NORWICH FARMSHARE: A COMMUNITY SUPPORTING SOIL

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By Rowan Van Tromp

In 2013 the UN Commission on Trade and Development released a report titled “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate”. It recommended a rapid and significant shift away from “conventional, monoculture-based… industrial production” of food that depends heavily on external inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser, agro chemicals, and concentrate feed. Instead, it says that the goal should be “mosaics of sustainable regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and foster rural development”.

One such system can be found at Norwich Farmshare, a cooperatively owned community supported agriculture scheme, where upwards of 100 members pay a monthly fee of between £22.50 (small) and £56.50 (large) to receive a weekly box of seasonal vegetables, grown across 5 acres of farmland just outside the city centre in Postwick. You can even get them delivered to your door for an additional £12 a month, safe in the knowledge there are no associated carbon emissions, as deliveries are made by cycle.

Members contribute a minimum of twelve hours of work throughout the year, with open volunteering sessions every Wednesday between 10am and 4pm (April-October), harvest Thursdays between 10am and 1pm all-year-round, and monthly workdays all providing ample opportunity to get involved. Not only does this give members the chance to connect with the land from which their food is produced and develop practical skills in growing food, it facilitates the growth of a community bound by a shared care for the environment.

their growing ethos is underpinned by a democratically agreed
commitment to grow within the boundaries of natural systems,

Norwich Farmshare is one of many community supported agriculture schemes across the country adhering to organic growing principles. That means NO carbon intensive, soil degrading, water polluting, artificial nitrogen fertilisers, and NO soil degrading, wildlife inhibiting pesticides, especially no neonicotinoid pesticides – the type that DEFRA suspended a ban on despite overwhelming evidence that they are seriously harmful to bee populations – shown to persist in soils long after their intended use, leading to reduced soil biodiversity. Instead their growing ethos is underpinned by a democratically agreed commitment to grow within the boundaries of natural systems, to maintain the long-term fertility and biological activity of soils.

Conventional vs Organic - Roland Institute Trial

Healthy soil is not only important for crop resilience in extreme weather conditions, such as flooding and drought – set to occur more frequently in a warming climate,  it also plays a vital role in climate regulation, one that is being constantly undermined by conventional monoculture farming practices. Worldwide around a quarter of all soil is severely degraded and around 10 million hectares of land are abandoned every year, due to soil erosion alone.

We’re in the midst of a monumental soil crises and nowhere is this more apparent than in the lowland fens of East Anglia. Due to the continued cultivation of this natural wildlife haven, carbon-rich peat soil is being lost at rates of 1-2cm a year, and it is estimated that two-thirds of the peaty areas of East Anglia that existed in 1985 will be lost by 2050. Much of the carbon lost from this peaty soil is being emitted into the atmosphere, to the tune of around 380,000 tonnes a year.

Soils hold more carbon than the atmosphere and all vegetation combined, with the potential to store significantly more. Nowhere is this recognised more than at community supported agriculture schemes like Farmshare. By growing a diverse range of crops rotated in carefully planned eight year cycles, allowing two fallow years of green manure crop to restore soil fertility, alongside using organic fertilisers such as livestock manure, soil organic matter is increased.

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A high level of organic matter provides a rich environment for the development of stable soil carbons called humus, which in turn raises the soil’s carbon level. This process is called soil carbon sequestration and Soil Association research has demonstrated that widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK would offset 23% of UK agricultural emissions through sequestration alone.

That is why, if you are serious about climate change and the environment, you need to use your power as a consumer to support growers and sellers that are working to implement these environmentally grounded practices. This month is #OrganicSeptember so get yourself along to Norwich Farmshare and be a part of the regenerative agricultural revolution.

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