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The Urban Farm Project

*SPRING 2008 UPDATE*

What a transformation. And it's only the start of things to come. Food feet rather than food miles is soon to be a reality in Wolverton!

A flurry of activity in the last few months has seen the Urb Farm site cleared and fenced with drainage and pathways put in. A sign letting people know what is happening has been erected and additional planting is planned for softening the fencing.

The management group that will now lead the project forward is forming, made up of representatives from Food Train, MK Christian Foundation and other allied agencies. We also hope to develop a wider advisory group of people with particular skills and local knowledge.

Watch this space for more updates! If you are interested in finding out more about the project please contact Alissa Pemberton on 01908 221161 or alissa@foodtrain.org.uk

Background to the project: What is an Urban Farm?

An urban farm is a place that grows food in a town or city context.

Some people might remember when there were lots of market gardens in the UK, especially nearby in Bedfordshire that used to grow fresh fruit and vegetables for sale locally and at markets. We use the term farm to mean the same kind of operation.

It will not be a city farm or petting farm whose aim is to reconnect people living in towns and cities with farm animals.There will not be lots of animals. We do hope to have a number of laying hens who will free range on the site during the day and be kept safe in coops at night.

Our Urban Farm will focus on growing fresh, wholesome fruit and vegetables for local consumption. It will do this through innovative, environmentally sensitive growing methods. It will seek to cover a significant proportion of its costs through the sale of produce.

We realise the name might seem confusing, but its a name thats being used nationally for this type of project (and so important when seeking grants and funding) and we think its catchy!

Where did the idea come from?

The idea for this project is the result of work and thinking by two locally based groups, Food Train and MK Christian Foundation.

Food Train (who run the Wolverton Farmers Market) received some funding from Natural England in 2006 to look at the food economy in Milton Keynes. As well as looking at current food production patterns, Food Train explored ways of increasing the supply of locally produced food and in particular how urban spaces in MK might be used to achieve this. This work led to two large reports Food MK and Eat the City. These contained a whole range of ideas and suggestions. For those of you that have seen the reports, the Urb Farm represents only one strand of their thinking. It is not intended to deliver all the suggestions through the Urb Farm.

MK Christian Foundation has for many years been exploring how food impacts on the lives of individuals and communities. For the last 17 years we have run a healthy eating, vegetarian eatery on Stantonbury that serves 80-100 meals a day; and we are always working with the people who come to us in Wolverton to improve their diet and their ability to feed themselves well and economically. In 2004 we took this a step further and began to grow our own food on the Stacey Hill allotment. This has been very successful in reconnecting people with the source of food as well as enabling a number of young people to begin careers in horticulture. We use much of the food we produce in our own projects and sell our surplus on the local farmers market. We have received enormous support from other allotment holders to develop this project.

The two groups have naturally come together, and together we have developed the ideas for the Urb Farm. As a part of this we have been seeking a suitable site for the project to use.

However we both recognize this is a growing idea, there is still much to learn!

How did the Urb Farm become a part of the Green infrastructure bid?

In November 2006, Food Train and MKCF were invited by Wolverton UnLtd and the Green Infrastructure Project steering group to submit an outline proposal, for the creation of an Urb farm, for the Green Infrastructure bid. This was accepted and became one element of the bid that covers a number of projects in Wolverton, Greenleys and New Bradwell.

We were pleased to hear that the Department of Communities and Local Government felt that the Urb Farm was one of the strongest projects in the bid and had agreed to award it �,000 to fund capital costs (like legal fees, security fences, drainage and paths for instance).

Wolverton Unlimited and the Green Infrastructure Project steering group are administering this money and controlling how it is spent. Food Train and MKCF do not have access to this funding.

Where will the farm be sited and how was this site chosen?

The proposal is that the farm will be sited on approx 4 acres of under utilised space behind Windsor St, Gloucester Rd and Marron Lane, next to but not including the play park and Hodge Furze allotments.

It was chosen because it is the right size for the project, is not currently being positively used or managed and it benefits from being close to local people.

How are the Town Council involved?

Wolverton & Greenleys Town Council has offered to take on a lease of the site from its owners MK Council. This ensures that the project can be completed quickly as it would have taken much longer to negotiate a lease directly to MKCF & Food Train.

In order to justify putting time and financial resources into the project, Food Train & MKCF need to be granted a sub-lease from WGTC.

Who will manage the project?

The project will be managed by Food Train and MK Christian Foundation. We are currently working together on the precise details of how this will work.

How will the growing be funded?

We have mentioned the �,000 allocated from the green infrastructure funding to assist with the preparation of the site. Initial design work will be managed by Wolverton UnLtd with input from MKCF and Food Train. Our joint priorities for the use of this funding are site security, site access and site utilities; however we have yet to have a discussion with the designers about this. This funding will do well to achieve these elements of the project. Other capital funding may be necessary to make the site fully useable.

There is currently no funding within the Green Infrastructure bid for the running costs of the project. It is intended to use the resources available to MKCF, currently used on their allotment project, to begin the project. However this site is much bigger than the allotments, so further resources will need to be found. But we can build slowly and grow the project organically. (We estimate that it will cost �,000-�,000 to run the project at a basic level for the first year.)

Part of our aim is to look at the economics of urban growing; so, on certain parts of the site we intend to focus on covering the running costs through the sale of produce. Food Train and MKCF are in the process of developing a business plan that takes their research of the past 18 months, looking at best practice in similar projects, to ensure that the Urb Farm is able to achieve financial self-sufficiency. We will be seeking supporting funding to help develop the work and its educational elements through approaching trusts for grants.

Both MK Christian Foundation and Food Train are not-for-profit organisations, so no individuals benefit in the event of surpluses. Indeed any surpluses would be used to further develop the project. We do not predict surpluses in the early years!

A previous business plan written for the Food MK report is based on a model called community supported agriculture where people support the production of food by buying shares in the harvest up front. This is not necessarily the option that will be pursued. It likely that, initially, produce will be available to buy from the site and at the farmers market. Prices will be set to ensure affordability.

Will people be able to get involved in the project?

We are exploring a number of ways in which local people can engage with the project.

From MKCFs work on the Stacey Hill allotments we are aware of the vast reservoir of local expertise that exists particularly amongst the older members of the local community. We are already exploring how we might harness this knowledge for the benefit of the project.

Green Gyms have been very successful nationally and with the arrival of the new Health Centre close to the Marron Lane site we hope local people might be encouraged to take their exercise in support of the Urb Farm.

We have had some very creative discussions with Radcliffe School and already have plans for local pupils to engage in the project as a part of achieving qualifications. We hope this work will develop with other schools in Wolverton

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is that local people will be able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables that are grown locally. This is food yards rather than food miles!

What will the site be like?

The main area of the site will be used to grow fruit and vegetables using organic and no-dig systems (this means the soil will not be annually turned over).

Initially, we envisage a small building or buildings that will serve as storage, somewhere to shelter from weather, a toilet, a place for making a cuppa and some where to sell produce from. There will also need to be poly-tunnels and a glass house.

In the long term, a purpose built, sustainably constructed building that could support education activities and small eating place is envisaged. (Some of the funding to support the sustainability of the project will come through educational activities for children, young people and adults)

Will the site a pose security risk?

Currently the site is very insecure and has experienced some vandalism. It also allows easy access to the rear of housing on Windsor St and Gloucester Road. The project will need a secure site to flourish and as part of the Green Infrastructure funding for capital works, it is proposed that security fencing will be erected of a similar type that is used by schools. We will also be encouraging planting that provides natural security at boundaries. Our belief is that this can only improve security of surrounding houses. Of course as with the allotments there is a risk of vandalism on the site as well as theft from it.

What about parking, vehicles and access?

The site has an existing area of hard standing allowing parking for a few vehicles. MKCF uses a van to move tools and equipment and this would go to-and-from the site a couple of time each week day. We will encourage most visitors to walk or cycle to the site and where this is not possible or for larger group visits, Radcliffe School have offered temporary use of their car park. We will want to encourage people to visit the site to purchase produce and to participate in the activities there. We do not anticipate significant evening or weekend activity.

What about the trees?

We see the trees as an important asset to the site offering a range of opportunities for the project. Woodlands provide different growing environments in particular for fruit and herbs, important habitats for wildlife and an area for chickens to roam. However the woodlands need managing if they are to continue to grow and be healthy and this has not happened on the site for a number of years. In certain areas the trees have never been looked after or thinned, so some work will be necessary. However the intention is to preserve and develop this valuable resource on the site.

What have we done to publicise this project?

In May this year, all residents living around the site received a letter introducing the project to them and inviting them to attend a drop in information event. 20 people attended this event.

A study visit was held in July to Salop Drive market garden in West Bromwich and all Wolverton residents had an invitation to attend via Wolverton Unlimiteds Green project newsletter.

A consultation event on the whole Green project, which includes the Urb Farm, was held in July at Greenleys Community Centre and the Town Hall and publicised in the same newsletter.

Wolverton Farmers Market Dates for 2008
March 15th
April 5th & 19th
May 3rd & 17th
June 7th & 21st
July 5th & 19th
August 2nd & 16th
Sept 6th & 20th
Oct 4th & 18th
Nov 1st & 15th
Dec 6th & 20th