Avalon agroecological area launches

New ‘five mile agroecological farming area’ in Somerset to restore wildlife and future-proof local food supplies

Rare breed Portland sheep on Lower Chapel Farm, Glastonbury © Kate Pearce ARPS

A new initiative is being launched in Glastonbury that brings together farmers, growers, conservationists and local councils to establish an ‘Avalon Agroecological Area’ within a five-mile radius of the town, supporting local farmers and food growers to embrace more nature- and climate-friendly approaches to food production. Called ‘5FF’ (5 miles farming and food), the project uses a toolkit developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to help farmers measure progress towards more agroecological farming methods.

Agroecology can help restore biodiversity by phasing out reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides and reducing fossil fuel use, lowering farmers’ carbon footprint and input costs, whilst restoring health and natural fertility to exhausted soils. In this way, it can help to future-proof food supplies without all of the detrimental effects of intensive, industrial-scale, conventional agriculture. Its focus on building organic matter in the soil helps draw down potent greenhouse gases, making it a powerful, if low-tech tool for reversing climate change.

Rare breed Portland sheep on Lower Chapel Farm, Glastonbury © Kate Pearce ARPS

With subsidy payments going down, costs rising, and prices for produce being squeezed, food producers are under unprecedented pressure, with many thinking of changing their farming practices or leaving farming altogether. For some though, agroecological farming offers new hope: a reduction in input costs, access to new markets, more autonomy, and the satisfaction of bringing wildlife back.

Since 2016, the French government has promoted these methods and is now on track to achieving a target of 200,000 agroecological holdings by 2025. Although the UK as a whole is some way behind the French on this, the West Country has been leading the way in developing nature-friendly farming methods for a number of years, helped by the work of the national Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) which has its roots here.

Amy Harvesting Peppers_Plotgate CSA © Jason Taylor

Melissa Taylor, Glastonbury Town Council’s Climate Emergency and Resilience Officer, part of the working group for 5FF said:

“5FF is partly about mitigating climate change, but it’s also about anticipating and adapting to changes in our weather and everything that comes with it. We’re right on the edge of the Somerset Levels here, so have a strong awareness of what sea level rises could do. What is perhaps less widely understood is the potential impact of biodiversity decline on our food supply, especially when combined with future weather extremes.”

A transition to agroecological farming, diversifying and re-localising the sources of our food, is, she believes, “our best bet for dealing with these threats and building resilience into our food supply.”

5FF has also been welcomed by Sustainable Food Somerset, a local advocacy group working towards a more nature-friendly food system. The group organised last year’s regenerative farming showcase the Somerset Food Trail Festival, which returns this July, and will feature some of the farms involved in 5FF. Stewart Crocker, Board Chair of Sustainable Food Somerset said:

“It’s time to recognise the value of restoring and creating habitat for nature within a productive landscape. It is telling that even business leaders at Davos this week have called for investment in food system transformation in favour of regenerative farming. Our chemical-dependent food system is unsustainable in every sense.”

Plotgate Community Farm © Meghan Willoughby

He adds that 5FF demonstrates the pivotal role local councils, nature groups and ordinary citizens can play in shaping the local food system, and the potential benefits to local economies, people’s health and community resilience.

“We can all play a part in rebuilding nature by being more conscious of the impact of our everyday food choices: eating seasonally, favouring food from local, more sustainable suppliers and keeping our food miles down, or better still growing our own and planting for pollinators. We all need to do what we can.”

A launch event for 5FF will be held on 19th March, at Glastonbury Town Hall from 10.30 to 4pm, open to anyone who is interested in learning more about agroecology. The event will feature feedback from farmers and growers taking part in the 5FF pilot, and a People’s Assembly to canvas views from across the community on the best way to mobilise support for the project locally.

“Whether you’re an allotment holder, a hundred-acre farmer, school cook or window box herb grower, we want to hear your views. We really want the whole community getting involved and being a part of this ‘movement’ in favour of a more nature-friendly and locally focused food system,” Deputy Mayor of Glastonbury, Indra Donfrancesco said.

Misty sunrise at the tor © Ben Pulletz