative principles of agroecology.”

With charitable status now conferred on the CoFarm project, the volunteers who make up the farming collective are planting trees in a half-acre orchard protected by a newly-installed deer fence, says Gavin.

“We’ve been able to operate throughout lockdown, and have volunteers on site because it is a charitable concern, but we paused in January,” he says.

“We then resumed in a limited way for special projects – such as getting the community orchard established.

CoFarm celebrates charitable status. Picture: Keith Heppell
CoFarm celebrates charitable status. Picture: Keith Heppell

“There will be 90 heritage trees in total, and the Cambridge Canopy Project, which is run by the city council, has kindly donated a further 100 trees.”

Cambridge Canopy Project is Cambridge City Council’s urban forestry initiative. Dr Matthew Ling, project lead at the organisation, said: “It is a pleasure to be able to support the inspiring and ambitious work being carried out at CoFarm Cambridge. The Cambridge Canopy Project’s main aim is to grow tree canopy cover across the city by 2 per cent. One of the biggest factors in realising this target is tree planting on privately-owned land, which makes up 77 per cent of the city. Donating nearly 100 trees for planting on the privately owned CoFarm Cambridge site contributes to this and provides an example of what can be achieved through effective collaboration.”

The orchard will take a couple of years to bear fruit but meanwhile the market garden area, managed by Dominic Walsh and Peter Wrapson, produced 4.5 tonnes of produce last year, and this year’s target is twice that amount.

It’s all achieved thanks to a small army of volunteers – 280 in total last year – and despite the difficulties last year of being too young a company to receive grants or put any of the crew on furlough. And let’s not forget the financial support, with funding from Arm for fences two years in a row, and a December grant from the PEBBLE fund, the biodiversity improvement fund from Cambridge Water.

CoFarm Abbey ward crop yield (45464068)
CoFarm Abbey ward crop yield (45464068)

Daniel Clark, water resources and environment manager for Cambridge Water, commented: “We were pleased to support the wonderful work of the CoFarm volunteers. Our PEBBLE fund was set up to help increase the variety of natural living things and the diversity of the habitats where they live, by supporting the work of local community groups. The achievements of the CoFarm team so far have been amazing, we’re looking forward to being able to visit in person to see for ourselves.”

This positive news coincides with the first-ever #CityFarmDay today (March 25), a celebration of urban community-focused farms organised by Social Farms and Gardens.

“We’re delighted to share our news on the first-ever City Farm Day,” Gavin concluded.

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