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Making Totnes more self- sufficient

PUBLISHED: 16:51 20 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:51 20 January 2015

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

© sghaywood photography

CHRISSY HARRIS meets a group of people helping make Totnes more sustainable

Photography by STEVEN HAYWOOD

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

High up on a hillside, overlooking Dartmoor and the rolling Devon countryside, a team of people is quietly helping to save the planet.

They might not be world leaders or climate change experts but members of this unassuming group are proof that preserving the Earth for future generations starts on your doorstep.

The Totnes-based Follaton Forest Garden project volunteers are turning a patch of wasteland into a thriving community sanctuary, full of edible fruit and nut trees, herbs, flowers and shrubs.

It’s part of a grand plan to try to make Totnes more self-sufficient and less reliant on food imports.

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.  -Pictured  Larch MaxeyMembers of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group. -Pictured Larch Maxey

The idea is that people can come and enjoy the views, make some friends and take home some blackcurrants, all while helping to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels.

It’s all very Totnes – a town that famously has sustainability and community spirit at its core.

But we could all learn a thing or two from the residents here - people like Larch Maxey, Follaton Forest Garden project leader, who says it’s easy and satisfying to do your bit for the environment.

“What I love about Totnes and what we are trying to show here is that you don’t have to own acres of land to make a difference,” says Larch.

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

“This place is right near the centre of town, you can come and get stuck in, get your hands dirty and be a part of it all.

“It’s about making a long-term contribution to Totnes and giving us the ability to feed ourselves.

“We want it to grow and become more and more of a community asset.”

The forest garden site is situated behind South Hams District Council’s offices at Follaton House. The council have allowed the community to manage the section of land, which includes a separate tree nursery, established in March 2012.

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

The forest garden project was set up in October 2013 and has been a work in progress ever since.

Now, the fruits of the community’s labour are - quite literally - starting to show.

Up on the grassy hillside are signs of Japanese rosehips, echinacea flowers and even a beautiful Chinese Szechuan Peppercorn tree.

It’s a heady mix created by a combination of existing shrubs and new donations from volunteers.

Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.Members of the Follaton Community Forest Garden Group.

“It just kind of works, really,” says Nicky Baines, who has been involved with the project from the start.

“At first it was all quite chaotic but things are settling in nicely now. It takes a while for it all to get established.”

Nicky takes me on a tour up a winding path, lined with herbs, flowers and wild strawberry plants in their protective winter coverings, ready to be harvested when the weather warms up.

We pass another volunteer who is marking out an area for a pond, which will be dug out just in front of a seating area where people can enjoy spectacular views over Hay Tor.

“We have picnics up here in the summer and the views are really amazing,” says Nicky, who works at a tree nursery in the week.

“I don’t mind coming here on my day off at all,” he says. “There’s lots of pioneering work to be done.”

For many of the volunteers though, the project is as much about the people as the plants. The family-friendly sessions are seen as a chance for the community to dig, eat and generally be together.

“For me it’s about mixing in with the group and meeting new people. The produce sort of comes second, really,” says Chris Hart.

Myrtle Cooper agrees. She recently moved to Totnes from Brighton and has embraced the town’s strong sense of community spirit.

“It’s so easy to meet people here because there’s so much going on,” she says.

“I come up here to help in the garden when I feel like I don’t want to come. That’s the best time. You never regret it.” n

The Follaton Forest Garden sessions take place on the first Sunday of every month, rain or shine.

The project is supported by the town’s Network of Wellbeing, which provides volunteers and helps to organise events in the garden, such as Potluck Picnics, the Big Dig. For more information, see networkofwellbeing.org and transitiontowntotnes.org/follaton-forest-garden/

You can also email larch@networkofwellbeing.org or follatonforestgarden@gmail.com

Incredible Edibles

This is another community project designed to help the people of Totnes feed themselves, localise food supply, avoid packaging and cut down on food miles. The idea is to grow vegetables and herbs in public and unused spaces for the ‘common plate’. Herbs can now be seen growing planters on Totnes Station platform and at sites across the town, including Steamer Quay and the rockery near the town’s rugby club. Wendy Stayte helps to run the scheme. She says the edibles dotted around the town have their ‘regular customers’, from keen cooks to a local barman who picks mint to mix into jugs of Pimms. “It’s a way to allow people to think of these public spaces around us as something we can all share,” says Wendy. “It’s also about showing people what can be grown in a small space. It’s also encouraging people to get their food locally, rather than always buying things that have had to come from all over the world.” Email wendystt997@gmail.com

Transition Town Totnes

Both Follaton Forest Garden and Incredible Edibles are projects that come under the umbrella group of Transition Town Totnes (TTT). It covers a wide variety of groups set up in the town to help create ‘thriving, healthy and caring local communities where people’s way of life takes into account the need of future generations’. As well as focussing on producing home-grown food, there are projects looking at education, housing and energy. The TTT initiative also administers the Totnes Pound, a local currency backed by sterling and accepted in more than 70 businesses in the town.

The idea is to make sure that wealth stays in the community. To find out more, see transitiontowntotnes.org

Atmos Totnes

In the latest exciting development for Totnes, part of a former milk processing plant has been sold to a community organisation for £1. The Dairy Crest site next to the railway station has been empty since it closed in 2007. Atmos Totnes, with the support of its patron, broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, wants to turn the area into residential and business accommodation. Organisers say they see the project as ‘the heart of a new economy’ for the town and residents will be able to help shape the site. It’s thought the land will be a mixed-use development, combining affordable housing, local food processing, brewing, baking, space for public events and much more. A community referendum on what should happen to the land is due to be held this autumn ((2015)). Work is set to begin in March 2016.To find out more, see atmostotnes.org

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