Be a CAT Volunteer for a Week in May


Do you fancy spending a week at our beautiful site, and being part of a team doing practical work to help CAT prepare for the main summer season?


We’re holding a short-term volunteer week from 27-31 May, and we’d like to invite you to take part. The exact range of tasks on offer will depend on a number of factors, including the weather, but is likely to include work in the gardens, with our buildings and maintenance team, and with our water and natural resources team.


It’s a great chance to enjoy staying on-site at CAT at a lovely time of the year, to get “behind the scenes”, interact with staff and other volunteers, and maybe learn a few new skills. If you fancy taking part, please contact Sally Carr (, 01654 704976).


We have different accommodation options available depending on your budget and preferences:


En-suite rooms in our beautiful new facility, the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education (WISE), fully catered – £200 per person

Rooms with shared bathroom facilities (not WISE), fully catered – £150 per person

Self-catering accommodation (with lunches provided) – £70 per person


Volunteers in the garden
Volunteers working in a polytunnel at CAT


ZCBlog: Making a meal of your christmas dinner

Christmas is just around the corner and no doubt you have already stocked up on enough food to feed an army over the festive season. Because at this time of year stuffing yourself rotten is just as important as presents and decorations! But do enough of us stop to consider the impacts of food on our environment?

The Christmas dinner is an annual tradition that can bring the whole family together for one day of the year – or in my experience, lead to some of the most memorable arguments of the last twelve months! But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of eating together. It is the environmental impact of the food that we eat that is concerning.

Diets that are high in meat content have big consequences for your carbon footprint. The UK is made up of about 11.2 million hectares of grassland, which is primarily used for grazing livestock and of which 2.1 million are used for growing livestock feed. Many of the processes that are used to manage this agriculture are carbon intensive. There are other impacts as well. You really don’t want to fathom how much methane all that livestock produces – or how bad it must smell!

A few years back, research by Manchester University found that the carbon equivalent emissions of the UK’s total Christmas dinners was 51,000 tonnes. Much of this can be attributed to the life-cycle of the livestock. However, it would be much higher if the traditional choice of meat was not turkey!

Poultry has a lower climate impact compared to other meat choices. Lamb, farmed salmon and beef are the worst offenders because of the emissions produced from their farming.  This means you can feel less guilty about tucking into your turkey this noel.

It is not only meat that is environmentally un-friendly. Cheese production creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Cranberry sauce is another emissions heavy but popular food this time of year. Because much of the cranberries needed for the sauce are grown in North America, the condiment has the highest transport-related emissions of the average x-mas feast.

The great news is that with just a few small changes to the way you eat, there can be a large improvement to your environmental impact and to your health as well. For instance, cut down on the amount of red meat you eat and you will lower your cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, eating less meat and more vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint.

If you want to minimise your climate impact this Christmas, cut out meat completely and go for a vegetarian option. This is how to get a really low carbon Christmas.

Though if you do choose a prime cut of meat make sure it’s a locally farmed product. Locally sourced food will have low transport emissions and benefit your community at the same time. It’s even better if you can grow it yourself!

5 tips to find and identify tasty Hedgehog mushrooms


Now I am hardly Ray Mears or Bear Grylls. For a start I cannot stand mud in my tent, whereas I am sure neither Bear or Ray lose any sleep over a squelchy ground sheet. But in the interests of sustainable living and maintaining the pretext of an alpha male who is at home in the great outdoors, I’m keen to start foraging more of my food. And with the winter turning out more mild than usual, it’s a great time to harvest one of the most abundant of natural foods: the wild mushroom!

Now – I hear you saying – aren’t mushrooms stupidly dangerous to pick if you’re a novice like me; Let alone a completely deluded city-living softie that can’t even light a fire without matches or petrol. Well, yes they are. Make no mistake about it, if you don’t know your Chanterelles from your Death Caps (the clue is in the title) then foraging for mushrooms can be like playing with fire – once you’ve managed to light it that is. But don’t stop reading quite yet…

Still there? Good. Because Hedgehog mushrooms are a god-send for the novice forager. They are common and very easy to identify. The perfect time of the year to find this yummy mushroom is between September and December. Just make sure you get out to forage before the first heavy frost settles. Because mushrooms don’t like frost and neither do forager’s fingers. Unfortunately, the weather this year seems to have been even worse for the mushrooms than it was for us. Long wet spells followed by equally long dry spells means the quantity has not matched the bountiful harvest of previous years.

But there are still a few healthy patches out there. Here’s my five tips for picking a non-toxic mushroom that will make a tasty treat in any meal:

1. Don’t pick any mushrooms unless you’re completely certain they are safe. The best way to learn (and avoid a toxic dinner) is to go foraging with someone experienced that knows mushrooms really well and I find that if they’re still breathing, they probably know their stuff!

2. Much like the Death Cap, the name of this mushroom is a big clue. Unlike other mushrooms, Hedgehogs have spines underneath their caps rather than gills, pores or ‘spongy stuff’. The spines should be soft to the touch and a pale colour that closely resembles the stalk and cap colour.

3. There’s no point looking for actual Hedgehogs during the day is there? So don’t waste your time in the fields. If you want to find Hedgehog Mushrooms, then head for the trees. Grassy or mossy areas are best. You can find them in deciduous or coniferous woodland. The caps become harder to spot once the leaves have fallen in later months but Hedgehogs are paler than most autumn foliage.

4. The colour is also the final safety precaution. Other ‘tooth fungi’ are less common than the Hedgehog variety and most are still edible (though I am told not as tasty). But only pick pale mushrooms with caps that are white, beige or a caramel leather texture. The stalk should resemble the colour of the irregular shaped cap. If there’s any sign of green or burnt hues, best give the mushroom a miss. Better to be safe than sorry.

5. And last but not least… Definitely do not pick that mushroom unless you are completely certain it’s not toxic.

If you follow all these tips and have the patience to find a good spot then you will soon fill your pockets with this fantastic wild mushroom. Now all that’s left, is to cook your meal. Where’s Ray Mears when you need him…

Gardening blog: Chloe marvels at the wonder of the small

A few weeks ago i bought myself a new toy – a digital microscope. These things aren’t expensive and they really do open up a whole new world. One of the most beautiful things i’ve seen so far is the embryo of a french bean seed. Here i go – humanising the plants again, but it’s so fresh and innocent and ready for life, i can’t help being in awe when i look at it.



On the microscope’s highest magnification things are even more wonderous. One of my favourite plants is Wild Garlic or Allium ursinum. It’s a staple wild food around these parts with springtime bringing much consumption of wild garlic and nettle soup, wild garlic fritters, with a bit of wild garlic salad on the side (if you like garlic anyway). The flowers are over now and the seed are forming – here you can see the developing seed, and a close up of the seed inside the “fruit” (which used to be part of the flower).



We often use a one of these gadgets on the CAT gardening courses to get a good look at what’s going on, but it’s great to have one on hand at home, just for wonder and curiosity.

Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July


Gardening blog: Organic gardening and the arms trade


By Chloe Ward:

I wonder if any CAT members are like me, fans of the podcasts from Radiolab? From New York, it’s part of the movement to make science more accessible to ordinary mortals – something which must be essential if we are to make progress in good decision making.

The subject of one episode has been going around my head for a while now. It was about Fritz Haber – known to many as the inventer of the Haber Bosch process for fixing nitrogen (along with Carl Bosch). This is the chemical process by which artificial fertilisers are made – a subject which makes an organic gardener sit up and listen.

The podcast was all about the concept of “bad” and what makes a bad person. The Haber Bosch process wasn’t all that Fritz Haber invented. He was also responsible for developing the chemical process for gassing huge numbers of soldiers in the first world war trenches. Radiolab tells us that not only did he invent the process, but he personally oversaw its implementation.

So, the radiolab presenters are discussing “badness” and weighing up Fritz Haber’s moral credentials. One the one hand, they say, he killed great numbers of people in a nasty, painful way. On the other hand, he saved many from starvation by increasing agricultural yields with the invention of artificial fertilisers.

But, to those of us who like our nitrogen fixed by bacteria, there’s another issue here – was the invention of the Haber Bosch process a good thing at all, or was it the cause of deeper food security inequalities, and mass destruction by agriculture on an unprecedented scale? Or is it another example of something which could be put to good use at appropriate times if only the human species had a little more wisdom?

Lots to think about, lots of questions – no answers from me. But visit Radiolab here.

Chloe is a tutor on the CAT Gardening for a Sustainable Future course in Late July.



Roger teaches CAT staff about salad picking


Parsley, Coriander tops, Apple Mint, Chives, Courgette flowers, Nasturtium leaves and flowers, Beetroot thinnings, Kale, Land cress, Sorrel, Brassica tops… Yesterday Roger the CAT gardener gave a tour to some of the things on offer in the CAT garden for lunchtime salads. We never need to go near a lettuce again!


Five shocking facts about food waste


1. Food waste generates over 30% of the total ecological footprint impact of commercial and industrial waste in Wales. Food for Wales, Food from Wales: 2010-2020 Food Strategy for Wales

2. UK households waste 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink, of which 5.3 million tonnes is avoidable, to the value of £12.2 billion with an impact of 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year. Looking Back, Looking Forward: Sustainability and UK Food Policy 2000-2011

3. The food wasted by the average UK household amounts t0 £480 annually. Looking Back, Looking Forward: Sustainability and UK Food Policy 2000-2011

4. The water footprint of avoidable food waste is 6,200 million cubic metres per year representing nearly 6% of all our water requirements. The Water and Carbon Footprint of Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK (WRAP and WWF)

5. If 25% of the world’s food supplies are being unnecessarily wasted, this represents a loss of water withdrawn from rivers, lakes, and wells amounting to approximately 675 trillion litres, or enough for the household needs of 9 billion people using 200 litres a day. Waste, by Tristram Stuart

The story of salad (a photo story of the life cycle of a salad at CAT)

What’s the life cycle of a salad? It’s concerning that we often don’t know the origin of our food – where it comes from, how it was produced, harvested and processed, and how the waste from production has been dealt with. As we grow some of our own food at CAT, we’re privileged to be able to see the whole process in action. Below, we trace a salad from the field to the fork – and back.

Monday 9.30am. Roger, CAT’s gardener, and his team of volunteers pick salad for the restaurant and staff kitchens. Roger’s Field, behind the eco cabins, provides greenery for staff lunches and for visitors to the centre. An experienced organic grower, Roger doesn’t use pesticides on his field, instead finding other ingenious ways of preventing his produce from being eaten.












Monday 10.00am. Gardens volunteer Pablo picks salad. Volunteers are a fixture of life at CAT, and many have left inspired during the 25 years Roger has been tending his field.















Forum and Feast Conference. Saturday, 05 November [Booking deadline extended]
Book now. Box office deadline extended.

Digest information by day in the food waste forum, and dine in style by evening at This is Rubbish’s “Feast” finale
At the conference you will have the opportunity to explore the issues behind food waste in the UK, find out about European and global food supply chains, digest the latest facts and figures, and investigate solutions that will help create a zero carbon Britain.

Monday 10.30am. Beans ready to be taken to the kitchens. A variety of plants are grown in the field, carefully selected for their compatibility with the Welsh climate and soil. It’s also important that they will mature at different times, to make sure that the field will produce a constant supply throughout the year. And, without the need to grow varieties that will withstand long-distance transportation, Roger is able to grow plants high in nutritive value.


Monday 11.00am. A volunteer takes the freshly picked salad to the kitchens. It’s a a short distance – a mere five minute walk, which contrasts sharply with the distance food will usually travel to reach a plate. But is the answer always buying local? Listen to this podcast with Peter Harper to find out more.













Monday 1.00pm. Staff and volunteers load up plates at lunchtime. The freshness of the salad, picked only three hours previously, makes it highly nutritious; produce loses its nutrients quickly after being picked and so, where possible, it’s important to eat recently harvested food.

Tuesday 9.00am. Biology volunteer Rowan collects food waste from the kitchens. Competition for seconds means that there are rarely leftovers. However, there’s always some unavoidable waste from preparing food, which provides an important source of nutrients when composted.












Forum and Feast Conference. Saturday, 05 November [Booking deadline extended]
Book now. Box office deadline extended.

Talks, discussions, case studies and exhibition stalls allow you to network, meet the experts, and discover more about the future of food. In the evening, we have organised a three course sumptuous supper served at a candlelit table, accompanied by live music and entertainment.

Tuesday 2.30pm. Gardens volunteer Pablo empties food waste into the Rocket composter. The Rocket makes composting significantly easier, dramatically speeding up the process. It acts like a large mechanical worm. Food waste is put in one end, where the same bacteria found in the gut of a worm breaks down the matter, emerging at the other end two weeks later as humus. The decomposition process heats up the matter, the heat in turn killing any undesirable organisms present.








Tuesday 2.00pm. Gardens volunteer Pablo moves the humus fresh out of the rocket into a rat proof cage to mature. While humus has nutritive qualities, it needs to be let a bit longer to continue decomposing, as in its rawer state it’s not as beneficial for crops as fully decomposed compost it. The humus is then left for several months, until it’s ready to be spread onto the field.










Tuesday 4.00pm. Roger’s field soaks up the afternoon sun. Compost is an important source of nutrients for the field, encouraging fertility and productivity.

Podcast: interview with This is Rubbish

Interview with Rachel Solnick and Kate Blair from This is Rubbish.

This is Rubbish were formed in 2009 to raise awareness about the amount of food wasted in the UK. Since their beginnings at Feeding the 5000, a mass food waste feast in London that fed 5000, they have organized various events. 2011 has seen them tour Wales with ‘Feast’, stopping in eight communities and setting up a pop up cafe, hosting workshops, games and creative events.

The finale of their tour will be Forum and Feast on November the 5th, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Previous podcasts

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Win a place at the Forum and Feast Conference, 05 November 2011

Do you want to come to our fantastic Forum and Feast Conference? Do you want to a free ticket? We thought you would.

To win a free ticket to the the event all you have to do is answer this simple question.
What percentage of the food that goes to waste in the UK is wasted in the supply chain? Is it
a) 12 %
b) 60 %
c) 90 %

The answer to the question might be contained in this blog post. Please email us your answer.