In 2011, the Kindling Trust received £5,000 from Making Local Food Work to launch the Land Army project. The aim of the project was to recruit volunteers to help local cooperative and organic farms with their daily jobs such as weeding, harvesting and collecting produce. One part-time worker was employed costing £3,000 and the rest of the money was spent on refreshments, insurance, travel and other costs. According to Chris Walsh from Kindling, the project also received a donation from Unicorn Grocery of £1,000 to “establish a low-carbon field kitchen, which will allow us to offer volunteers better facilities and shelter during bad weather, and personal protective equipment for volunteers.”
Several outings and events were organised in 2011 as part of the Land Army’s effort to publicise the project and explore ways to make the project add up financially. As well as taking a youth exchange group of twelve young adults to Glebelands farm for the day, social enterprise Reason Digital were invited out to harvest numerous crops. “This was to test the concept of offering ‘corporate days’ out on the farm, which would generate a possible income,” says Walsh of Kindling. You can read one volunteer’s experience planting garlic here.
Type of Work
Previous events have included weeding at various farms, harvesting potatoes, planting garlic and collecting eggs. There has also been a hedge-laying day and a tree-planting event at Moss Brook Growers where 500 trees were planted. Half of the growers the Land Army scheme supports are workers co-operatives and the others are third-generation organic farmers . All the growers are members of Manchester Veg People.
The volunteers get a verbal explanation from Kindling about the role the Land Army is playing in supporting farmers who are poorly paid. “This is a first step of introducing people to sustainable food growing at a commercial scale,” says Walsh. “ And to encourage more people to go into this field and therefore have more farmers and more sustainable food available locally.” As such, it should be clear that volunteers are helping farmers who sell their produce and not a charitable/not-for-profit organisation that is giving food away for free.
The Land Army’s support is focused on reducing waste (e.g. surplus crops that would otherwise not be harvested as it would make it too expensive to sell) and increasing yield by making more sustainable food available to a wider range of people. We were also informed by Kindling that after each outing, they seek feedback from volunteers via a feedback form and they collectively review any improvements that could be made.
A first aid kit is taken to events and a qualified first aiders is always present. According to Kindling, all the tasks have been risk-assessed and have been defined as low-risk, simply requiring an appointed person to be present. The farms have also been visited beforehand and a survey of facilities was carried out to make sure there are toilets nearby etc. “Our appointed person is always on hand and we have not had any incidents,” says Chris Walsh. “We must point out tasks involve, for example, walking up and down rows hoeing so very little risk exists.”
Volunteers receive verbal health & safety instructions and are supervised within reason. Before joining the day, volunteers complete a next of kin form and provide information about any medical conditions or medication requirements or tasks they would feel uncomfortable doing. Kindling has a Health & Safety policy and accidents are recorded and the appropriate authorities informed of incidents. Kindling also has insurance cover from BTCV for these activities with cover up to £10 million. As Walsh explains, “a significant part of the workers time has been spent on ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for the volunteer which effectively and efficiently supports the farmer.”
Working with volunteers is difficult, and the legal and administrative obstacles daunting. A mass media story with the headline “volunteer injured in accident: clueless greens at fault” would be immensely damaging to the getting and keeping of volunteers. MCFly is delighted that the Land Army is so tightly run. If people are told where their labour is going, and the duty of care to them is taken seriously, then everyone (including desk-jockey editors) needs to think about donating some time and energy.
What to be a Farmer?
The Greater Manchester Land Army is to receive 4 days of horticulture training from Jenny Griggs of Climate Friendly Foods. The training, which will run on four consecutive Wednesdays in March, will be a mixture of practical work and theory, and will include visits to Glebelands City Growers and Fir Tree Community Growers. Anyone interested in becoming an organic grower for Greater Manchester, who can commit to a number of week day outings with the Land Army in this growing season, can apply for a place on the course – email email@example.com
Apple Grafting Marathon
The Greater Manchester Land Army will be having a weekend of apple tree grafting on 24th and 25th of March 2012. It has funding from Making Local Food Work to create 500 new trees and Adam Davies, an orchard manager from Herefordshire, will be there to show how it’s done. Places are limited but anyone wishing to apply can email firstname.lastname@example.org saying which day (the Saturday or Sunday) would suit them best.