How did you get started?
The market garden idea was conceived by Jenny Phelps (FWAG SW) a few years ago to bring more practical agroecological learning to the students at the RAU. The 7-acre field, right next to the RAU, was being conventionally farmed, but offered real potential as a showcase for agroecology. So much could be done to enhance the site’s biodiversity, for example by planting a hedgerow and pollinating species around the edges, but also to get more people involved in climate and nature-friendly growing, by bringing in local volunteers to connect with the growing process. It took a little while to secure the land and the funding needed to get the project going, but now with £110k from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, everything is in place for the spring growing season.
Who is involved?
FWAG SW have partnered with Zerodig Earth – the Zerodig method is a step-by-step no-dig method developed by Christopher Upton and Dr Mario Peters. The site is right next to the Royal Agricultural University, who will be collaborating and supporting the project, and lots of students have already started getting involved.
What are the core values or aims?
The project aims to boost understanding of the benefits of agro-ecological food production, strengthen the local economy, and foster community collaboration for sustainable, healthy food.
What impact has it had?
It’s just getting started but it’s really exciting to see how partnership projects like this can come together, and the potential they have to impact not just the local food system, but spark wider systems transformation through education and skills. The Great Zerodig Project Team are already planning events to engage people in the project – a bird survey and social event is currently being planned to help people identify how different bird species are related to different habitat types. Students from the University have already begun volunteering and a regular volunteering session will run every week.
What are the key challenges?
Some of the key challenges have been securing the funding needed for quite a large project to get off the ground, as well as dealing with winter weather when moving equipment and woodchip onto the site with a small team. Also really thinking about the sustainability, biodiversity, and circular economy side of the project – reducing inputs, enhancing soil and biodiversity, as well as how to have a social impact by increasing food resilience.
What are your future aspirations?
The hope is that, once up and running, the site will become a commercially viable fruit and veg business, supplying local customers, including the RAU students, with nutritious, regeneratively grown produce, all whilst providing students at the Royal Agricultural University an opportunity to gain practical experience of small-scale commercial food production, as well as learning how agro-ecology could be applied to the wider farming landscape.