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‘Magic pop-up allotment’ at CoFarm offers community food security




The CoFarm project to grow food on community land – initially on a seven-acre site off the Barnwell Road – is now starting to yield results, with produce delivered including “80 kilos of tomatoes on just one afternoon last Sunday”, according to founder and CEO Gavin Shelton.

Farm managers Dominic Walsh, left, and Peter Wrapson, are achieving great results at CoFarm. Picture: Keith Heppell
Farm managers Dominic Walsh, left, and Peter Wrapson, are achieving great results at CoFarm. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We now have 150 volunteers, and lots keep coming back, they’re enjoying themselves,” says Gavin of the community farm’s efforts to date.

It is now 18 months since the vision for using local land to grow food was first presented to the public .

“In some ways lockdown helped because people started to reevaluate their relationship with food,” says Gavin. “Previously we were thought of as idealistic hippies but the health issue has become much more visceral as complex food supply chains have become disrupted.”

Farm managers Dominic Walsh, left, and Peter Wrapson at CoFarm. Picture: Keith Heppell
Farm managers Dominic Walsh, left, and Peter Wrapson at CoFarm. Picture: Keith Heppell

CoFarm has been bolstered by the arrival of two farm managers, Pete Wrapson and Dom Walsh, who are in charge of the horticultural side. The layout of the site was designed by RH Partnership Architects and includesa two-acre centrepiece market garden, divided into nine blocks, with a 360m rabbit-proof fence running around it donated by Fulbourn-based chip designer Arm.

“I’ve been working with Dom for three years doing private garden work,” says Pete during a visit to the site. “I met Gavin in July last year and started pulling ragwort out of the field on the hottest day ever. There was absolutely nothing here.

“Dom and I were growing seedlings in plugs at home in our greenhouses. We planted 10,000 seedlings, mostly vegetables and flowers. It’s like a magic pop-up allotment. I’m very happy, and it’s all happened because of the volunteers’ help.”

“What they get out of it is amazing, because of lockdown,” adds Dom.

CoFarm is not just a farm, it is a way for a city community to find out more about growing food and the benefits of healthy living. Picture: Mike Scialom
CoFarm is not just a farm, it is a way for a city community to find out more about growing food and the benefits of healthy living. Picture: Mike Scialom

“Everybody is learning to grow food,” says Pete. “In a world of increasing food insecurity , it’s a very social thing, and people are coming back. It’s the most enjoyable project I’ve ever worked on, it doesn’t really feel like work.”

Pete says that “currently cropping and going to local food banks” are potato, tomato, sweet pepper, chilli pepper, aubergine, French bean, runner bean, rainbow chard, beetroot, carrot, cucumber, courgette, marrow, cauliflower, calabrese, white/green cabbage, cavolo nero, romanesco cauliflower, kale, lettuce, rocket, various herbs, sweet corn, salad onions and radish.

“Planted and sown, and coming in due course” are Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, Florence fennel, pak choi, oriental salad leaves, chicory/radicchio, swede, turnip, oca, quinoa, pumpkin, winter squash, spinach, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, celeriac and parsnip. Fruit trees, bushes and canes will be planted over the winter.

From left, Dominic Walsh and Peter Wrapson. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, Dominic Walsh and Peter Wrapson. Picture: Keith Heppell

The food is distributed to food banks around East Barnwell and Abbey, and to St Andrew’s Church in Cherry Hinton, says Gavin, adding that “people love what we’re doing”.

Sam Dyer from Cambridge Sustainable Food said of the partnership:“Cambridge Sustainable Food and the Food Poverty Alliance are hugely pleased that the vegetables produced this year by CoFarm are reaching those most in need in our community. What a fantastic example of local organisations and communities coming together to make sure everyone is fed.”

CoFarm founder Gavin Shelton at the site off Barnwell Road last year - before the volunteers arrived. Picture: Keith Heppell
CoFarm founder Gavin Shelton at the site off Barnwell Road last year - before the volunteers arrived. Picture: Keith Heppell

CoFarm is an innovative agro-ecology project which could be rolled out across the UK, adds Gavin. No private finance is involved , and contributions are welcome .

“All the value is held in the CoFarm Foundation so anything we can do to not give that value away is what we want to do,” concludes Gavin.



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