Victoria O’Farrell, a food citizen and Acting Principal at Central Lancaster High School, interviews Kathy and Steve of Spud Club.
Spud Club is one of several projects based on the land at Claver Hill. It is essentially a community grown agriculture project, where members grow and tend to vegetables, fruit and herbs. The harvest is shared amongst Spud Club’s members and with other projects on the Claver Hill site. Surplus is then shared with other projects in Lancaster to use for food preparation – via the Global Village cafe, at community meal events and via the local community centre for example.
Kathy Barton, a core member of the project, is driven by a passion to grow food all year round, so that shop bought vegetables are not necessary. Kathy’s role includes making sure that all manual jobs are done on site to support the growth of food, including looking after the compost.
Steve Jenkins, ‘the brains!’ as Kathy describes him, leads the strategic direction of the crop planting. He knows the science behind growing food, ensuring that nutrients are ever present in the soil to allow for prosperous growth.
Spud Club’s wider membership picks up a range of other jobs and roles, including making tea and cakes for breaks. The number of people on site shows a seasonal flux, with a committed 20 or so people continuing through all weathers and seasons and numbers peaking during the drier months.
How is Spud Club working towards FoodFutures’ vision of a thriving local food system that is healthy, resilient and fair?
Spud Club is situated in close proximity to a housing estate and, as such, it encourages local residents to get involved whilst providing access to healthy and organically grown fruit and veg.
Whilst the site is exposed to all elements, measures have been taken to protect the plants grown. Alders and willow have been planted to create a wind break that is coppiced and pollarded annually. A couple of polytunnels have been built to protect young seedlings, vulnerable plants and hot crops such as tomatoes and chillies. And a nature trail snakes its way around the site.
The project’s beds use a ‘no turning’ or no dig method which helps to build soil structure and health. This is also supported by the careful planning of crop rotation.
The No Dig method not only maintains nutrients but it also preserves all the microorganisms and microfilaments just under the top of the soil which are vital for the health of the soil and plants.
Spud Club also uses no chemicals such as herbicides or chemical fertilisers.
Kathy commented: ‘we would like to be fully sustainable but at the moment we don’t make enough compost and have to buy in mushroom compost from a local farm. When the mushroom growers are finished with it, we take it. And in the driest months e top up our rainwater supply from a tap in a neighbouring field. We only need it during the driest times though and we have a water management plan being put in place this growing season to try and capture more water on site whilst dealing with our winter flooding issue.’
What are you most proud of?
‘The engagement of groups such as Global Link, especially the women refugee group, who are taking part in activities that they would not ordinarily do. The site and activities provide a safe space for practical food growing and also offer an essential well-being provision: offering an opportunity to socialise, take in fresh air, get physically active and learn new skills (talking English and growing plants for food).’
What advice would you give to people interested in doing the sort of work you do?
‘Simply volunteer. Get involved. Experiment and learn from others.’
If we were to celebrate your work in 10 years time, what would we be celebrating?
‘That the flooding situation has been resolved. In recent years an area of Claver Hill has been prone to flooding from surface runoff from surrounding fields and Newton Beck. This may be due to climate change or possibly the new housing development nearby. Funding has been secured to implement a water management plan that includes the creation of a series of holding ponds and a lake’.