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Digging in to help the community; As the Prime Minister warns of "painful" spending cuts, getting back to basics and growing our own food could be a way to save money. Cathy Owen finds out about three community garden projects that are ahead of the game.

Byline: Cathy Owen

NEED some fresh air? Interested in growing food and making a difference to the local environment? Want to find out how to save a bit of money? Then look no further than your local community farm or garden.

There has been an explosion of interest in the past two years in creating green spaces in Wales, due to concerns over issues such as food miles, climate change and healthy eating.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables can work out cheaper than buying them at the supermarket. And the Foundation Phase in Wales, which encourages children to learn outdoors as part of the curriculum, also means these community projects are vital educational centres too.

A unique map highlighting community gardening and farming projects across Wales is being launched at the Senedd today.

The map acts as a guide to many of these projects which are open to visitors.

It has been created by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (FCFCG), a UK charity which supports people to set up and run projects that allow them to grow their own food and have access to the natural world.

In addition to community-managed farms and gardens open to visitors and volunteers, the map features associated groups such as community orchards, school growing projects, communitymanaged allotment gardens and community supported agriculture schemes.

There are 45 projects featured, but FCFCG development coordinator for Wales Katie Jones said this was just the tip of the iceberg: "As well as the groups on the map, there are more than 130 groups not yet members of FCFCG, plus many more new and fledgling groups being set up all the time. Our job is to support their work and advocate on their behalf to the Welsh Assembly.

"This map is the first of its kind in Wales and marks a major milestone for community farming and gardening. It highlights the phenomenal amount of interest in these community-led activities in Wales."

For more information, visit Fairwater Community Garden FAIRWATER Community Garden is an oasis in the middle of Cardiff that has grown out of a disused playing field.

When volunteer Paul Knowle and his father started work, the brambles were up to their shoulders.

But the father and son had the vision of turning it into an oasis in the middle of the city.

Launched in 1994, it is now managed by Vision 21 and offers vocational training and development to people with disabilities.

The garden, which runs alongside Sbectrwm Community Centre, boasts ceramic art, fruit trees, a pond and has established itself as a strong community centre.

Ceramic work created at the on-site pottery is displayed in the garden, there is open access to the site and many local people call in for advice on gardening or to donate extra plants they have.

It has been transformed by the work of the students into a valuable resource that can be enjoyed by the whole community.

The garden also has a vegetable and herb garden and the students sell some of the plants they grow.

Between five and eight students work at the garden daily, although with staff members, support workers and other volunteers there can be up to 15 people working in the garden at times.

Students learn all aspects of garden maintenance from propagating plants from seed, pruning and taking cuttings to looking after the pond, weeding and keeping the garden tidy.

In addition to being able to study for an accredited qualification via the Open College Network, students undertake a training plan devised by Vision 21 in a number of "soft skills". These might be time-keeping, team building or social skills. Students are able to see how they have progressed in these key skills throughout their training.

The centre also has a garden maintenance team who go out into the local community and do gardening at very competitive prices.

Vision 21 gardening tutor Keri Schofield said: "When you think this was once a wasteland and now it is an important community resource, it is a fantastic achievement."

Th he GROW project and Forest School, Treforest WHEN tured, l ation o was on tippers vegetab school, work w The the lan in Trefo the firs for gett N Dr Robin Cook, piclooks at the transformof the derelict land that nce a magnet for flys and is now a giant ble plot and forest it makes all the hard worth it.

72-year-old was given nd near the old tin mine orest free of charge for st three years in return ting rid of the eyesore.

And now, six years on, he is preparing to sell his first crop of organic vegetables.

"I started with half an acre of land that was basically being used by fly-tippers," explains the pensioner. "I have managed to beg and borrow and steal my way on over the years.

"I started by talking the council into giving a fence and then I set about clearing the site. There were sinks, baths and I cleared about four and a half tonnes of scrap iron that I managed to sell and then used the money back on the site."

Now, where the land used to be derelict there is a wildlife garden, toilets, a play area, the forest school and picnic area.

And over the years he has had help from organisations like Interlink, Groundwork Trust and the Big Lottery Fund.

He even managed to talk the university into lending him one of their tractors.

Robin admits: "When I stand and look at all the vegetables growing and when we have schools coming along to learn more about the great outdoors, I have a real sense of achievement."

Green Valley Project, Mount tain Ash FOR project manager Ian Wareing, it is not just about watching the land grow, it is about watching people grow in confidence too.

He has been the environmental manager of the Green Valley Project in Abercynon for the past three years and admits it is one of the most rewarding jobs he has ever done.

The four-acre site, next to the local sports centre, had been wasteland overgrown with Japanese knotweed and covered in contaminated waste.

But as Ian describes it, "a small army" of volunteers have worked hard to clear the site and transform it into a vibrant community resource that is used by local schools and as a way of training young people in skills they wouldn't normally pick up at school.

The project first began with a survey of local people to find out what they wanted from the area.

"There were three main things that came out of talking to people," explains Ian.

"Many people here don't have cars, so there was a need for green spaces close by. The second thing was trying to find some sort of employment for young people and the third was trying to do something with this area because it was such an eyesore."

The site now has a wildlife garden, access to the river and in the years to come they hope to raise enough money from the food they grow to be able to sustain themselves.

"It is basically about going back to basics," says Ian.

"We are trying to encourage a lot of traditional values and show that healthy food is easy to grow and a lot cheaper than the food that you get from the supermarket.

"We also have a lot of schools coming down. They can use the area as a resource for teaching children what a pond is or what a hedgerow is. But, I have to say, it is all about the people for me. Watching people grow and start to believe in themselves is very rewarding. And watching this place transform from a rubbish tip into a beautiful habitat that really does make a difference to the local area isn't a bad part of the job either."


Above, Fairwater Community Garden tutor Ann Booth and, below, some of the students who have helped turn a disused field into a garden Green Valley Project volunteers, from left, Kory Mason, Matthew Greenaway and Ben Richards get stuck in
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 9, 2010
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