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Letter from the River

stories of our current climate

“We are just looking for a way to live”

Dear Reader, and friend,

I am writing to you to share a story of our beautiful area in mid Wales. A healthy place to live! So full of green spaces, with the graceful river Severn running through our towns.

Since the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis came along, it’s been hard for too many people in Newtown to enjoy the basics— a cozy warm home, good food on the table, ways to get around for work, appointments and to see friends and family. Admittedly, for some people there have not been changes to living circumstances but I think for most of us, we have experienced changes that aren’t good and some of us are really struggling.

My name is Suzanne and I used to work in Newtown as a health and social care worker. My first love is the natural environment though, and it’s one of the reasons I moved to mid Wales and Eryri National Park seven years ago. I have been a member of Climate Action Newtown since 2019; I got involved because I was worried about climate change and I wanted to find out more about it, and I wanted to support more local food, transport and energy because I think more choice can improve our quality of life. I’ve spent the past summer working with and chatting to people and projects in the area who are taking action I’ve recorded what is happening right now by taking photos and recording voices. I found this research very interesting but also very surprising. Put simply, the people involved— they taught me so much about what people really need from climate action.

As I was recording at local places, the Welsh Government launched its public behavioural campaign to help people reduce climate impacts and be better off. You can read about the Climate Action Wales campaign here

In my action research in mid Wales, I found three areas of change outlined by the Government (food, energy and transport) matched up well with what people were actually doing. So that is good news! But the reasons that people were getting involved, were very different from ‘wanting to take climate action’ or ‘saving the planet’. 

Green Food Choices in and around Newtown

Some people have a garden or allotment and love to grow their own food from seed or seedlings. I am a ‘gardening learner’ and have had mixed success with growing herbs and veggies in my own garden, although I love foraging and have been known to put wild garlic in all my salads, hazelnuts in my banana bread and dandelion greens in with my cauliflower cheese! There is a national map guide for putting local people in touch with their neighbour farmers who are producing meat, veg, cheese and milk so they can sell direct to customers. 

Currently are a few nice choices for delicious local produce close to Newtown, but for many they are simply not as accessible or affordable as the food in Aldi or Tesco, which is why these conglomerate businesses have so much custom. However, we know supermarkets having a corner on our local food supply is not a safe bet. What can we do about it? 

On the map guide, Ash & Elm Horticulture stands out as an agroecological, community-supported farm, with a veg bag scheme just outside Llanidloes. Emma Maxwell runs her horticultural food growing, with solar power generation for irrigation and tools, over 5 acres, with the help of partner Dave, growers Anna and Will and many community volunteers, some who come from different countries as part of the World-wide Opportunities on Organic Farms scheme (WWOOF). I was welcomed as a volunteer by Emma and learned how to plant leeks in raised beds on the first day! 

I experienced the daily graft that goes into growing food sustainably without chemicals and delighted in the birds, plants, beetles, bees and trees that make their home on the farm. Time at Ash & Elm is full nature and fitness immersion- exercise, a healthy lunch every day, community and skills-growth. I have since grown leeks successfully in my own garden patch! I am so glad about that- because although I love foraging for wild food, I don’t want to be too far away from growing some of my own food and having a relationship with the land that sustains us- personally it is important to me; it makes me feel whole. But I have discovered something important, that act of growing does not need to be on my own land for the ‘sustain’ effect. As long as I can take some fresh food home in return for my gardening labour, I am very happy to grow in anyone’s nature-friendly farm or garden. Each time I am gardening and bringing home healthy food from a different place, I am diversifying my food supply. I’ve asked friends who have large gardens and who are struggling to do all the jobs, if I can come help one day per month. Initially friends would say — why are you doing this? We are so far away from friendly collaboration on the land and growing food presently as an act of ‘food’ insurance, that coming just to help out and take home any fruit or veg that could be spared or might otherwise end up on the compost heap seemed odd. Does it have to be called a community garden for it to be communal? 

I experienced the daily graft that goes into growing food sustainably without chemicals and delighted in the birds, plants, beetles, bees and trees that make their home on the farm. Time at Ash & Elm is full nature and fitness immersion- exercise, a healthy lunch every day, community and skills-growth. I have since grown leeks successfully in my own garden patch! I am so glad about that- because although I love foraging for wild food, I don’t want to be too far away from growing some of my own food and having a relationship with the land that sustains us- personally it is important to me; it makes me feel whole. But I have discovered something important, that act of growing does not need to be on my own land for the ‘sustain’ effect. As long as I can take some fresh food home in return for my gardening labour, I am very happy to grow in anyone’s nature-friendly farm or garden. Each time I am gardening and bringing home healthy food from a different place, I am diversifying my food supply. I’ve asked friends who have large gardens and who are struggling to do all the jobs, if I can come help one day per month. Initially friends would say — why are you doing this? We are so far away from friendly collaboration on the land and growing food presently as an act of ‘food’ insurance, that coming just to help out and take home any fruit or veg that could be spared or might otherwise end up on the compost heap seemed odd. Does it have to be called a community garden for it to be communal? 

It was of great interest to me, and very humbling, to be told by some of the WWOOFERs at Emma’s farm that they were WWOOFing not first and foremost because they had an interest in organic farming. It was because as young college leavers and University graduates from different countries, they could not find rental housing and without housing it was difficult to secure work! So a season WWOOFing with accommodation and food provided in mid Wales, in a community atmosphere at the farm, was a welcome relief from the real stress of being not able to get on the housing and career ladder. 

Being close to nature helped these young people feel grounded and recover mental equilibrium, and I was told this was a serious issue in their peer group. They were also meeting other young people who were making alternative lifestyles possible, by joining resources, like shared housing and vehicles. 

I was amazed and touched by the resilience and dedication of these graduates who were growing local food and who told me, ‘We are just looking for a way to live.’

As CAN members, what can we do to support local growers, like Ash & Elm Horticulture, and diversify our town’s food supply?

🌱 Volunteer for local food growing. Volunteer Days at Ash & Elm are Tuesdays. Are you working for a not-for-profit who can supervise a group of willing volunteers on-site? Are you a local employer who can release a group of employees to go and grow food a couple times a month on a local farm, as part of your corporate social responsibility?

🌱 Commission, as a membership body,  fruit and veg, meat and cheese, so growers can expand with guaranteed income. Ash & Elm are now taking veg bag orders from Newtown. But what could they do especially for CAN members? Are there several other growers and farmers we could commission to grow our food so we have a diverse supply?

🌱 Petition local supermarkets to hold a once monthly local grower’s market on their carparks, so  local food is more accessible to local people who need it. Or, is there another site in town which would be even more suitable to pick up local food?

Growing your own food is fun and great for everyone. Next, I found out what Cultivate is doing in Newtown to help us build these skills.