A visit to St Werburgh’s Community Farm is a great entry point into understanding sustainable farming in Bristol.
Surrounded by houses in one of the city’s most deprived areas, one of the farm’s biggest aims is to help people learn where their food comes from and make local food more accessible, and to improve health and confidence.
Walk past the goats and ducks at the entrance to the farm, and a small metal gate takes you through to Propagation Place, a collaborative, volunteer-led community business; accessible community garden and propagation polytunnel.
Founded in 2015 and using grants and support from volunteers, three overgrown plots of allotment became a thriving community growing space.
“Supporting local food growing has been very much part of our core values and we felt like we weren’t doing as much as we could,” says co-director Jess Clynewood.
Four years later, and Propagation Place has seedlings growing all year round and vegetable plants available to buy online. Everything grown by staff and volunteers is edible and seasonal.
As well as creating a more sustainable way of farming, Propagation Place and St Werburgh’s City Farm and working to empower the local community and encouraging them to get involved.
“We’re going out into communities and meeting local people,” explains Jess. “It has had an impact, increasing the diversity of people volunteering and working with us.”
Volunteers come from all walks of life, and Jess admits that while the organisation didn’t own enough land to make a really large impact on growing food, they could support people that might not have a greenhouse or garden to learn more about food growth.
As well as selling the seedlings and vegetables, some of the produce is transported across a few hundred yards to the farm cafe.
Leona, chef at the cafe, enthuses about her dishes and using locally grown produce to create menus that change with the seasons.
On a recent Monday, the brunch menu includes creamy garlic mushrooms on sourdough, smoked mackerel pate and tomatoes on toast.
Following a lunch rush at 1pm, Leona comes from the kitchen to discuss her latest recipes.
“Food is such a fascinating subject, you can never get bored,” she says. “You’re either playing with it, learning about it or watching it grow.”
The City Farm Cafe was responsible for creating a new category in The Observer Food awards when it won the Best Ethical Contribution, but none of their many awards are on display when entering to Hobbit-esque building.
Leona wants the café’s food to be accessible and inviting to all, so keeps the awards a secondary feature, letting the food take centre stage.
“We’re making food accessible across every level,” explains Leona. She uses easy-to-understand language in her menus, for example using the terms simple terms like seasonal to describe dishes on the ever-changing menu.
All dietary requirements are catered for, and the café has a number of plant-based options (they don’t use the term ‘vegan’, as Leona feels that it suggests something is being “taken away” from the dish) and the local allotment holders are also encouraged to trade surplus in return for something to eat or drink.
Leona, Jess and the whole team at St Werburgh’s City Farm and Propagation Place and quietly and powerfully changing attitudes towards food and accessibility to locally grown produce in the heart of one of the city’s more diverse and bustling areas.
St Werburgh’s City Farm and Propagation Place are part of Going for Gold, an initiative aiming to make Bristol more sustainable. Find out more at www.goingforgoldbristol.co.uk
Read more: St Werburgh’s City Farm Cafe – Review