Making local food work against the odds
The story of a farm in west Wales
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How can remote areas with harsh climates eat local sustainably produced food all year round? And in the case of west Wales, in terms of vegetables, is there anything to survive on beyond cabbages and leeks? This film captures the story of Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm in the Aeron Valley, Ceredigion that defies all the odds and grows an abundance of fresh organic produce during 48 weeks of the year. Over the last 40 years Sustainable Food Trust board member Peter Segger, and his wife Anne Evans, have refined their methods to harness the natural cycles for high quality production, and at the same time create a haven of biodiversity.
Peter reveals what the two keys to Blaencamel’s success are: “Compost is the source of all health on the farm, and greenhouses are the necessity for offering a range of products throughout the year.” Over the years Peter has perfected the ideal compost recipe on a dedicated half-acre area. He describes compost as, “the fulcrum around which the whole health, the economy and the beauty of the farm revolves.” The recipe is not a secret and is similar to how compost has been made for centuries: one third green material, one third carbonaceous material and one third animal manure. Traditionally, compost is anaerobic and takes a long time to decompose. But Blaencamel make their compost within six weeks by making the process aerobic. The trick is the method of turning with machines and knowing exactly when to turn to get the right balance of microorganisms. The result is a beautiful compost that is “dark chocolate in colour and smells like the forest floor and you can rub into your face and you wouldn’t squirm!”
The other key to being able to produce such a range of vegetables and extending the growing season is one acre of greenhouses and polytunnels. Strawberries and tomatoes are certainly not off the menu if you live in west Wales, though they may not be available every day of the year as in most supermarkets. It is precisely our dependence on imported fruit and vegetables, the production and transportation of which uses vast amounts of water, fuel and other resources, that inspire Peter and Anne to grow local.
In terms of a carbon footprint, Blaencamel’s produce doesn’t have one. Blaencamel has become carbon neutral, meaning the farm sequesters as much carbon as it emits through all its activities. In keeping with this, Blaencamel does not sell any of its vegetables further afield than South Wales and according to Peter selling across the border to England would definitely not be local anymore.
Blaencamel distribute their produce through veg boxes and farmers markets such as Cardiff. If you are passing by or happen to live in the area the Blaencamel Farm Shop sells the very freshest of the fresh vegetables from the farm.