The Kindling Trust: Creating a virtuous food economy
May 20, 2015
Building the next generation of farmers
As it waits for more progressive local procurement of food, the Kindling Trust is quietly building up the next generation of growers ready to be ready to take the city’s local food to scale. It runs volunteer programmes, takes farmers into schools and universities and is around to set up its second incubator scheme – Farmstart – in Stockport.
Farmstart began in the States twenty years ago as a way to help migrant Mexican communities make a living from the land. It later took off in Canada and is now making waves in the UK. A farm training programme, it gives participants access to training and a small amount of land for them to try their hand at creating a food business.
The Kindling Trust set up the first Farmstart in the UK – in Abbey Leys Farm in Cheshire – and has seen 15 people go through the training so far. Participants are given a quarter of an acre on a local farm in their first year, which they can increase over time for a maximum of five years, after which they should be ready to set up on their own. The farmer helps with heavy machinery and the trainee farmers are linked to local restaurants and farmers markets. Three businesses have so far been created from the first cohort.
Fixing market failure
Walsh admits that Kindling’s work is a drop in the ocean but how big can the local food economy in Greater Manchester be? One academic study estimated that 20,000 jobs could be created in the region if half of the greenbelt land around the city was used for fruit and vegetable production. Walsh thinks that such jobs would be badly paid and insecure and says it’s unrealistic to think that the city can feed itself, and more important to fix market failure in the system.
‘Our food system is so screwed up and so under-rated’, he says. ‘We don’t pay enough for food but lots can’t afford it. There’s lots of money being made in the middle while many farmers are living below the poverty line.’
Through its Forgotten Fields history project the Kindling Trust has uncovered the parts of the city which were once dedicated to food growing, including a big piece of land in Ashton Moss that was a successful growing site until 15 years ago when it was bulldozed to create a – now unsuccessful – retail park.
While economic growth is valued more highly than healthy food supplies, local food will remain a marginal concern. But as our soil becomes ever more depleted the window of opportunity to fix our broken food systems and build sustainability into the supply chain is dwindling. The Kindling Trust has laid down the gauntlet and is challenging the industrial model of food. How many will take up the challenge?