Today, with the support of a travel bursary from Social Farms and Gardens Wales, we visited Cae Tân - a community supported agriculture (CSA) project in the Gower.
It was a beautiful day - and an exciting time to visit the farm as things are just starting to take shape in the polytunnel and on the field. Aubergines and tomatoes have been planted out and are growing in the polytunnels whilst the fields have been plough harrowed and prepared for planting.
We arrived at lunchtime - and pretty peckish - so after walking around the site, we had a shared lunch. Then Tom O'Kane, Head Grower at Cae Tân gave us a bit of background about the project.
Community Supported Agriculture
Tom took on the site five years ago. With a background in organic and biodynamic farming and training in horticultural therapy, Tom decided he wanted to set up a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme. He spent 7 months travelling around France to learn about different CSA models. After volunteering at a range of CSAs, he decided that grower-led CSAs were the model he wanted to work with.
CSAs are about sharing the responsibilities, risks and benefits of farming as a collective. As a grower-led CSA, decisions are guided by the growers, supported by the members of the CSA who pay for a share of the crop in the form of a weekly box of veg. Currently, Tom and assistant gardener Lizzie manage the farm operations, supported by two apprentices and a host of volunteers who help out on the plot. Members pick up their weekly veg box from a local hub - the Gower Heritage Centre.
Tom suggests community supported agriculture can help create a thriving local economy, abundant local ecology and healthy produce. Currently Cae Tân have 120 members who have a box every week - and 50 folks on the waiting list. So they must be doing something right!
With a growing community of interest, last spring, Cae Tân embraced the opportunity to take on an extra growing site - which offers 5 more acres of land to grow on. We hopped in the car to drive over to this site and check it out.
At the newly acquired Furzehill site in Lunnon, Cae Tân are growing a range of field crops as well as hosting a salad-growing enterprise for local cafes run by one of Cae Tân's past apprentices, Francesca. Francesca gave a little overview of her enterprise - explaining she harvests around 30kg of salad per week. What a lot of leaf!
Francesca supplies a handful of cafes in the Swansea area with freshly harvested salad leaves twice a week. The lettuce and beet leaves were looking vibrant in the sunlight, especially the Salanova and Navarro leaves. Francesca said she is very inspired by Charles Dowding - the infamous 'No Dig' gardener.
On the Furzehill site, they have a newly constructed barn which will be used for packing the boxes, cleaning and packing salad and storing a range of root crops and drying onions. As Tom showed us around, he explained their crop rotation, which includes including as much green manure as possible in the rotation.
Cae Tân have been working with the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) since 2017, who acquired the 18 acre Furzehill site which the new plot of land is part. The ELC are a cooperative which purchases agricultural land, then subdividing it into a number of ecologically managed residential smallholdings for new entrant small-scale growers.
The plan for Furzehill is to divide it into two plots of 5.5 acres, with two dwellings. What an amazing opportunity for future aspiring growers!
Tom also told about Abby, another Cae Tan apprentice who is hoping to set up a sister CSA scheme a few miles down the road at Llanghennith. This CSA will be able to help ease the waiting list and offer organic, locally grown veg to other people in the area. They are literally sowing seeds of change.
Cae Tân is a fabulous place to see community-supported biodynamic-organic agriculture in action. Many thanks to Tom for showing us around and sharing his passion for growing and making locally grown ecological food a possibility for folks. Thanks also to Lisa Williams and the Social Farms and Gardens Wales for making the trip possible. Diolch yn fawr iawn!