Wales in 2051: Agricultural healing and indigenous knowledge

In this fifth instalment of the Welcome to Wales in 2051 stories, we introduce our next character, Aman, a community farmer who tells us about the use of ancient agriculture practices to mitigate the impact extreme weather conditions have on food growing.

Wales in 2051

Our previous story was about Luke, who told us how he remodelled ways the private sector work collaboratively to address pressing challenges. This week, our journalist turns his lens to a community farmer, Aman, a former refugee who shares his experience of developing a food cooperative with little prior knowledge in farming.

A day in the life of Aman

Just as the journalist was about to leave the hub, Aman, one of its members, arrived for an event and a brainstorming session with other growers and innovators. Luke insisted that Aman take the journalist to see his cooperative farm, which Aman was more than thrilled to do. They decided to meet the following day for a full tour of the farm.

In the morning, Aman arrived with a freshly brewed local alternative to coffee, a malted and roasted wheat coffee, which Polish people popularised in Wales. “You see,” Aman said, “when coffee plantations were no longer suitable for producing coffee at scale, we turned to alternatives. It was really difficult at the beginning because coffee means so much to me, but if it were not for the intercultural exchange we have here in Wales, I would have never discovered the weird and wonderful alternatives that were at our doorsteps.” While sipping this delicious hot beverage, Aman showed pictures of the founding members of the cooperative, which, from the journalist’s view was a stack of photos full of smiling people in the field. .  “They, like me, lost all they had due to a lack of adaption in the places where they grew up, and ended up here. Over time, as we began sharing our stories, we realised that we have all been through similar forms of pain and loss. This is why we formed this cooperative to ensure neither of us has to suffer alone. So while we slowly worked to heal the damaged soil that was eroded from decades use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, we managed to heal some of our traumas through sharing our stories and re-building together.” What makes our cooperative unique is not just our innovative agricultural practices but also our shared experiences and the sense of community we’ve built.

Multi-cultural learning and collective effort

Aman waved at the journalist as if saying “follow me” and so he got up and followed. The journalist was not prepared for what he was about to see next.  Stunning landscape, animals, people, sounds of birds, colours, ponds, trees, and sound of folk song sung by a group of women. This was quite remarkable, and appeared as a safe haven for people, wildlife and nature alike. But how was that even possible? Haven’t all agricultural skills been lost by now because of the mechanisation and automation, not to mention soil degradation and extreme weather conditions that make traditional farming in soil unsuitable? Clearly not here. The unexpected beauty and vibrancy of the farm left the journalist in awe, challenging his preconceived notions about modern agriculture.

So when asked about it Aman said, “I was lucky. When I arrived in Wales, I was an asylum seeker but the Welsh Government was keen on keeping skills like farming going, and so, like many other asylum seekers, I went to college and alongside English classes, I was learning about farming here. But also I was able to reflect on how we, back in my country, used to grow things. This was encouraged as part of the multicultural exchange, and it was difficult at first, but over time, I was able to heal some of the wounds and difficult memories about the journey of leaving my home.

I was not the only one. Many other farmers worldwide participated in this programme, and we formed a little after-college club. Initially, we used the knowledge we had gained from the programme to grew food at the local charity simply as a collective and social hobby. We tried multiple different farming methods and we saw that some was largely unsuccessful while others were incredibly fruitful. A common denominator for the successful farming methods involved nurturing the soil and rebuilding healthy soil bacteria and fungi to create essential growing grounds for produce. So by trying, failing, experimenting and succeeding, we learned which methods worked well for the local land and once this happened we started producing a lot of good-looking fruits and vegetable. This gave us the confidence to seek a bigger plot of land to grow even more food.  With the help of volunteers, we joined a community growing place in Cardiff, and again, we saw that urban centres with the right farming methods can produce food. Interestingly, an environmental researcher found that our farming practices enabled great drought and flooding resistance, which has since encouraged other local and distance farmers around Wales to try our mixed methods. Together, we learned how to grow food in harsh weather conditions, and doing so gave us hope and became a metaphor for our own lives.  We promised to each other that whoever gets granted a leave to remain status, will open a cooperative.”

“And we did open a cooperative! I was first to get granted permanent settlement and then other men and women, who like me, once with the status, could get further training for entrepreneurial refugees! It was a lot of learning! I was close to quitting, but I had made a promise to my follow farming buddies, and I could not back down! So, I continued, and I am glad I did not give up. So, where you are standing is the first plot we all worked on as a farming cooperative run by refugees for the whole community here. We distribute most of the food to local schools and nearby hospitals. We also get lots of volunteers and we organise excursion days where school students can come and learn how we manage food.”

Exploring different farming practices to accommodate biodiversity

While the journalist was scribbling notes, Aman moved to another plot, which, as he explained, “has been written about by scholars!” And so he began describing how a few decades back, a team of researchers unearthed this medieval method called the Vile which is a rare example of the open-field system: a technique of communal agriculture once practised across Europe. Under this system, each farmer attended his own strip of land, with the village members coming together more widely to cooperate and plan a healthy harvest.  In the nooks and crannies of medieval farms, like the Vile, many plants and animals would have found the conditions they needed to survive. Ground-nesting birds could find cover and camouflage in the fields left fallow – something done every few years to allow the soil to recover. Baulks offered safe passage to small mammals as they navigated the cultivated land.”

“So we replicated it, and we also used other methods from Spain, like communal watering, like the Kenyan dry weather method of growing from seeds, called “bunds”. These ideas were all locked in peoples’ memories, sometimes in books, stories that have been passed down through generation containing practices of how people used to tend to the soil to nourish it. So, through attending to each other’s cultural background and spending time together, we not only healed wounds but also created this place.

Besides farming in soil, Aman moved on to show another large area of farming quite distinct from the remaining as tall vertical tubes placed in a circular formation with a diversity of colours from different plants and vegetables growing out of openings in the tubes. They towered high over the journalist, who considered himself to be of above-average height, and he wondered how they would conveniently harvest all the high-growing broccoli and kale. Aman explained that these were their aquaponic systems with fish floating around in water-filled tanks connected to tubes. The fish waste offered nourishment for the plants in an almost closed-loop system. Aman added, “It is quite an ancient system originating in Japan, but over the last few decades, it has adapted to other countries. I am just lucky, the knowledge was already developed decades before, but we all needed to bring ourselves up to speed. Not many of us knew how to look after fish, plants, water, nutrients and bacteria all at once! But look at this now!”

“We don’t just use multicultural and ancient farming practices, we also use technology to help us prepare for the changing climate. We work with the hub’s researchers and innovators who help us identify suitable land for both nature and agriculture. We learned our lesson, use local and indigenous knowledge and science together, not apart”.

Follow next week’s story about Cleo, a doctor in rural Wales who practices preventative care and explores the root causes of people’s ailments rather than treating the symptoms with medicine. 

How can we develop and use our skills needed to create a 2051 we are proud of?

Have a look at our range of advice and training services.

Did you like this story? How did it make you feel? What aspects of the story provoked you the most? Email us your response on shwmae@cynnalcymru.com

Please note that some AI-generated content is included in the featured image for this piece.

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