Photography by Warren Draper
What do you know about Bentley?
Its modus operandi was centred around coal mining. However, since the end of this industry, it is now within the most deprived region across the UK.
What is happening when people are experiencing poor nutrition?
Not only does it appear in the top 10% regarding deprivation people die younger here too. They die from diseases that elsewhere are considered preventable. When an area is struggling with obesity and associated poor nutrition and also what’s termed food poverty there’s something going very wrong.
Bentley has been known as a food desert
That doesn’t mean there is nothing for sale. However, you are more likely to be able to buy chips than carrots. Most people are surrounded by takeaway food but greengrocers? There’s no chance.
Doncaster has one of the best microclimates in the north of England
You might shake your head and think this has a certain inevitability. But think again, Bentley may be ringed by takeaways but farming land also surrounds it. We talked to Warren Draper of Bentley Urban Farm and he said that it was truly ironic because “Doncaster has one of the best microclimates in the north of England and, according to the Soil Association, we have one of the most interesting and diverse soil maps in the UK.”
Why isn’t arable land being used to grow food?
It does make one wonder why, therefore, Bentley does not have an embarrassment of food treasures. If it’s surrounded by arable land why isn’t this being used for fresh food? After all, it would make a massive difference to ill health caused through lack of good nutrition. Not only this but we would most likely see an increase in jobs and a boost for the local economy. It’s obvious Warren is rather frustrated by these kinds of observations.
It pays to be strong and undaunted when the going gets tough
“Our social enterprise, Permafuture Agroecology Limited, has been arguing this for years. However, our sister project, Doncopolitan, finally helped us gain access to a small, but perfectly formed plot of land in Bentley. However, the plot was in a great place but sadly it was totally neglected. Yet we weren’t daunted as it fitted our vision for an ‘upcycled market garden’ This was lucky as we didn’t worry about utilising reclaimed materials for repairs to the workshop, greenhouse and polytunnel.
Warren is keen to explain the permaculture principles that Bentley Urban Farm runs on.
“Whenever we plant we plan mutually-beneficial ecologies, as opposed to monocrops. This means our polytunnel became home to a multi-canopy ‘jungle’. Plants like squashes, tomatoes, strawberries, cut-and-come-again leaves and okra all contribute a self-regulated environment. It worked well and helped to regulate the polytunnel temperature.
Have you tried Electric Daisies?
We also experiment with more unusual plants and varieties. This enables us to create a more exciting narrative. As a consequence people are more likely to try things they’ve never tried before. All we want is for people to eat fresh food and also find ways to grow it for themselves. We grow things like Oca, Yacon, Sea Kale, five-leaf Ginseng and our ever-popular Electric Daisies (a South American flower which some say is like eating popping candy, but I personally feel is more like licking a battery). Come and try it!
However, it’s not just the plants but the amazing volunteer teams that make Bentley Urban Farm so exciting.
It’s people that really make a place come to life. We may well have started as an anti poverty idea but now we are much more ambitious. We are now a cooperative that is diverse and forward thinking.
This year Big Lottery funding has helped us to develop our SEED & SAV£ project This is where individuals, groups and families can adopt a bed and learn to grow their own food. Certainly, 2019 will be our most ambitious yet. Warren will be speaking at the Doncaster Food Conference at CAST theatre on 13th March 2019. To buy tickets please go to the CAST website.