Grown in Totnes really is the fruit of our town’s grass roots, its community, through their support and generous funding of our milling equipment, their volunteering and by buying our flours and grains. So it is important to us to seek community input into the vision for the next stage of Grown in Totnes.
A fortnight ago, on the 16th of July, we held a gathering on the Dartington estate to celebrate all that has been achieved so far and to share the kernels of our learning along the way, including the many challenges. Not least, that after three years of generous funding from the Esme Fairbairn Trust, which comes to its end in October, Grown in Totnes is not financially profitable and so must evolve.
We wanted to set the compass for the next phase of Grown in Totnes with the help of key stakeholders who will ultimately carry it forward. Six scenarios for the future of Grown in Totnes were presented on the day, both based in Totnes and further afield and from a range of people including farmers, bakers and local councillors. Many questions were asked, new possibilities were born on the day and the conversations continued from inside the room at Dartington, down to the wheat fields on the estate, to the farm at Huxham’s cross and all the way to the pub via the processing unit. The conversations haven’t stopped since and the future looks hopeful. Read on to find out more about the happenings of the day.
Our hearts were gladdened to have 55 people attend, with those present highlighting the breadth of interest in reviving local grains, including Dartington’s bakery the Almond Thief; the head cook from Schumacher College, Julia Ponsonby; Totnes councillor Robert Vint; Dartington estate manager John Channon; food service businesses we supply such as the Green Table café and farmer and active member of the Landworkers’ Alliance Ed Hamer, of Chagfood, to name but a few.
As well as local attendees there were supporters from outside of the county – our long term mentor, the heritage grain breeder, miller and archaeobotanist John Letts; Steven Jacobs – Business Development Manager at Organic Farmers and Growers; economic botanist Andrew Ormerod from Cornwall and London baker Rosy Benson, from fellow local grain champion E5 Bakehouse.
That we were joined by a not insignificant number of people from outside of Totnes echoes our sense of the situation, that there is a growing movement and interest across the country in British grown and milled grains and in reconnecting our bakeries and bread consumers with farmers, rescuing arable growers from the obscurity of commodity grain supply chains to give them a place at the table of local food. Grown in Totnes is part of a wider change happening beyond our own town and the knowledge sharing we are engaged in is key.
The day opened with a look back at Grown in Totnes’s journey so far – from early research into the Totnes local food web back in 2013, highlighting the lack of locally grown storable food staples, namely grain and pulses, to the fantastic success of the Crowd Funding campaign in May 2015, which helped to raise a whopping £26,000 towards equipping a grain processing mill for Totnes.
We reflected on what 4 harvests have taught us about the trials and rewards of re-establishing grain processing in Totnes, having persuaded some game local farmers to grow grain for human consumption.
The challenges encompass everything from having to import milling equipment due to the lack of British manufacturers and suppliers, to the impact of small mixed farms not owning their own combine harvesters and being at the mercy of agricultural contractors, to the baking characteristics of Devon grown wheat compared to its Kazakhstan cousin and what this means for local bakers and ultimately your local loaf.
The key themes of challenges and learning were summarised by Grown in Totnes team member Emily as:
· Technical knowledge building amongst farmers and would-be-millers alike.
· Local infrastructure required for human consumption grade grain.
· Challenges of supply chain logistics – getting grain from the field to the plate.
· Value chains & forms of farmer – processor relationships, i.e. who in the supply chain earns what and what does the contract look like.
We rightfully acknowledged our achievements, not only have we stimulated the growing of grain for humans locally, and set up a grain processing facility, but we now have a range of 12 grain products both on shop shelves and supplying caterers. But potentially more impactful is the interest the project has generated from other organisations across the country, as well as abroad, including documentary makers, journalists and other communities. In fact, we would view the educational work we have done as a large part of our legacy, for example the interns who we have hosted and the Schumacher masters students and food growing trainees we have worked with.
We broke up our day long gathering with the real proof of the pudding – a delicious lunch provided by the Kitchen Table, long time supporters of Grown in Totnes, who showcased our grain products with inspiring savoury cheesecakes, flapjacks and desserts. The lunch really was a testament to the Totnes based catering company’s ethos of using local quality ingredients and the skill they have at being able to adapt to what the local landscape offers up seasonally, a confidence and flexibility which we need more businesses to develop the capacity for.
After lunch the room heard scenarios for the future of Grown in Totnes from 6 different people, before being able to circulate between tables where discussions of these scenarios were being hosted:
· 1 Chagford based proposing grain growing and milling, presented by Ed Hamer from Chagfood
· 3 based around Dartington: milling locally grown hemp proposed by The Hemp Avatar, A Bakers & Buying-Cooperative proposed by Harriet Bell, Dartington and Dan Misfud from the Almond Thief Bakery and one by grain grower, fresh flour & grain education enthusiast Andrew Gilhespy, aka Grain of Truth.
· 1 Totnes/Dartington based: a potential food-processing hub, proposed by Councillor Robert Vint.
· Holly presented a scenario where Grown in Totnes has to sell off its assets on the open market and wind up its operations in the face of none of the above scenarios materialising.
Each table worked their way through a set of questions provided to guide the exploration of the scenario – a fruitful process throwing up where capacity already existed and highlighting further questions which needed resolving. The tables later fed back to the wider room, where more insights and synergies emerged as scenarios and tables cross-pollinated. We were taken aback to witness the respect and affection for the Grown in Totnes identity and that people were keen to keep the brand alive going forward.
Harriet Bell, Dartington Estate, presenting back to the room on the table’s exploration of a grain buying business cooperative.
The indoor sessions ended with a space for participants to express their feelings around Grown in Totnes, a moving collection of contributions. Whilst specific in reference to Grown in Totnes, for example how much work Holly has put into initiating the project and the hours of hard work the farmers give to feed us, they spoke of the wider importance of the felt experience of food sovereignty, how it matters on a personal level, emotionally even, that you feel you can have some control over where your food comes from and some choice in the food available to your community and knowledge of the people and places involved in its production – although we must seriously acknowledge that there is not equal access and choice of food for all in our community.
Some attendees chose to continue on to a tour of the wheat fields, with the first stop being the Heritage Population Wheat, bred by John Letts and grown by Dartington farmer Jon Perkin, opposite Dartington church. After a fascinating impromptu talk on the grain by John Letts we continued in grainy pilgrimage to the field of Modern Wakelyn YQ Population Wheat, bred by Wakelyns research farm and being grown by Marina and the team at Huxham’s Cross Biodynamic Farm. This epic day continued with a tour of the milling equipment on Totnes industrial estate and ended, with a much-reduced number of people in the pub over a well-earned pint and more great conversation.
The conversations and planning continue, we have had a number of extremely encouraging follow up meetings with potential stakeholders deemed in a position to take the project forward. It feels like a fertile reimagining of how our grain processing equipment and know-how can serve our local community and food system. We will update you again soon!