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Morriston Hospital ‘farm’ gets the green light

22 Jan 2022 4 minute read
Photo by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

Swansea Bay University Health Board has revealed plans to develop a “farm” on land near Morriston Hospital providing opportunities to promote healthy eating and wellbeing in its community.

A Swansea based not-for-profit venture has been given health board backing to develop an area of land to grow a range of crops, with plans for the wider community and potentially hospital patients helping to run it.

The independently run project is being supported by Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) as part of the board’s wider commitment to future sustainability.

The scheme is part of a movement of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives through which farmers and consumers work together to share the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming.

There are ten established CSAs in Wales with more businesses in development. There are two projects in Gower – Cae Tan and Big Meadow – and funding for the projects include contributions from grants and the sale of weekly organic veg boxes to local subscribers

Principal growers run the projects and are supported by volunteers who are offered the chance to learn new skills and enjoy the therapeutic benefits associated with gardening activities.

Swansea Bay UHB says it became involved after discovering that Swansea’s Food Poverty Network was looking for opportunities to establish further CSAs across a wider area of the city.

Improving biodiversity

When the health board bought the land near Morriston Hospital for potential future development it found that just over 7 acres of the land, complete with its own stream, was unsuitable for building on but perfect for agricultural use.

It teamed up with Cae Tan, a successful Gower based CSA, and with National Resources Wales to explore the possibilities and has now committed to a 10-year lease of the site, for a peppercorn rent, to a new CSA, starting in mid-March.

Rob Hernando, who studied for a Masters in sustainability and adaption with the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, will manage the site as the principal grower.

His involvement in community projects in the Swansea area and volunteering at Cae Tan fuelled an interest in food supply networks and alternative agriculture.

He wanted to create access to similar projects in the east of the city, where he lives, which led to him working with the health board to develop the Morriston CSA.

Outlining his plans for the venture on the SBUHB website, Rob said: “We will spend the first year developing the site. This involves various tasks like improving the access, hardstanding for parking and improving the fertility of the ground,”

“The plan is to plant green manure crops over the field to build fertility for the first growing season, then doing all the other work like fencing, hedging, planting trees and improving biodiversity.

“The production of food will start around March 2023 and we hope to be able to provide regular food boxes from June that year.”

“We are trying to provide healthy locally-sourced food, not only to help the environment but to help our people.

“If we can provide opportunities for people to improve their health and well-being through their daily actions and therefore reduce pressure on the health service it seems logical, and that is what’s really exciting for me.”

Challenge health inequalities

Health board Service Improvement Manger, Amanda Davies, said Swansea Bay residents were living longer than ever before, and that the project offered the chance to challenge health inequalities in the area, as well as potentially providing a regular supply of organic food for patients in the hospital.

She said: “We know that people living in Swansea East have a life expectancy of 12 years less than those who live in the west of Swansea.

“We need to think differently about how we address these challenges if we are to have a sustainable health and care service in the future.

“There’s an opportunity that our patients could have fresh organic soup, on a regular basis, improving their health and also reducing our carbon footprint. The food will come from across the road.

Referring to the potential for patients to become involved, along with volunteers from across the wider community, Amanda added: “Other health boards in Wales have done gardening projects but the Morriston CSA is the first on this scale.

“The Well-being of Future Generations Act has been the lever to encourage us to think differently about how we use our estate.

“The CSA will help connect our community, improve skills, reduce loneliness and isolation, and improve people’s health and well-being. And at no cost to the health board.”

Details of how people can volunteer, and subscribe to veg boxes, will be announced at a later date.

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