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CoFarm grew tonnes of food for community – and faith in market gardens – in first year

With food security now a national topic – and set to become more so as the discussion of what produce is no longer on the shelves gets longer – the announcement of CoFarm’s first harvest yields suggests an optimistic future for the market garden model.

CoFarm produce
CoFarm produce

Gavin Shelton, who founded CoFarm at its seven-acre site on green land off Barnwell Road in 2019, said of the first-ever crop: “A staggering 4.5 tonnes of top-quality, organically produced food has been grown on CoFarm Cambridge’s urban market garden over the course of its first season, with an equivalent value of around £21,000 if it was sold at the farm gate, so we’re proud of that.

The achievement has already won praise, support and gratitude in the city, including from churches, charities and community organisations, for delivering quality food during the pandemic – and for insisting that organic food should not be the provenance of the rich.

“All the food grown this year has been donated to community food hubs around Cambridge to support people experiencing food insecurity during the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time when maintaining health is of the uppermost importance, we are proud to have provided nutritious food to help improve the health and wellbeing of people in our local community.

“More than 250 volunteers, led by Pete Wrapson and Dominic Walsh, have helped sow, weed, tend, and harvest the vegetables planted on the two-acre market garden, over 3,000 volunteer hours, which all began in earnest once 360 metres of rabbit-proof fencing was installed in May.

“More than 50 varieties of veg have been grown this year, including potato, tomato, peppers – sweet and chilli – aubergine, beans, rainbow chard, beetroot, carrot, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, various herbs, salad onions, radish, chicory, courgette, cauliflower, broccoli, white/green and savoy cabbages, calabrese, cavolo nero, kale, sweetcorn, fennel, pumpkins and squash, pak choi, oca, parsnip, swede, turnip, spinach, celeriac, and Brussels sprouts.

“It’s not bad, we’re all pleased with the outcome and we know we can double that this year, plus we’ve had interest from people in Birmingham who want to adopt the model and others including landscape designers who want to get the themes involved in community farming embedded in their designs in the future – that high-quality food should be the norm, and that everyone has access to it.”

Meanwhile, Jess Rowbury has joined the CoFarm team as comms volunteer: Jess created the short film you can see on the CoFarm website. The next step for the project is to plant the country orchard, which has been helped by a grant from Cambridge Water’s Pebble fund.

The orchard will be created using the level of detail which has characterised CoFarm since its inception.

Peter Wrapson, left, and Dominic Walsh have led the volunteer team on the seven-acre site. Picture: Keith Heppell
Peter Wrapson, left, and Dominic Walsh have led the volunteer team on the seven-acre site. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The orchard will attract more pollinating insects across the site,” Gavin said. “It’ll be a haven for biodiversity, which will result in both an increase in the farm’s harmony with nature while also increasing food security and resilience.

“The fruit trees will be planted using tree stakes, with a mycorrhizal fungus powder applied to the roots before the trees are planted. This saves the tree stakes and the wrappings from being eaten by rabbits when they are just saplings.”

As challenges from the pandemic, leaving the EU and climate change start to put pressure on economic and social systems, everyone knows CoFarm is doing something right.

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