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Small producers are the key to food sustainability

carrying apples
Wednesday, 3 October, 2018

COULD the combination of Brexit and the UK government’s Agriculture Bill actually benefit smaller, environmentally conscious producers?

Schumacher College’s Horticulture Programme Coordinator and Lead Gardener Jane Gleeson said she hopes politicians will seize the opportunity to re-think the future of British food production.

Jane was interviewed by the BBC South West Politics programme as part of a wider discussion on the many challenges facing food producers.

“We can already produce enough food to feed our UK population, and we’d prefer that we did that and allowed countries to feed their own population and cut out the long supply chains," she told interviewer John Danks. 

“The freshness, the packaging, the transport, all those costs would all be minimised if everything was locally based," Jane Gleeson, lead gardener at Schumacher College.

Jane said she hoped the Government would take the opportunity to offer more support to small scale farmers – current legislation only applies to those farming more than five hectares.  

Schumacher College growers work with a mixture of perennial, annual crops, trees and bushes.   The aim is try to provide most of the fresh food eaten by staff and students.
 
Much of the food is grown in the five and half acre agroforestry field – in a system of alley cropping and in the developing forest garden. The field also has fruit trees and bushes; young nut trees.  In addition the college has two herb gardens; four polytunnels; a perennial no dig vegetable garden and several fruit areas.

A number of different growing systems are used in the They use a number of different growing systems, such as permaculture, no-dig and agroforestry.

Jane added that growing different trees and crops together supports the environment and maximises land use unlike more traditional large scale farms which tend to plant a single crop only. 

“Normally they would be separated out into different systems. If you put them all together they restore soil and they increase bio-diversity – they actually increase productivity.”
The whole system of financial payments which currently favours large scale farm is due to change as a result of the Agriculture Bill which is currently going through parliament and has its second reading on October 10.

The governement has released a policy statement, Health and Harmony : the future for food, farming and the environment for a green Brexit which indicates that the bill is expected to favour those who farm in a more environmentally conscious way.

Ella Sparks, former Schumacher College horticulture student and now a member of the garden team also appeared on the programme and said would like to see a lot more food produced at a local level.

“There is the potential to have lots of small parcels of land meeting the needs of the local area.  The Government is showing that they want to support environmental stewardship but it needs to be coupled up to food production.”

You can see the programme on BBC iplayer until the end of the month.  

Application for Schumacher College’s horticulture residency are open until November 5, 2018.