Faced with climate and biodiversity crises and food and health inequalities, now is the time to choose a sustainable approach which supports agroecological practices and genuinely local production. During the first lockdown in 2020, a small group of farmers and growers on Arran were struck by the very real issue of insecure food supply chains with disruptions to the island caused by both Covid and Brexit. Motivated to address this they set up The Arran Pioneer Project to enable communities to access land to develop gardens for growing food locally on Arran.

Growing food locally on Arran

Pioneer Project talked to local landowners and obtained pieces of unused land for the use of local communities to start cultivating organic vegetables. From the outset this has been a project which has not only been a project which aims to grow food locally and ecologically, assisting in the resiliency of food security on the island, but also a collective endeavour, with all food produced by volunteers distributed to the community through market days and honesty boxes, and with all donations going back into the project. The aim of the Pioneer Project is to eventually provide every person on the island access to land to grow food if they want to, and their principles reflect a wider alternative food movement taking place across Scotland and the UK, such as the Landworkers’ Alliance UK

Progress this year

Currently there are Pioneer Project sites in Lochranza, Lamlash, Cladach, and Kilpatrick and one is just starting in Corrie too. I have been involved in setting up the community garden in Lamlash, at a site known locally as the Magic Field. After a winter of clearing the area of land, digging up brambles, collecting mounds of seaweed (for the beds), bringing chickens to the field, and building no-dig beds, we have now had our first season of growing.  It has been a big learning experience and I am still surprised at what has been achieved and the quantities of organic vegetables that we have produced! I have loved the fact that even though I have little previous gardening or horticultural experience I have been able to contribute to all parts of the establishment of the garden and production of food, and have been able to help put the collective and agroecological principles of the Arran Pioneer Project into practice. I can see that the food we are growing, and the honesty box we now fill each day, is making a real difference to the local community.

Pioneer project market day poster

Lochranza community farm has been running market days every two weeks. They are being greatly attended with regular supporters who receive good quality produce and donate kindly in return. We need to raise a thousand pounds to connect to a water supply and we are all working hard to make this happen. We are delighted to report that members of the community are now taking our produce to people in the community that are in need of a bit of help. This is one of the aims of our project and should be an integral part of any community. We are massively encouraged by all that have been involved in the farm and the project so far. Thank you very much.

the Lochranza community

Volunteers have been filling the honesty box each day with fresh produce – salad, kale, beans, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, squash and more – and have been ‘howkin’ tatties from the beds, sorting and scrubbing them ready for storing and supplying the honesty box.”

the Lamlash community

Arran Tatties

Arran has a strong tradition of developing varieties of tatties. This year volunteers have tried several different varieties in Lamlash, Lochranza, Cladach and Kilpatrick to see what works and what doesn’t, including heritage varieties from Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes and Tamar Organics and tatties of all different shapes, sizes and colours – Robintas, Maya Gold, Pippas, Red King Edward, Blau Annelise, and Charlotte.

The Landworkers’ Alliance in Scotland

The work of the Arran Pioneer Project reflects a wider movement taking place in Scotland of local small scale farmers and producers working towards shifting the paradigm around how we produce food and use land. While the Pioneer Project is a volunteer run organisation, the members of The Landworkers’ Alliance are small-scale producers and family farmers who use sustainable methods to produce food. Their aims are to work for a future where farmers are able to work with dignity and earn a decent living, and to ensure people can access healthy, affordable food from local producers.

The Landworkers’ Alliance in Scotland report that over the last year there has been a 100% increase in members with 130 members and 15 supporter members.

The increasing number of half empty shelves in supermarkets may be a reflection of the system’s inherent vulnerability to shocks such as Brexit, but our collective disconnect from the food system presents a much greater challenge – both to the planet and our health.

Land Worker’s Alliance

The Landworkers’ Alliance in Scotland recently published a Manifesto for Change, and in it they write:

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need for and many benefits of genuinely local production, which is more resilient to supply chain disruptions. However, the United Kingdom only grows approximately 60% of the food that it eats, and dependence on imports is even higher for vegetables and fruit (47.5% and 84% respectively imported). Less than 10% of land in Scotland has been classified as suitable for growing crops, but whilst large amounts of nutritious food could be grown in small spaces, we use 75% of our arable land to grow cereals with 50% of cereals going to livestock feed and to the production of beer and whisky. Agroforestry and organic production have great potential in the Scottish context, notably in combination with livestock, but uptake is still limited and only 2.1% of agricultural production in Scotland is organic.

Faced with climate and biodiversity crises and food and health inequalities, now is the time to choose a sustainable approach which supports agroecological practices and genuinely local production.

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© Arran Eco Savvy 2021