Aim ~ Create a model of a circular food ecosystem for Penarth, a demonstration of what a re-localised food system could look like.

DATE: 29 MARCH 2023 – 12 MAY 2023

LOCATION: Land and communities in the Penarth area

CLIENT: Myself, as part of the Food Vale Network ‘Vale Food Hub’ project

STATUS: Implemented

DOMAINS: Land & Nature Stewardship, Tools & Technology, Education & Culture, Finance & Economics


TOOLS: 4 Stage Observation, DAFORM, List | Food in Penarth and beyond, Boundaries, Needs and Expectations, Client Dialogue, Mindmap, Principles (as evaluation tool), Canva.

RESOURCES & SUPPORT:  Diploma MOG Summary Powerpoint specifically Rachel Hammonds work at EDGE, Carla’s Design Forum, Technical Tutorial, The Cultivated Ecology by Ken Moon, Regenerative Business Model Canvas by Simon Berkler, The Regenerative Garden book by Stephanie Rose, Chloe Anthony’s Transition Pathway design, Feeding Retrosuburbia, David Holmgren, The Frome Independent

FRAMEWORK: James Chapman’s Simplest Design Process


“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.” Bill Mollison


I have been working on a  community growing project in Penarth since 2020. I have also been involved with the sustainable food partnership in the Vale, Food Vale. I have been transforming our home food system to reduce our reliance on supermarket food and increase the amount of local, seasonal, organic food we eat. I’d like to bring all my learning together to imagine what a regenerative food system for the place in which I live might look like. I’m aiming to create a model of a cultivated food ecosystem that supports us to meet our food needs locally. 

About Penarth

Penarth is a seaside town, 3 miles south of central Cardiff, on the west shore of thE Severn Estuary.


Penarth is a commuter suburb of Cardiff. Traditionally it is thought that there are a high proportion of older people here, but this is changing. Popular press about Penarth offering a good quality of life have brought lots of younger people and families from London and other places. This is changing the feel of the town, it’s becoming more vibrant in lots of ways. And we are witnessing a rise in the number of community groups and activities here, as well as more counter-cultural happenings. People here tend to be well educated, and wealthy. There are pockets of deprivation in the town. We are seeing a decline on the high street, with some shops closing. On the other hand, we are seeing new restaurant businesses opening, and interesting use of empty space with a vintage market pop-up.


Penarth is popularly known as ‘The Garden by the Sea’. It’s name can mean either Pen – head, arth – bear, so ‘head of the bear’ or the short version of Pen-y-Garth’, meaning ‘head of the cliff’.

census stats

The 2021 census stats show that Penarth has more people under 60 than over 60. Most people are aged 30-59. We have a lower than average number of people aged 20-34 here – they can’t afford to live here. 

We have a very small BAME population here, 93.1% of people are white. 

52% of people are female.

There are many people here who describe themselves as Christian (43.4%). There are thriving communities around the many churches. 

Caveat: census data must be taken with recognition of who it is that fills in the census, and who does not. 

4 Stage Observation

To begin observing the context, I completed Patrick Whitefield’s 4 stage observation. 

From this I gleaned that there is:

  • a growing interest in local food
  • a lot of local groups gathering around local green spaces to grow food
  • a small number of places where we can source local, organic, seasonal food
  • a lack of land available for food growing
  • an opportunity to develop more CSA projects
  • an opportunity to enliven the high street with a renewed focus on local food culture – connected to this idea of Penarth as the ‘garden by the sea’
  • a need for a big mapping activity to plot all the food growing, local food and potential food growing sites in the Vale
  • a lot going on, it’s just not very well connected
  • a predominant of focus on economic activity, especially around ‘shop local’ schemes, they do not have a ‘green agenda’


I then looked at our current food system with attention on what’s dominant, abundant, frequent, occasional rare and missing.


Next, I made a list of everything I know now about local food in Penarth and beyond.

I can see that there is just not much local, seasonal, organic, sustainable food available locally. It is possible to source good food online and have it delivered. 


After that I looked into the boundaries, including structures, limiting factors, resources and policy context.

From this I gathered that:

*’Local Food’ is hard to define, it has different meanings for different people. We could do with firming up a definition

*’Organic’ has a reputation that needs to be addressed though making organic food affordable for more people

*There are examples of good food happening beyond Penarth, in Cardiff for example

*There are conditions on the horizon around policy and Welsh Government priorities which open up opportunities for more good food in the future

Needs + expectations

I reflected on the needs of the client,  my own needs, neighbours, the public and our habitat.

From this it became clear that there is a need for:

  • affordable, nutritious food
  • a revitalised local, organic, seasonal food culture, reframing ‘organic’
  • change to farming and production practices (regenerative, net positive)
  • more connectivity in local food system (between growers, producers, business, community groups and customers)
  • more focus on needs of the living world (nature)
  • zero waste, circular economy
  • learning – where food comes from, cooking
  • access to good food for people at margins
  • emphasis on the role of sharing and solidarity economy
  • more opportunities to grow food
  • access to good food in cafes and restaurants (food and experience tourism)
  • change on the high street
  • plant-based diets
  • access to local organic meat, reducing consumption
  • small is beautiful – valuing life on earth over income and profit
Local food cooked by me, from Coed Organic CSA – salad and beetroot hummus. Image credit: Sally Hughes

Client dialogue

In June 2022, Amy (from Awesome Wales CIC, and fellow Food Vale Network member) and I put together a proposal for a food distribution and surplus project. It was for a lottery pot, we didn’t submit the application due to organisational complexities, but we have held on to the ideas for a more fertile moment. It seems that moment is arriving.

On 14 March, Louise Denham (Food Vale Coordinator) and I attended the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Business Hack event. There we pitched a project proposal for a community kitchen. 

On 31 March 2023, we had a gathering of the Food Vale Network. At that event we shared our ideas for a food project that we could all work on together. We spent time together manifesting a collective vision for a possible future we would like to see emerge. This design is a small part of making that vision a reality.  

Louise Denham talking to the network members at the Food Vale Network gathering. Image credit: Sally Hughes
Ideas the network members came up with for projects. Image credit: Louise Denham
Deepening into the idea for a Vale Food Hub. Image credit: Louise Denham.

Using the information gathered in the client dialogue I was able to identify the ‘brief’, including the goals of the design and the aims of the project within the design.

Industrial monoculture. Source: here

What’s the problem?

“In the past few decades we have seen the erosion of our diverse, durable and resilient food system.” Rob Hopkins, Local Food

The way we ‘do’ food today is fragile, it creates innumerable health and social issues. Our present food system is not good for people or the Earth. It feels true to say we live in a local, organic, seasonal food desert.

Source: Rob Hopkins & Tamsin Pinkerton, Local food


By the end of the design I aim to:


Create a model of a cultivated food ecosystem that supports us as a community to meet our food needs locally


For it to be underpinned by a living systems, regenerative approach, ie creative, distributed, complex, adaptable, resilient, place-specific


For the model to be an example of a circular economy, where the inputs and outputs are cycled, in a self-sustaining loop


Demonstrate what a re-localised food ecosystem might involve, moving from scarcity to abundance


Be an active participant in my local food ecosystem, moving from being a consumer, through prosumer to producer and creator


Identifying the places where interventions can be made in the present system to move it forward in order to bring forth a more sustainable and regenerative food system, and more health and wellbeing

Wildflower plugs we planted at The Kymin. A symbol of the potential inherent in the project for growing and reconnecting with the living world through food. Image credit: Sally Hughes
Source: Rob Hopkins & Tamsin Pinkerton, Local food

Sparking ideas

I gathered together all the research, notes from reading and information I had collected since January 2020, when my interest in local food began, creating a document that enabled me to identify ideas that would form and shape into the model of a circular food ecosystem in the design phase. Read the document here:

I also happened upon this diagram from local permaculture practitioner, Ken Moon.

Source: Ken Moon

I enjoy the visual nature of these two models:

Source: Anna Locke, Forager’s Garden

Ideas: potential solutions

I decided that what I would do is create a diagram like the one above using Canva that would link together all the ideas I had generated from my research. Those ideas are included in a Mindmap I made on Canva, and include:


I was inspired by a version of the ethics I uncovered whilst reading ‘The Regenerative Garden’ by Stephane Rose. At this point I decided to do a review of the ethics and incorporate what I have discovered as the fourth ‘hidden’ ethic of permaculture. 

All that information enabled me to distil the ethical underpinnings of this design, giving expression to the ethics in this context as:

Earth Care
  • Attention and intention around the ways in which we grow food
  • Change to the agriculture systems in the Vale, towards regenerative agriculture
  • Learning – supporting people to transition from unsustainable growing practices to organic, no dig, soil building, water harvesting, composting, climate and wildlife friendly growing etc
  • Clean air 

People care
  • Identifying new patterns of behaviour that move us from unsustainable food to regenerative food
  • Community building as part of the process
  • Attention to group dynamics 
  • Evolving networks
  • Focus on benefits of ‘good food’
  • Revaluing organic, rebranding good food – framing to encourage more people to participate in the local food movement
  • Focus on Foundational Economy – meeting our needs from the local environment
  • Encouraging people to take responsibility, to participate in all aspects of food

(by ‘good’, I mean local, seasonal, organic, affordable, nutritious)

Sharing & Solidarity
  • Using tools from the sharing transformation movement and solidarity economy to aide making good food accessible and affordable Eg crop share, seed and plant exchange, community suppers, community fridges, LETTS
  • Revaluing food – decoupling it from the monetary economy. See shareable.net/food/ 
  • Mutual aid, equity, parity, commons, coops, food sovereignty
  • Access to land
  • Prioritise people and the planet over endless profit and growth. See neweconomy.net/solidarity-economy/
  • Focus on social/community enterprise, initiating many small food enterprises to create good livelihoods
  • Seven generational thinking
Transition: Change & Adaption
  • Sustainable resource use
  • Circular economy approach – cycling of inputs and outputs
  • Iterative design process – appreciate that change takes time and comes in cycles
  • Focus on small projects that create changes to the energy in the system, cumulatively over time they amount to something big
  • Operating well in the present system in order to make a slow transition to a regenerative system
  • Asking what’s possible given our current reality
  • Small and slow solutions – interventions that leave room for people to adapt
  • Being ‘good enough’


Asking good questions.

The project to cultivate a regenerative, circular food ecosystem raises a number of questions, which helped me to identify the aims.

In the literature around creating regenerative cultures there is much emphasis on asking good questions. In the process of designing the model, a number of questions have emerged, which offer a way to ensure an ethical underpinning for the work to bring forth a more sustainable and regenerative food ecosystem.

How do we meet our needs from the local ecology and economy?

What would it take to move ourselves as a community to net-zero, with our eyes and hearts on net-positive? 

How can we promote relocalisation as a way to enliven the local economy, support our local ecology and create good livelihoods? 

How do we encourage less consumption, more self-reliance, sharing of resources and community sufficiency (supporting small business, buying from your bio-region)?

How might we support communities and local people in our neighbourhoods to participate in and create sustainable projects which enliven regenerative food cultures?

How do we best identify the needs of people who have been excluded and marginalised by the current economic system?

Access to good food for people who presently have the least. How might people who do not have access to good food be supported to live more closely to the land, and produce as much food as possible, together?

How can we support people to reduce their dependence on supermarkets?

How can we raise awareness of the harms caused by the current food system and illustrate why we should change? Health risks of cheap, processed food. 

How can we rekindle the idea within people that food is something that:
  • grows near where you live
  • is grown or produced by someone you have some kind of relationship with
  • we each have a role to play in its production
  • you grow and cook yourself as a way to experience wellbeing, joy and connection to the living world?
As a network, we ought to be challenging ourselves to dream in powerful new ways about what is possible, and then acting to make it so.

What resources exist within the regenerative frameworks that help us dream big about what is possible? How do we tap into the power of our visions and creativity, whilst operating within the constraints and limitations of our present moment? What opportunities can we identify to intervene to change the energy of the system?

How do we work towards evolving a more diverse and productive landscape?

How do we use our landscapes to reduce our ecological footprint and become more self-reliant as a community, while enhancing habitat for increasingly threatened wildlife and diminishing biodiversity? Moving towards the “harmonious integration of landscape and people, providing food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way”. Bill Mollison, Permaculture, A Designers Manuel.

How do we get more local people actively involved in food entreprise?

Making it a social, community and regenerative enterprise. Encouraging participation in the local food economy and ecology, contributing to a thriving food culture, harnessing available ‘green technologies’. Valuing people’s individual contributions.

How do we create strong local economies and healthy ecologies?

Where people in communities feel responsible for their neighbours’ wellbeing, encouraging more sharing and solidarity around how we meet our food needs? Encouraging “interdependence and personal responsibility to life”  Bill Mollison, Permaculture, A Designers Manuel.

The aims of the project to bring a circular food ecosystem to life include:
  • Increasing biodiversity
  • Increase access to nutritious and affordable food
  • Community-sufficiency/ more self-reliance
  • Create a strong local economy and food culture
  • Create good livelihoods
  • Promoting ways to connect people, enhancing solidarity 
  • Making our community a better (‘greener’) place to live and thrive 
  • Encouraging local action
  • Challenge consumption patterns
  • Respond wisely as a community to the multiple converging crises around us
  • Contributing to local economic resilience
  • Reducing food miles

Bringing it all together

I was inspired by the shape of this Regenerative Business Model Canvas that I got from Simon Berkler of  The Dive whilst on the short course at Schumacher College. I would wanted to get a sense of the flow of it when I was bringing together the model. 

Regenerative Business Model Canvas. Source: Simon Berkler

I set about using Canva to make a model for a circular, regenerative food ecosystem. I began by identifying the food cycles that the project to create a circular food ecosystem is underpinned by. This indicates the facets of participation in the food system that I am aiming to work around in the design.

It illuminates the areas that I am interested in developing through my work in the world with Penarth Growing Community, Wild Ceridwen CIC and the current project to connect to dots of the sustainable food movement in the Vale, with Food Vale.

Next, I went around the cycles, unpicking each facet to explore it more deeply, using the ideas in the Mindmap I generated earlier. You can see the images generated for each facet in the Google Photo Album here:

Then I started to dig down deeper into specifics…you can see more of these images in the photo album above.

This link takes you to Canva. Use the Zoom tool on the bottom right to move in, then navigate around following the arrows. 

After much playing around in Canva, a succinct and integrated model emerged, focused on 4 key initiatives:

Conceptual Model of a Circular Food Ecosystem for Penarth

At this point in the design, I used the principles as an evaluation tool (see EVALUATION – PHASE 1 below). This uncovered a range of edits and learnings, which highlighted the need for a more accessible version of the design to present to the Food Vale Network. In response, I created the document Circular Food Ecosystem – Report, which you can read as a pdf here:

 were the project aims met through the design solution created? Was the design solution effective?
Evaluation – Phase 1

At the point in the design where I had come up with the model of a circular food ecosystem, I had a tutorial with Carla Moss. This brought forth the idea to do a mid-point evaluation as a way to push the design forward. See Findings of Interim Evaluation and Reflection here: 

This process allowed me to see that I needed to make the design and the model more clear to present to my audience, the Food Vale Network. I created the ‘Circular Food Ecosystem – Report’ as a way to do this. One of the key learnings was to identify all the small things that are going on now in the model, and grow from them. This would be a better way to frame the possible, and situate the model in the real, rather than imagined. The model, and the report combined do feel like they offer a coherent and useful framework for developing projects locally that move us closer to our aim to create a more sustainable and regenerative local food system. 

Evaluation – Phase 2

Once the design was complete, I returned to my interim findings to extract the juicy bits. And made an assessment against the goals of the design made in the Brief phase, to see if they had been met. I feel like they have been met. I feel very satisfied with the design overall, the design solution to create a report to make the information more accessible to my audience feels accomplished. I am very satisfied with the model, and enjoyed the emergence of the idea to base the model around the four distinct initiatives. 

On May 11, I attended Carla’s Design Forum, which drew my attention to ‘Wilf’s Design Report Expectations’. In this document I found another set of questions to help with my understanding of Evaluation, and Reflection. I did one more go through the design with these questions. 

This helped me to remember that my initial aim for the design was….

Create a model of a circular food ecosystem for Penarth, a demonstration of what a re-localised food system could look like.

And I feel utterly satisfied that this aim has been met. I know the design worked because I have a document to show for it, and have clearly shared the process I went through to get to it, and the design decisions I made along the way. Using Canva as a tool to make the model was a success, I really enjoyed using it to create something that is visually appealing. I feel the model and the report communicate my ideas clearly. If I was making the report again, I would make the interconnections more clearly visible in the model. A challenge was trying to come up with a way to share the model and the ideas with the Food Vale Network, in order to ensure ethical underpinnings of the project to create a Vale Food Hub

*To aide a contribution to the work of Net Zero 2035

*To identify areas in the present system where we could design future projects to move things forward (where can we use our energy for the greatest effect?)


The juicy bits.

Were the Goals met?

By the end of the design I aimed to:


Create a model of a cultivated food ecosystem that supports us as a community to meet our food needs locally

The conceptual model I created, if implemented in the world, would support us to meet our food needs locally. It identifies an integrated approach that would see a rise in: 

*the amount of food grown locally

*the number of local food enterprises

*increased education and learning opportunities

*more effective and sustainable production 

*local distribution


For it to be underpinned by a living systems, regenerative approach, ie creative, distributed, complex, adaptable, resilient, place-specific

I was able to find ways to talk about the regenerative nature of the model, and the associated real world manifestation of it. I feel the challenge now is to begin to raise awareness of the need to move our thinking form ‘sustainable’ to ‘regenerative’. The model and report offer a way in to those conversations.


For the model to be an example of a circular economy, where the inputs and outputs are cycled, in a self-sustaining loop

The interconnections between the initiatives and the cycling of food and waste through the model do exemplify a circular system, eg composting, and where food grown supplies the market and the community kitchen. It would take time to close the loop in delivering the intended outcomes, particularly around waste. Much change would need to happen to the systems and structures locally to support this. 


Demonstrate what a re-localised food ecosystem might involve, moving from scarcity to abundance

The idea to focus the model on four initiatives, one of which already operates, seems to situate the imagined future of our food system in the possible. A re-localised food system would involve a lot of change – the model offers entry points to begin, allowing space for emergence and cascades of transformation in time. 


Be an active participant in my local food ecosystem, moving from being a consumer, through prosumer to producer and creator

By producing the ‘Circular Food Ecosystem- Report’ and sharing it with the network and the wider community, plus my intentions to use it to feed into the Welsh Government Net Zero 2035 Challenge Group, I certainly do feel like I am a creator, and an active participant. 


Identifying the places where interventions can be made in the present system to move it forward in order to bring forth a more sustainable and regenerative food system, and more health and wellbeing

The model and the report offer a number of opportunities for creating small projects over time that would change the energy of the system. It has become clear to me that the next step is to pursue a mapping project with Penarth Growing Community – we really need to start looking at how we can encourage more food growing in Penarth, and the Vale more widely. 

Successes, challenges and blossomings.
How was the process of using the framework, tools, ethics, principles? 

James Chapman’s Simplest Design Framework works when the three phases of design, Brief, aims and goals, Ideas and research and Survey come together – the edges of each phase overlap, creating a ripe ecotone in the centre – the design. The design phase seeks to integrate and synthesise findings from the three main phases. Chapman suggests that if you have the brief, ideas and survey well done, the design emerges in a harmonious and synchronous way – it flows. He suggests that if you have not fully developed any aspect of each phase, then your design may not flow.

I have indeed found this to be true. I have found this to be the most productive and creative framework I have used so far. I feel I have articulated each phase well. Offering much detail in Brief phase, clearly identifying the goals of the design. The ideas phase was extremely generative. It allowed me to bring together and integrate a lot of learning, and to highlight my key areas of interest around local food. 

I see in the design phase, where I have been creating the model on Canva, my emphasis has been very much on food growing. 

I also see that the way I have shared the information on Canva reflects the shape of the framework, being made of many concentric and overlapping circles. There’s a lot of edge in the diagram. This offers many opportunities. In fact, there’s a chance to view the food ecosystem as a set of nested wholes.


In using the tools in the various phases of the design I often experienced myself in flow. The tools I chose this time were fit for purpose. I enjoyed using them. They were generative – especially in the way in which I was able to glean learnings from them which informed the next stage in the process. 

The learnings from using the tools enabled me to identify a number of opportunities, which flow into the goal to ‘Intervene’, enabling me to identify areas for future work projects locally that could push us closer to a sustainable and regenerative food system, and more health and wellbeing.


The way I approached the ethics this time, including the fourth ‘hidden’ ethic, got me thinking much about the notion of ‘enough’. 

I tend to gather a lot of information together in the initial stages of designing, then move it around, shape it and filter it in order to move the process on. This has worked so far, but I wonder if I could save energy by only gathering ‘enough’ information together – setting some limits and boundaries, to save energy. 


 In this design, I used the principles as a tool for the interim evaluation and reflection. This was a hugely generative process, a big success. I can see how this set of principles builds on Mollison’s attitudinal principles. Interestingly, Mollison’s first set were created in 1988, this set with Slay were in 2013, so significant amount of time passed. I felt it was important to share the principles in the report, although I recognise they aren’t very easy to interpret for the lay reader. Next time, I will do something to make them more accessible, or use Holmgren’s as they are easier to understand. I also enjoyed the process of translating these land-based principles in the Interim E&R to be relevant for this more social permaculture design. I feel this is something I am getting practised at now, as I also did this in design 3. 

Other reflections

Edges of my learning: Getting closer to feeling like I am designing beyond myself, but I’m still very much designing for me. In the next design, I wonder if I will be able to detach a little and really design for a client who isn’t me. 

I enjoy that learning and enterprise appear as a yield throughout the entirety of the model. This fits with my professional skills and experience as a teacher, facilitator and Director of a social enterprise. It feels like I can do this!

There’s also an interesting edge to reflect on in terms of my role as a designer and my relationship with the client. It makes me think of the work Dan Palmer did around involving the client in all phases of the process, so he wasn’t doing to, but doing with. I have asked Cam if she would be interested in making a whole design together. The difficulty is time for people isn’t it. I’m doing this because I’m engaged in the process of learning and aiming to achieve the diploma. To what extent can I expect people to contribute energy and time to something, when they don’t have the diploma as a priority? That’s where Liz’s advice to ‘design what you are doing’ comes in. 

Often, when I begin a piece of work, it starts with a meeting with the person I am engaging with, for example, meeting with Bob Gelsthorpe at the beginning of the On Loss and Damage project, and with Simon from the Makerspace to discuss the ‘Drop in and Grow’ workshop for the Food Vale Trail. I see there is an opportunity here for me to arm myself with a better, more design-led way to approach these meetings. Maybe I could make a client interview pro forma to take to these meetings. That’s a good idea.

Next: Identify all the small things that are going on now in your model, and grow from them.

There are always more ideas. It’s making them concrete that’s the trouble. I need other people for that – I’m clear on my role in the guild as a generator of ideas and an initiator of projects. I could do with getting better at bringing others in to sustain them.

As part of the 4 stage observation in the survey stage, I wrote a story ‘Stepping in to the future of our community’. Read it on my Substack here.

Closing remarks

This design has been a joy to complete. It has been a quick process, taking a little over a month from start to finish (29 March – 12 May). I shall look forward to the feedback I get from people now, as I begin to share the report with the network and through my social media. The report has also helped me identify a route that I would like to develop for my Penarth Growing Community project. I finish Design 4 feeling like I have thoroughly grasped permaculture design. I am clear on all the stages of the design process and I notice that I am starting to develop my own distinct style of designing. On to the next one!

Sally Hughes, May 2023