Cumbrian farmers have dedicated acres of land to growing fruit and vegetables this year, thanks to support from a new initiative, Home Grown Here.
The scheme will see a tasty range of fresh produce grown in the county, from peas and potatoes to apples to rhubarb. Fresh from the fields, it will all be enjoyed by Cumbrians and visitors through local retailers, cafés, restaurants, hotels, farm shops and veg box schemes.
It’s the brainchild of the Eden-based growers’ co-operative VistaVeg, and is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund as part of the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership’s ambitious emission-reduction programme to make Cumbria carbon neutral by 2037.
Lynn Barnes of VistaVeg says, “Cumbria has long had an enviable array of local meats, cheeses, preserves, artisan pies, baking, confectionery and drinks, but very few fruit and vegetable producers. And it’s not because you can’t grow fruit and vegetables in Cumbria – you really can! This project aims to offer something new to the local supply chain, making it much easier for Cumbrian businesses and ultimately residents and visitors to source locally-grown fruit and vegetables.”
Keeping home grown produce here in the county will offer Cumbrians a host of delicious benefits. It will reduce food miles, encourage people to eat seasonally, involve less processing and packaging, and reduce waste by picking to order and re-using boxes. All this is good news for Cumbria’s carbon footprint and for anyone thinking about moving to a low-carbon diet.
“Many of the crops being grown this season require hand-picking, so that means more people will be out in the fields in place of machinery,” Lynn said. “That’s better for the environment, and it also means more jobs and consequently more money being spent in the local economy.” adds Lynn.
Following a call-out to the local farming community earlier this year, 26 farmers and growers expressed an interest in growing at least one edible acre over the next five seasons. Four farms were selected to begin sowing this spring, with another scheduled to plant fruit trees this winter. A total of 17 acres has been brought into first-time vegetable production during 2021, in addition to a planned 12 acres of mixed fruit trees and grazing (agroforestry). This all signifies an encouraging start to Home Grown Here.
Henry Scholefield at Aikbank Farm at Calthwaite has just started picking his acre of peas this week which he sowed back in May. The crop is heading off to various local buyers each week, who collect direct from the farm. French beans, carrots, beetroot, turnips, swede and potatoes are in the pipeline from other farms involved in the project.
“I decided to get involved in the project as I was looking for a way to diversify the business and liked the idea of more locally produced food being consumed in Cumbria. Peas were a crop which suited our cropping rotation and require very few artificial inputs so work well in our system,” said Henry.
The next step for the scheme is to set up a new website – www.homegrownhere.co.uk – through which local wholesalers and businesses will be able to see what Cumbrian produce is available and source it directly.
The intention is for Home Grown Here to evolve into a grower’s co-operative to provide advice, skills-sharing and networking opportunities to its grower members, a tool ring to share equipment, bulk purchasing of seed, plants and soil testing, personalised branding, and a route to local market for crops via online ordering on the website.
John Forbes from Cumbria Action for Sustainability, project manager for the lottery-funded Zero Carbon Cumbria project, said, “It’s really pleasing to see how this exciting project is sprouting up. I am sure that the first five brave vegetable pioneers will inspire many more local farmers to get involved with Home Grown Here in subsequent years.”
Lynn would love to hear from businesses who’d like to source fresh produce through Home Grown Here, anyone who’d like paid work picking this season or any farmers interested in growing a crop next season. She can be contacted on 07584 251352 or [email protected].