The garden had its origins in a chance meeting at an event held by the incoming Mayor of Chepstow back in October 2011. Transition Chepstow had been searching for allotment land in the town and had failed to find any suitable sites. At the mayor’s event a member of Transition Chepstow was seated next to dairy farmer Lyndon Edwards and the two got into conversation.
Transition Chepstow member Marcus Perrin said: “As an organic dairy farmer, the idea appealed to Lyndon from the beginning and he saw the chance to do something for the community.”
Lyndon’s farm is 500 acres with a herd of 200 dairy cows and he was able to offer the group a site of 70m x 70m. From the initial contact, it took about four months to negotiate a formal agreement for use of the site.
To keep things simple for the farmer, the individual plot holders formed themselves into a community group, with a single person to represent the plot holders and be a single point of contact with the farmer.
The core Transition group found other willing plot-holders through word-of-mouth, emailing their members and with help from Monmouthshire County Council. Uptake has been good, with only two plots remaining to be filled – one of which is being used by Lyndon to grow pumpkins until a plot-holder comes in.
Marcus said: “The council contacted people on their allotment waiting lists about the site and also kept information at their one-stop-shop in Chepstow. We hope that the new farm shop will help bring in people to take up the last plots, as more people are coming onto the farm and there will be posters up.”
Each individual has an annual agreement with the landowner (examples available from www.landshare.net/help). The agreements do not refer to allotment legislation and the group describe the project as land-share rather than allotments.
Lyndon was highly supportive of the idea but, as a business owner, needed to make sure the rent would cover his costs.
Marcus said: “We floated the land-share agreement idea and Lyndon checked it with his lawyers who tweaked it. There were some discussions around the rental arrangements but we reached a final agreement in early 2012.”
Marcus has some experience with legal paperwork so was able to check through the agreement on the group’s behalf. The rent per plot is £50 per year, and plot-holders also give 10% of their produce to Lyndon’s newly-opened Hanley Farm Shop. If they sell more than 10% they have the option to keep some of the profits.
Lyndon ploughed the field to prepare the ground and provides water and manure for the plot-holders. With a £2000 grant from the New Grove Trust (www.newgrovefarm.co.uk), Transition Chepstow was also able to buy a communal shed plus tools.
Using The Produce
The farm shop has proved an excellent platform for selling the land-share produce. Marcus said: “A group went up a week ago with some potatoes they’d just dug up, and half an hour later they were in the baskets waiting to be sold, so the produce really is fresh.”
The shop also contributes to the good relationship between the plot-holders and the landowner. Marcus said: “We help publicise Lyndon’s role and talk about how he’s helped make it possible, so there’s kind of a virtuous circle developing. We also spend money on coffee and cake in the shop when we go to put our produce in!”
Transition Chepstow hope to find another community group to work with on-site over the next 12 months.
“We ran one Way into Work session for young adults earlier this year,” said Marcus, “But would like to establish a more permanent arrangement with a group such as young adults or people with learning disabilities. We’d like to help people who might not usually have access to growing and give Transition members experience of working with groups.”
Tips for other groups
The landowner found it useful that the project is supported by a group with good local network, which made it easier to find plot-holders and enabled grant funding. Operating as a community garden rather than as individuals has made the site friendly and improved communication with the landowner.
Monmouthshire County Council was helpful in mailing people on allotment waiting lists about the opportunity.