Kyle Feeds, growing under cover in Sutherland

In a remote part of the Highlands, the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust (KoSDT) is tackling food insecurity and growing resilience and local connections through community food growing  Bev, the Project manager, and Lucy, the Project gardener, share their Tunnel Tale.  

KoSDT serves six villages, encompassing up to 1700 residents. Bev recounts how when she first took up a post as a physical activities worker in 2015, she was struck by the lack of access to fresh, affordable food locally. “The nearest supermarket for villages in the area is a 24-mile round trip. With an ageing population and many young people of working age moving away, residents lacked regular access to fresh food and social connections.” In 2016, with funding from the Scottish Government the Trust set up a community café in Ardgay, other government funding streams have subsequently supported the development of a community larder and small tunnel in Ardgay (2022) and a kitchen garden and tunnel in Bonar Bridg  (2024. Under the banner ‘Kyle Feeds’, food growing and supply have since become a focus for collective endeavour,  

The tunnels and kitchen garden supply the local community larder and cafe, ensuring fresh, nutritious food is accessible to community residents. 

The Project’s growing initiatives  have proven to be really popular with volunteers working in the tunnel and the newly established garden. “The garden is right next to the post office and bus stop and attracts a lot of attention, with locals passing by, joining in, and really wanting to support us and get growing. Also, the area, which was previously derelict, provides an attractive focus to the village.”

 Other food-related projects delivered by 2 part-time gardeners include offering practical growing support and plants to grow at home to 40 village families over two years, with children under 18, supplying three local primary schools (2 with their own tunnels) with plants for growing in their school grounds, and delivering grow-your-own workshops for local residents, including children.  

Tunnels are not uncommon in this landscape, with this type of growing infrastructure becoming more commonplace in residents’ gardens; what provides extra motivation, reflects Lucy, is the knowledge sharing and learning together. “I am not a horticulturist, but I have a keen interest in growing food, and I’m learning all the time. There is so much local growing knowledge shared in our garden sessions, which is then shared with the younger generations through our school work. Additionally, there are lots of supporting networks such as Planet Sutherland and the Highland Good Food Partnership, which really gives us energy for our activity because we can see good things happening all around us, and we know we are not working in isolation.”    

 Lucy reflects that growing under plastic this far north gains an extra month at each end of the growing seaso   This spring has been a bit of a struggle taking longer to get warmer, but KoSDT has developed a routine of using a low-wattage electric propagator to get seeds to germinate before growing seedlings on in their warm sunny office . Finally, young plants are moved into tunnels with additional protection until they are big enough and able to withstand cooler temperatures. 

If you would like to know more about KoSDT’s work, you can read it here: https://kosdt.com/, or consider a visit through the Community Learning Exchange.  

Lucy’s springtime tunnel tips 

  • You don’t need to spend lots of money on expensive growing equipment, a simple electric propagator or heat matt can help . Use the heat to germinate the seeds and then move them on to grow somewhere else sunny and warm. 
  • Once young plants have grown, you can protect them further in the tunnel (March—mid-May). Place young plants in clear plastic boxes or a plastic mini greenhouse inside the tunnel. Old milk crate trolleys wrapped up at night can also work well. 

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