Healthy eating will soon take on a whole new meaning with exciting plans to develop a ‘farm’ on land near Morriston Hospital.
The health board has agreed to donate an area of land to a non-profit company to grow a range of crops – with the wider community and potentially hospital patients helping to manage it.
Although independently managed, the project is supported by Swansea Bay as part of its wider commitment to a more sustainable future.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives are partnerships between farmers and consumers in which the responsibilities, risks and benefits of farming are shared.
They are led by one or more lead growers supported by volunteers who can learn new skills and experience the therapeutic benefits associated with gardening activities.
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including grants and the weekly sale of boxes of organic vegetables to local subscribers.
CSAs originated in Japan and North America and are now based in Europe and the UK, including two in Gower.
Swansea Bay UHB became involved after it was discovered that the Food Poverty Network of Swansea was looking for opportunities to establish other CSAs in a wider area of the city.
Health Board Service Improvement Manager, Amanda Daviessaid residents of Swansea Bay are living longer than ever.
“Like many other parts of Wales, we face increasing challenges on how to keep our people healthy,” she said.
“We also continue to have health inequalities in different parts of the region.
“We know that people living in Swansea East have a life expectancy 12 years less than those living in Swansea West.
“We need to think differently about how we meet these challenges if we are to have a sustainable health and care service in the future.”
Some time ago the health board purchased land near Morriston Hospital for possible future development. However, the topography of part of this land makes it unsuitable for construction.
But, it turns out that the soil is ideal for growing crops.
Swansea Bay has teamed up with Cae Tan, a successful ASC based in Parkmill, Gower, and National Resources Wales to explore the possibility of developing the 7.6 acre site, which includes its own stream.
The health board has now committed to renting the site, for a pepper rent, to a new CSA for 10 years, starting in mid-March.
It will be managed by lead producer Rob Hernando who has been involved in community projects in the Swansea area since 2014.
In 2017, he began studying for a Masters in Sustainability and Adaptation at the Center for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, which sparked an interest in food supply networks and alternative agriculture.
Rob began volunteering in Cae Tan and became passionate about creating access to similar projects in the city’s east end, which eventually led him to work with the health board to develop the Morriston CSA.
“We will spend the first year developing the site. This involves various tasks such as improving access, hard parking and improving soil fertility,” said Rob, who himself lives in Swansea East.
“The plan is to plant green manure crops on the land to boost fertility for the first growing season, then do all the other work like fencing, hedging, planting trees and improving the the biodiversity.
“Food production will start around March 2023 and we hope to be able to supply regular food boxes from June this year.”
Details on how people can volunteer and subscribe to veggie boxes will be announced later. And although Swansea Bay is not directly involved in the CSA, some partnership plans are already being discussed.
Amanda said: “One of the proposals is for the CSA to provide us with a regular supply of vegetables.
“I spoke to our catering department and they said it was something they could look into.
“It is possible that our patients have fresh organic soup on a regular basis, which improves their health and also reduces our carbon footprint. The food will come from across the road.
“There could also be an opportunity to use hospital food waste for compost. There are DEFRA guidelines to follow, so we are having discussions on how we can do this.
Patients will also have the opportunity to get involved, as well as volunteers from across the community.
Amanda added: “Other health boards in Wales have done gardening projects, but Morriston CSA is the first on this scale.
“The law on the well-being of future generations has been the lever to encourage us to think differently about the use we make of our heritage.
“By saying land is not just for building, we can support people in our community by improving access to healthy, affordable food.
“ASC 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.
Rob said that when he started thinking about his own CSA, he had no idea he would end up working with the health board.
“It feels like a pretty unique, but also logical relationship,” he added.
“We try to provide healthy, locally sourced food, not only to help the environment, but also to help our people.
“If we can offer people the opportunity to improve their health and well-being through their daily actions and therefore reduce the pressure on the health service, that makes sense, and that’s what really excites me.
“If it succeeds, and I expect it to succeed, it’s something that can potentially be replicated elsewhere.”
Swansea Bay UHB President Emma Woollett said: “I am delighted that we were able to support such an interesting initiative.
“The Board takes its responsibilities under the Future Generations Welfare Act very seriously.
“This is a perfect opportunity to support our communities, increase wellness and encourage greater access to healthy, affordable food.”
Main picture: Amanda Davies and Rob Hernando in the field near Morriston Hospital which will be used to grow crops (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)