In the autumn of 2021 it will be five years since we created Bentley Urban Farm (BUF), so we thought it was a good time to look back at where we came from and to tell the story so far… while hinting at the new directions we will be taking…
Some time ago Warren Draper and John Briggs created an initiative called Doncaster Urban Growers (DUG), a guerilla gardening project which planted various edible and other useful plants on wasteland and/or neglected sites around the borough. We yearned for more permanent spaces where we could build something bigger and a little more permanent. We knew about the disused council-run horticultural training centre in Bentley and the land around it. During this time Warren also invented and co-created the Doncopolitan magazine with his long-term art collaborator, Rachel Horne. Jo Miller, the leader of the council at the time, subscribed to Doncopolitan and we were able to convince her of our vision for the site in Bentley. We had the idea of setting up (what may well be the world’s first…) ‘upcycled market garden’, where we would use reclaimed (waste) materials to repair and maintain the training centre so we could teach families, individuals, schools and groups to grow and enjoy healthy food in an affordable and ecological way.
It started as an anti-food poverty campaign. Like most former mining towns, Bentley is something of a food desert where, although 94% of residents are within a fine minute walk of a fast-food outlet, there is no independent greengrocer to service a region of over 21,000 people. It is a town where it is, quite literally, easier to buy kebabs than kale.
We used our ‘Seed & Save’ project to teach people how to make raised beds and grow their own fresh food to help them save money. We even bought produce back from growers for our veg boxes. But it soon became evident that it wasn’t just poorer families who struggled with food health. We found that there were families where the parent/s or carer/s worked long hours so that the children, so-called latch-key kids, were warming up their own meals from the freezer. They were getting the same nutritionally poor meals even though they were in more affluent families. It became obvious that it was our relationship with food, not just access to good food, which was the problem. So we began to create programmes to encourage people to grow, cook and eat together and see food in a more positive light and to recognise it as an important part of who we are (we’re literally made from it, so he better the food the better the person), not just fuel which needs to be consumed.
The only constant has been Warren Draper, who has spent almost every day of the last five years on site. But he is keen to point out that he is as much a curator of the site as he is a manager or CEO (both of these titles make him flinch). Whenever anyone says: “You’ve done an amazing job”, he is quick to remind people that the site is the creation of dozens of people (perhaps hundreds) over several years. There have been far too many people and groups to name every one, but we’ll try a quick shout-out to the people, groups, supporters, customers and funders who have made a significant difference over the years (apologies if we’ve accidentally missed you off, give us a heads up and we’ll add you):
Dave, Sapphire, Emma, Suzie, Kev, Simon, Darren, Anita, Sophie, Mark, Ann, John, Glen, Manna CIC, Ian, Alyson, Grace, Dorian, Naeela, Pauline, Audrey, Anna, Scarlet, another Dave, Rachel, another John, Sacha, Sol, Sue, another Kev and the teachers & kids from the Primary Learning Centre, Darwin, Robert, Eden Project Communities, twins Daven and Trinity, yet another Dave, Pete, Paula, Sarah & Rita, John number three, another Sarah… but this time with Russ, Big Picture, everyone from the Ridge Employability College, our wonderful home-edder community, Jane, Mayor Ros Jones, Mike, Becky, Tara, two Tims, Hollie, Doncopolitan, Journey Education, Michelle, Charlotte, Jo, Cambeth Community Project, Workers Educational Association, Suma, Ruzina and the 71st Hunafa Scout Group, Sue, another two Marks, Greenheart Community, the Urban Worm, the Skintones, Jennefer, Jenny, Jen, Damian, Paul, Charlie, Bill, Dan, the Landworkers’ Alliance, Vegan Organic Network, Graham, Karen, the New Fringe and funding/sponsorship/donations from Volcom, DMBC, NDDT, Adorned, Mac Therapists, Doncaster Creates, Bright Ideas, Locality, Eco & Artisan, Better Way, Spacehive and the National Lottery Community Fund. And a huge thank you for our award from Permaculture Magazine and the Abundant Earth Foundation.
A thank you in advance for those of you we have yet to meet. If you haven’t been enticed to visit Bentley Urban Farm already, here are a few of the new projects we’ll be running alongside our usual growing, environment, therapy, art and music sessions…
We’re currently building new break-out spaces which can be used safely by groups, schools and individuals under most CV-19 restrictions, but which will also be sheltered and heated so that they can be used any time of year. As with our Unbound Arts and Open Space areas, these can be used on a quid pro quo basis. If you have funding to make a donation all well and good, but if, like many of us, you’re struggling financially you can pay your ‘rent’ with non-monetary donations such as wood or old tools, or by doing a spot of weeding or fundraising. These new spaces will also form part of our forthcoming DIY Festival project. A major focus this summer will be our Good Vibrations workshops where we have some practical lessons in making music, including lessons in making instruments out of reclaimed materials and plants which we’ve grown specially on site, followed by an evening’s jamming session. We’ll even add some food, because food and music is all you need to turn it into a party.
Watch this space for more details.
If you’d like to volunteer, pop down to the farm between 10am and 4pm on a Tuesday or Friday, or between 12pm and 4pm on a Saturday or Sunday. We’re down the lane between Bentley High Street School and St Peter’s Church. If you have any trouble finding us or would like further information, call or text Warren on 07846 439982.