A new seven-acre market garden is being laid out in a field at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Cirencester. The site is on loan from Bathurst Estate.

This project aims to boost Nature-Friendly Food Production, Strengthen Local Economy, and Foster Community Collaboration for Sustainable, Healthy Food.

The garden will grow vegetables using the ‘Zerodig’ method, an innovative form of regenerative horticulture that will supply customers with nutritious, local produce. The project will help to educate 1000 agricultural students per year in agroecology and regenerative farming in a collaboration between FWAG SouthWest, the RAU, and Zerodig Earth.

The Zerodig method, designed by Christopher Upton and Dr Mario Peters, prioritises climate action, ecosystem restoration, and healthy local food production, with these key principles:

  • No soil disturbance: woodchip / compost create a growing medium which improves soil structure and associated micro-organisms.
  • Keep the soil surface covered: with soils regenerated by organic matter, cover crops can be retained.
  • Keep living roots in the soils: horticultural produce is harvested periodically, to encourage regrowth and keep root systems in the soil.
  • Grow a diverse range of plants: with a 7.5 acre field leased from the Bathurst Estate, our site plan includes experimental plots of different seed mixes and green manures. 

The Zerodig method enhances the natural soil food web to allow a diversity of microorganisms, which provide unique ecosystem services to improve aeration, fertility, and resilience to the soil for successful plant growth. The soil micro-organisms of the soil food web include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, micro-arthropods and earthworms.

FWAG Southwest, leading the project, has secured funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which will be used to employ a lead grower and project manager for the first two years of set-up. 

The hope is that, once up and running, the site will become a commercially viable fruit and vegetable business, supplying local customers, including the RAU students with nutritious, regeneratively grown produce, all whilst providing students at the Royal Agricultural University with the opportunity to gain practical experience of small-scale commercial food production.

The GREAT Zero-Dig Project supports the regional goals including the Gloucestershire food and farming vision by providing opportunities for people to grow and buy sustainable and healthy food, teaching the practical skills to use at home or in a future job, collaborating with local organisations to achieve a shared vision of enhancing nature and communicating the links with ecosystem health and greater food resilience.


Current updates

We are working in collaboration with the Royal Agricultural university and local suppliers to kick-start the Zerodig Project at the RAU. Detailed plans are being drawn up of how best to use the site and large quantities of Woodchip has been delivered with compost being the next to arrive.

Soils will be overlaid with compost / woodchip, to create growing beds which supply organic matter to the soil food web.

Recruitment of student volunteers and progress to integrate the practical agroecological learning into the curriculum is taking place. Monitoring of the soil health and biodiversity is planned to track the impact of the impact on the ecosystem, in comparison to the previous history of conventional arable rotations. Providing great opportunities for the students to integrate the Zerodig Project into their final research projects.