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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Cumbrian man's free food scheme all set to bear fruit

A simple act of charity sowed the seed of an idea that could bear fruit in villages for generations to come.

Nigel Holmes photo
Nigel Holmes

As food prices across the country continue to rise, councillors have given enthusiastic approval to a plan that will see fruit trees planted on village greens across the parish of Wetheral, giving locals free food for years to come.

Wetheral parish councillor Nigel Holmes got the idea as he walked past the Great Corby signal box, and spotted a box of windfall apples, with a notice inviting passers by to help themselves.

His curiosity stirred, he began to imagine a future for the parish in which free fruit would always be available for locals, with the village greens in Wetheral, Scotby, Aglionby, Cotehill and Cumwhinton planted with apple, pear, and plum trees.

Nigel’s dream is now – quite literally – set to bear fruit. Fellow parish councillors have backed the idea, and work on planting the publicly owned fruit trees will get underway in the autumn.

“It started last autumn when some public-spirited person put a box of apples by the signal box in Great Corby, inviting people to take what they wanted, and at the time I wanted to get a cooker apple and an eater apple for our garden,” he said.

Nigel began researching what apple trees would be suitable for his own garden, speaking to experts in Cumbria and in Dumfries. He said: “It all got me thinking.

“It made me think along the lines that perhaps this was something that could be taken up by the parish council, which owns patches of land across the parish that are basically down to grass.

“The thought occurred that as food is ever more costly and family incomes are reducing in real terms, the parish council might be able to offer something tangible in return for the council tax by using the village greens to grow fruit trees.”

Nigel told fellow parish councillors: “The greens grow grass and a few ornamental trees and perhaps some daffodils.

“I wonder whether we could graft a fresh idea onto our greens. Could we plant some productive trees – apple, pear and plum – so that our constituents would relish the fruits of our labours?

“We could also help to preserve the varieties of plant which grow well in the Cumbrian climate and which offer tastes different from the Cox’s, Braeburn, Royal Gala and Pink Ladies of the supermarkets. Biodiversity is the buzz word.”

Fellow councillors were thrilled by the idea.

“There was unanimous support – people seem more enthusiastic over this than I known them to be for a long time. If it works well here, there’s no reason why it could not work well anywhere. We have ornamental trees on greens, but fruit trees will look equally pleasant in blossom.”

Nigel said he had sufficient faith in human nature to believe that the free fruit will not be abused, and that people will take only what they need.

The project, which could also involve local schools, may also encourage youngsters to eat more healthily.

There is also support for the plan from the North Cumbria Orchards Group.

Nigel added: “It strikes me that were Wetheral to pioneer such a project it might pollinate other parishes. We might also be able to use land to which we had opposition over siting allotments, perhaps also closed churchyards and the woodland burial ground.”

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