In 2016, Lisa and Ian Allsop grasped the opportunity to transform an unused plot of land just off the A470 in Dinas Mawddwy into a much-needed local garden centre. The garden centre is off grid, using solar panels to provide lighting and power, and harvesting rainwater for irrigation as a suitably green solution to their ‘utility’ needs. The garden shop is a converted 40ft shipping container, clad in larch to blend in with the surrounding landscape. The farm shop is a 20ft converted shipping container, which sells a wide choice of very local produce, alongside other Welsh and British produce. The garden centre stocks Welsh and British grown plants such as Welsh variety fruit trees and hardy shrubs, alpines and perennials-all well suited to the climate in this part of Wales, alongside a selection of more traditional plants such as summer bedding plants.
Camlan is at the heart of the community for the villages of Dinas Mawddwy, Mallwyd, and Aberangell, in the upper Dyfi Valley.
In 2018 Renew Wales were contacted with the view of receiving support as a not-for-profit branch of their enterprise to promote skill-share and creativity in the local area and wider networking for the food group. With the cafe on site at Camlan there was an under-cover space for community members to meet and try activities such as creative photography, learn Welsh locally, and try local baked goods and drinks. The group also discussed local community growing of fruit and vegetables. Members of this group have in the past two years gone on to plant native trees in the village and have become regular members of Dinas Mawddwy Gardening Club.
Suzanne Iuppa, the Renew Wales Co-ordinator listened to what the group wanted to achieve and assisted them with widening their base locally and forge links to other local food producers and the wider public, at a bigger venue – Bryn Uchel Caravan Park in Cwm Llinau. Renew Wales was able to offer support to this event- a local Farming and Food Fest, which took place on August 10th 2019, with a variety of local producers selling their goods and a seminar on regenerative farming by welsh-hill farmer, Hywel Morgan of Llandovery. The festival was a great success with more than 120 attendees, including local farmers, smallholder, local food suppliers, local county council representatives, interested residents and on-site caravan owners, as well as members of a Snowdonia- based organic farming co-operative.
Hywel Morgan, the speaker, mid Wales hill farmer (and a mentor from the Farming Connect/Agri Lab, Welsh Government programme) said;
“Being asked to speak at the Food Festival I was excited and nervous, with it being my first public presentation. I’m a passionate hill farmer and since I’ve done my Farming Connect Management Exchange, I’m more determined to make my farm sustainable and work with nature even more. Being able to share my vision and what I’ve learnt was hugely important to me.”
He whipped up enthusiasm amongst attendees and several good and inquisitive questions were asked during the presentation and afterwards. Lots of people wanted to chat to him and ask more searching questions- he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share his knowledge but more importantly, to learn from others too.
The event was so successful that another similar event was held at the Caravan Park to celebrate Christmas on November 30th, with even more local suppliers joining in.
The end of 2019 saw a better supported, more visible network of local food producers and suppliers linking to regular local customers through food hubs such as Camlan Food Group. This is very good practice to help ensure food security- but nobody knew how important this would be to the surrounding villages in the Valley come 2020.
February came and its successive storms and flooding events meant all local businesses in the area were affected and then, in March, it became clear that there would need to be a re-think how we socialised and obtained our food, even in a rural farming community.
It has been a good time to reflect on how Renew Wales can assist communities to build resilience by sharing ideas on a local and regional scale. The interest in local growing has gone from strength-to-strength in the Dyfi Valley, with many enterprises increasing their food production (especially in response to coronavirus) and while there was initial interest here, it has stimulated the change and development needed more widely by getting people together and providing a place where interesting things could happen.
Lisa and Ian say;
“It’s been great to work with Renew Wales, and benefit from the expertise and support to link to projects promoting local food— we feel excited about future plans!”