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Crop Cycle: Welsh Government fund the supply & installation of Controlled Environment Agriculture systems for the demonstration of community benefits across 4 sites in Wales

3 Feb 2021

Crop Cycle: Welsh Government fund the supply & installation of Controlled Environment Agriculture systems for the demonstration of community benefits across 4 sites in Wales

Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is a process that combines plant science, engineering and technology to optimise plant growing, plant quality and production efficiency to provide a truly sustainable system of food growing. To date the approaches to CEA have been vastly different, un-co-ordinated and largely un-supported. Through this pilot we will offer real growth potential at a scale that is impactful, replicable and delivers wider benefits for the region.

This project, Crop Cycle, is being funded by the Welsh Government through the Foundational Economy Challenge Fund and we will be working with business and partners who are committed to the four pillars of the Economic Contract.  The project will provide a test bed for Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA), in the community setting – the very heart of our Foundational Economy. The project is being led by Social Farms & Gardens supported by Welsh Government’s Horticulture Cluster group and NutriWales CEA Special Interest Group.

The project allows for multiple & differing CEA systems to be tailored to fit different community settings, but allowing them to be investigated and assessed in a co-ordinated and joined up way across the pilot sites. This approach is unique, allowing the testing of new socially focused business models, the engagement of the local communities and businesses with CEA and the development of new technical solutions.

This project will introduce food growing right into the heart of our communities, ones where they understand the local issues and are connected to the particular dynamics of the local area. Activities will test new community-based engagement models looking at social well-being, local entrepreneurship and environmental impact. In this way, the project will be innovative in its operational delivery, social engagement and business model creation bringing together community, businesses and local public sector organisations.

Four sites will be supported, two of which are in the Valleys. Green Meadow Community Farm in Cwmbran, one of only two ‘city farms’ in Wales, and one which connects people to food and farming in a very public way. It is owned and operated by Torfaen County Borough Council, bringing with it a high-level partnership. The farm already welcomes thousands of visitors through its gates and connects locally through a number of schools and college partnerships – making it an ideal ‘showcase’ location for this pilot.

Welcome To Our Woods in Treherbert is the second valleys site, nestled in the heart of the Rhondda Valleys. This proactive community group has been actively engaging with its communities through partnerships with the Green Valleys CIC and their joint ‘Skyline’ project. This partnership and ground up way of working has led to several funding investments in the region looking to explore community ownership of land and the benefits that can be brought about by allowing the

community to utilise some of their surrounding natural green assets for the betterment of the environment, and the local communities. This makes it a unique and perfect fit for this pilot.

Ian Thomas from Welcome To Our Woods, said, ‘work is progressing well on the growing facility in Treherbert and we are excited to be bringing such an innovative and progressive project to our local high street. We have already been engaging with the Upper Rhondda community to explore the projects that actively use our woodlands for the benefit of those they surround, and initiatives such as this help give local people an idea of what can be achieved’.

The third site will be in Newtown, situated in the centre of Newtown and will deliver two linked sites, one within the established community growing space attached to the Newtown Campus of the Neath Port Talbot College Group and one within a new town centre ‘Circular Economy’ shop: the CEA systems will be integrated into an active college site managed by a community group delivering circular economy solutions, with a cafe and kitchen, shop, Deli and veg box scheme in place. The site will be supported by Cultivate, which is a membership cooperative linking food and community. Cultivate aim to address many of the issues associated with the modern food system, and focus on creating  sustainable local food solutions.

The final site will be in Xplore! Science Discovery Centre in Wrexham, situated in the centre of Wrexham, a brand new science centre that will support the promotion of urban agriculture in north Wales’ largest urban area. It will reach out to all generations, showcasing new technology and modern horticulture methods blended with traditional growing experience. Xplore! Welcomes public visitors as well as school groups and provides a range of educational workshops.

Gary Mitchell, the Wales Manager for Social Farms & Gardens who is leading the project team stated, ‘we are excited to be running the pilot project across a diverse set of sites to gain insight and further knowledge into how new agricultural systems can successfully support communities in delivering local, fresh and nutritious foods as well as important social benefits in a sustainable manner’.

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