How Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire is transforming unused land in the county and feeding those in need.

Back in 2015, three women met while volunteering at Banc Organics, at Tir Eithin Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Bancffosfelen, which grows and supplies organic produce via an organic box scheme to members in the Gwendraeth Valley and surrounding towns and villages of Carmarthenshire.  

These women were Marie Turke, Sky Cullen and Kelly O’Brien. Inspired by the Incredible Edible Todmorden story, they joined forces, met other Incredible Edible groups in the UK, and founded Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire in February 2016.  

The group went on to constitute as a community organisation in August of the same year, mentored by Roxanne Treacy of Renew Wales. Since then, it has grown and in the following two years, they held an Incredible Edible Conference with Mary Clear, Founder and Chair of Incredible Edible Todmorden, attending as a guest speaker and local groups, individuals and schools showcasing how they grow food and participate in their community in other ways. 

The two Incredible Edible groups have become great supporters of each other ever since and Mary kindly hosted Marie at her home when she attended a course hosted by Incredible Edibles in Tod. They have since become good friends and comrade community activists. 

During the same time, Kaz Jefferies succeeded Nicky as Chair and Katrina Mudge stood in as Vice Secretary to support Sky as she battled with ill health. Alongside the committee members, there’s a whole host of incredible volunteers, too many to name individually, but without all their hard work and dedication the organisation would not be as successful as it is. Their social media following on Facebook has grown to over 2,300 with a sharp rise during the COVID-19 pandemic as people tried growing their own for the first time and needed online advice or needed support to get food to people who were unable to get out during restrictions.

The group has worked with local communities over the last five years to tend several pieces of land in the local area, including a community garden at the intersection of Church Road and New Street in Burry Port, a small herb garden outside the Harbour Light Tearoom & B&B on Burry Port harbour, and a community memorial orchard in Parc Pontyberem, planted in memory of one of the founders, Sky Cullen, who sadly passed away just over two years ago.  

Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire also helps other organisations to start or rejuvenate old gardening projects, offering advice and bringing in a team of volunteers to help get projects up and running, offering ongoing support if needed.  

In the last few years the group have helped the Llanelli Deaf Centre to tackle an overgrown garden and supported their volunteers and service users to bring the garden back to its former glory, to the delight of some of the older members. They have supplied materials and built a raised bed at Links a local mental health charity in Llanelli – and along with volunteers of Halifax Bank, Llanelli they built another raised bed at the back of a local Community Centre for the centre users.  

They also help with organising gardening clubs at two primary schools in Burry Port and Pembrey. A couple of years ago, Pembrey Primary School fought off stiff competition to achieve third place in Wales in the Schools category of Wales in Bloom for its growing at the school, while the group’s community garden in Burry Port was part of the winning entry for the Small Towns in the Wales in Bloom Award.

This year at the start of Covid restrictions, five local Incredible Edible volunteers stepped in to take care of the Back2Basics community garden in Llanelli, a project managed by Lucy Leach of the Centre for Building Social Action (CBSA).  Lucy and her colleagues running other projects were forced to work from home like so many others across the country and the community garden was put on hold at what should have been the start of a busy growing season.

“Incredible Edible had supported CBSA’s successful funding bid for the B2B garden a couple of years previously and had helped them plant up their new polytunnel in 2019, so we couldn’t see the polytunnel and the 20 plus raised beds going to waste for a whole season because of this pandemic, so myself and four of our local volunteers (Jess, Cindy, Montse & Geraldine) stepped in as guardians to tend the community garden,” says Marie Turke.

“Lucy was able to maintain remote participation along with the volunteers and was able to visit herself when restrictions were lifted. Three of the volunteers were novices and they learned a lot about growing food during the season. Between us we produced an unbelievable amount of food which was distributed amongst the volunteers and their families and to the community.”

The group has also hosted breadmaking courses at the Llanelli Deaf Centre led by Chendore Doxey, a Food Historian at A Taste of Times Past and Head Miller of the Gower Heritage Centre. It has become part owner of a wood fired pizza oven trailer, which it shares with child and family-focused group Majical Youth in Pembrokeshire.

“It was donated to us by a businessman in Leeds who wanted it to be used in the community,” says Marie.

They initiated the Incredible Food Share, which redistributes surplus food from supermarkets and food donated by fellow growers to people in the community who need it the most, and they have organised some sustainable craft courses, such as a bunting workshop in Felinfoel using recycled materials and a macrame workshop in Kidwelly.  

In 2017 Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire were the winners of a Renew Wales ‘Community Engagement and Collaboration Award’ received at the Senedd in Cardiff.

Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire receives their award at the Senedd

In December 2020, with the assistance of the Wales Cooperative, Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire incorporated as a Community Interest Company (CIC).  It now has five directors, all with a diverse range of complementary skills and knowledge to take Incredible Edibles into the next chapter. 

Marie Turke, founder, Director and Treasurer is an outdoor educator/trainer with a long history of involvement in horticulture, outdoor education, youth and community development work, both for work and voluntarily here in the UK and abroad. Marie is also on the Incredible Food Share team and brings her wide networking skills to the group.  

Alongside Marie is Maggie Carr, the group’s horticulture adviser and garden designer.  She is a retired lecturer in the arts and an organic gardener for over 45 years, nowadays she also practices permaculture principles. Maggie represents Swansea and Neath Permaculture, Wales Permaculture Association and Swansea Organics as well as spearheading the new Incredible Seed Library, promoting local seed saving of open pollinated seeds for future planting and sharing locally, training in seed sharing will be offered in the near future. Maggie, a skilled “Zoomer”, facilitates the group’s online meetings and runs a number of online Folk Clubs, performing herself, singing solo ‘a cappella’ at a variety of online Folk Clubs, and is also part of an “a cappella” trio called the Larks.  

Fellow director Montse Ribas-Gomis, a scientist at Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Incredible Edible’s new Environmental Champion, brings her knowledge of NRW policies and a keen involvement in community and cooking initiatives. Montse is also part of the Incredible Food Share team and volunteers in the kitchen at Skandavale Hospice in Llandyssul. She has previous volunteering experience in a local soup kitchen and cooks regularly for elderly neighbours, friends and family.  

Director Maria Morgan is a social worker with the local authority and also supports young people via Llamau, a homeless charity for young people of 16 to 25 to prevent homelessness in that age group. 

Maria is the company Secretary and provides safeguarding advice. She is also part of the Incredible Food Share team and is an avid cook.  

“I am one of nine children and I grew up with food poverty and know what it’s like to worry about food as a child,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping people to help themselves.”  

Finally, Heike Griffiths, the group’s Chair and Equal Opportunities Champion, is a lecturer who teaches inclusion and social justice at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, as well as being involved in Common Ground in Kidwelly, Kidwelly Sensory Garden and Extinction Rebellion. Heike also facilitates some of our craft workshops. 

 “Between us all we have lots of different skills and make a very good team,” says Marie. “We’re helped by an amazing band of volunteers. Volunteers Aimee Turke-Evans and Jessica Rees help out with the Incredible Food Share and our volunteer Cindy Nottingham looks after the administration of our Time Credits which we offer for some volunteering activities in exchange for their work. These can be exchanged for rewards such as a free swim, gym session or trip to the theatre.”

The group has plenty more activities lined up, including using funding received from the Co-op’s Community Causes to develop Green Mentors who will support members of the community to learn how to grow edibles.  The funding will help to provide training to the Green Mentors to ensure everyone has the correct skills and techniques when it comes to tasks, such as first aid, safeguarding, health and safety, manual handling, food hygiene etc.  Of course, the railway project, if it happens, will be a big project and a great venue to train up the Green Mentors.

Marie and Maggie’s incredible drive, which has helped the Llanelli project get so far, shows no sign of tiring as they continue to support the partnership in this proposed railway project.

Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire holding a plant sale.

Incredible Edible aim to show people that growing edibles is not rocket science,” Marie says, “and with increasing concern over the growing number of families and individuals facing food poverty, we won’t feed the world through what we grow, but with our Incredible Food Share, diverting and redistributing surplus food that would have ended up in landfill or compost bins and by starting valuable conversations and showing people how to grow and share food in their own communities, we are making a difference.

“Gardening and community have been my passion for as long I can remember. I’m 53 this year and I started gardening as a young child with my stay-at-home mum, an avid gardener.  I grew up in a close-knit community on a council estate in Ponthenri. Grandparents lived nearby who had a garden full of apple trees, red currants, black currants, rhubarb and gooseberries and neighbours had allotment style gardens.  

“As one of four children in a one working parent family, money was tight but as a community we used to share our surplus fruit and veg, and my mum used to make jams and knit for the community. We had a great carnival every year and our street always had a float with everyone taking part.  We had wonderful street parties for Jubilee year and the Royal Wedding so my childhood experiences are probably where my sense of community spirit comes from. 

“I’ve volunteered all of my adult life in youth clubs, schools, colleges and in the community generally and I enjoy sharing knowledge and skills with others. I have also been fortunate to go on a couple of expeditions to Nepal (Everest Base Camp) and Borneo in Malaysia where I was a project manager and facilitator leading 16-25 year olds on community projects, environmental projects and leading the adventure phases of scuba diving, trekking and climbing the second highest mountain in Malaysia. Working with communities here in Wales, in the UK, in Europe and further afield I have gained a wealth of experience in community engagement and how people grow and share food in their communities.

“Covid-19 has brought lots of tragedy and hardship, in terms of food poverty, loss of family, friends and jobs, and the resulting isolation and damage to mental health for many individuals and families all over the world. We hope that our group has been able to play a small part in getting food out to those in the local community in their time of need, and to help people gain growing skills to become more sustainable themselves. 

“We have been busy behind the scenes at this time of reduced participant activity, working on our organisation and its policies, attending webinars, acquiring land, collaborating to progress the proposed railway project, plus planning 3 more community orchards.  

“One of the orchards is an extension to our community orchard in Pontyberem, a new orchard at the Back2Basics garden and a new orchard in Kidwelly Park, all funded by an Orchard Grant applied for on our behalf by Social Farms & Gardens, who have been instrumental in advice on land issues and licences/leases.  

“Our social media following grew exponentially during this pandemic with more people than ever wanting support and advice to grow their own food. The growth in support for buying local has been incredible and I hope that this change will continue into the future. One thing that Llanelli struggles with is that there is a three-year waiting list for an allotment and many people do not have the land available or the skills to grow. I waited five years to get my allotment in Llanelli and if the railway project is successful it will give local people a chance to learn to grow and a space to grow their own food to share. What a great community growing project it would be for the local community and to welcome visitors arriving into Llanelli by train to demonstrate what Incredible Edible are doing to help the town become more sustainable.”

To find out more about Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire please join their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. 

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