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In 2020/21, Covid 19 regulations and high levels of cases in Barking & Dagenham mean that we have sadly only been able to open farm gates to a few essential volunteers this past year. However, the farm has continued to benefit the community in other ways, including donating produce to local households in food poverty, running online activities and providing traineeships focused on diversity and inclusion at the farm.
Now that a timeline for the lifting of social distancing is announced we have applied for further funding to be able to welcome residents to the site again in greater numbers as soon as is possible.
In October 2020, Growing Communities secured grant funding from the National Lottery Community Fund for a new concept - the FoodNet project. With this funding we worked in partnership with London Borough of Barking & Dagenham’s Community Solutions team and William Bellamy Children’s Centre (WBCC), to deliver a triple whammy of a ready meal, plus a recipe kit and online tutorials so meal recipients have the ingredients and know-how to recreate the meal themselves. And all of this free of charge for people in need in the area surrounding Growing Communities’ Dagenham Farm.
This project was a direct response to the increasing number of local households in the area who are suffering financial hardship and social isolation as a result of the pandemic. William Bellamy Children’s Centre experienced a 37.5% increase in demand for food since the onset of lockdown.
Our FoodNet team have been doing weekly deliveries of healthy ready meals, free of charge, made with fresh, organic ingredients and cooked by Growing Communities’ staff. The participants are also provided with easy-to-follow photo recipes and a meal kit of the ingredients they need to re-create the meal from scratch. The residents are invited to tune into live-streamed online cooking classes with Growing Communities’ experienced trainers, Shelagh Martin and Hannah Schlotter, to learn to make the meal themselves – and enjoy the results. All meals are designed to be easy to cook with just a microwave and a kettle – to take account of individual living situations and access to cooking facilities. Participating families are also provided with a basic cooking kit including chopping board, mixing bowl and veg knife, to minimise any barriers to participation.
Kerry Rankine, project lead for Growing Communities’ FoodNet, says, “By working in partnership with William Bellamy Childrens Centre, we are able to reach families and individuals who are under pressure both financially and from the absence of our usual social contacts at this difficult time. Through FoodNet we can supply delicious healthy meals to families and help everyone taking part to try out their cooking skills with others in relaxed and fun online sessions. We’ve had great feedback from residents taking part who have really enjoyed the cooking sessions and learning new skills.”
In the past year, Growing Communities’ Better Food Shed wholesale warehouse (in Barking) has donated approximately 400kg of fresh, organic produce to Barking’s Sue Bramley Children’s Centre.. In February 2021, it has also begun a regular donation of £100 of produce a week to Barking Foodbank.
Our EcoTalent intern, Marlon Opigo, spent three months training at the farm in 2020/21
In the past year, Growing Communities has secured funding to host three salaried trainee placements at Dagenham Farm. These placements are deliberately designed to welcome young people who are currently under-represented, or face barriers to accessing their first roles, in the green sector. Growing Communities continues to be committed to increasing diversity and inclusion in the sustainable food and environmental sectors, and the farm remains an inspiring space to do this.
The first placement was a three-month internship from November 2020, funded by the EcoTalent programme (managed by Feedback and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund as part of the Our Bright Future programme).
The next two placements are coming up in April 2021, and will be funded through the LBBD Community Solutions and JobShop, by the Department of Work and Pensions Kickstart programme. These vacancies are currently live.
Over the last year we've continued produce lots of organic vegetables and maintain the site as an inspiring natural classroom in preparation for time (hopefully soon) when we can reopen.
In 2020, we contributed to three Environmental Land Management System trials (commissioned by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to provide evidence of the public goods that our method of farming supplies. The data collected proved that, alongside producing healthy organic food, Growing Communities’ methods of land management continue to increase biodiversity in the space. Frequent visitors to the farm include hedgehogs, toads, newts and multiple species of butterflies, bees, and bird life. We turn at least 20 tonnes of excess organic matter from Barking and Dagenham (primarily from tree surgery) into fertile compost every year, which we return to the farm’s soil. This enables the farm to capture more carbon and retain rainwater, preventing run off. We also capture rainwater from our roof spaces, which reduces our external water demands further, contributing to an efficient system.
Now that social distancing may be lifting we have set our sights to how we can reopen to larger numbers of residents to enjoy growing food and spending time in nature on the farm. We have a funding application in the pipeline to enable us to offer weekly volunteering sessions, community lunches and growing workshops. This would be to keep the farm active and open while we design and secure funding for a bigger, multi-year programme of activities to start in 2022.
This year we also aim to be able to open for “Farm Gate” sales of fresh produce direct from the farm on a regular basis, and will be exploring the possibility of setting up a subscription fresh produce offer from the farm in the near future also.