One of the four projects in BEAT’s sustainability plan (link) is to work with Blackshaw Food Network (BFN) and Blackshaw Optimistic Gardeners (BOGS) – see www.blackshaw.net - to produce more local food for local residents. Growing our own food:
- is healthy, as it usually involves outdoor, physical work,
- can teach us valuable new skills, some of which have been lost in recent years,
- reduces food miles, and so helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change,
- can give us some protection against rising food prices,
- can bring the community together in shared projects.
BEAT contacted local landowners to ask if they had any spare land they were willing to allow us to use for community orchards and / or allotments. Two landowners came forward offering substantial areas of land free of charge, with initial ten year leases.
We took advice from Calderdale Local Orchard Group (CLOG, www.calderclog.wordpress.com) and from Treesponsiblity (www.treesponsibility.com) on which trees to plant and how. We also have a partnership with Treesponsibility in the Transition Trees project funded by the Big Tree Plant. Both CLOG and Treesponsibility have spoken at BEAT public meetings, as have the woodland management co-operative BlackBark (www.blackbark.co.uk).
Since Blackshaw Head is around 1200 feet above sea level in the Pennines, the first stage has been to plant windbreaks to protect the fruit trees. We were grateful to receive 1680 free trees and bushes from the Woodland Trust. We planted 1500 of them at the two community orchards in Blackshaw Head with the help of Treesponsibility and other volunteers such as Quakers, students from Manchester and local people. We gave another 420 trees and bushes for the start-up of a community orchard in Heptonstall.
Some of the trees planted are for coppicing so that we can produce biomass for heating purposes. Producing biomass / wood on a large scale can supply us with fuel as well as creating local employment, benefiting wildlife and slowing down water runoff into the valley from rain and melting snow. With climate change, we are likely to experience more rain storms and therefore an increased risk of flooding.
At the start of 2012 we arranged two grafting courses, with Mark Simmonds from CLOG as the trainer. A total of 26 people attended and we grafted a total of 100 apple trees. We will also arrange a pruning course and in due course we hope to run workshops on how to make produce out of the fruits from the community orchards. It will, however, take up to five years before we have an apple crop, although the soft fruit will be ready much earlier.
To protect the grafted fruit trees while they grow, we have created a nursery with rabbit-proof fencing and windbreak. All our orchards have sheep fencing around them. Likewise, fencing was erected around the community allotments in Charlestown. All this fencing has been paid for by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund and Calderdale Council. Once again, our thanks to the funding bodies for making this possible.