“A LITTLE piece of heaven” is how one woman describes three acres of unassuming land just outside the Flintshire village of Cilcain, as I clamber over a bridge and through the bracken onto a patch of earth which has been transformed over the last 10 years into a thriving community garden.

She’s not wrong. Situated off the main road, down a dirt track and then a walk through a Christmas tree farm and over a stream, a trip to the site feels like being let in on a special secret, one full of ancient broadleaf trees, woodland crafts and plenty of delicious fruit and vegetables.

“I was very aware there was a lack of locally grown organic food,” explains Nikki Giles, a trained gardener and founder of community-run co-operative ‘FlintShare’, who manage the site alongside two others in Hawarden and Northop. “I grew my own but I thought people would like the opportunity to access the knowledge of how to grow, reconnect with the land and get access to healthy food.

“It started off as being about the food but a lovely knock-on effect has been the incredible community that has built up around it.”

FlintShare is a volunteer-run social enterprise which produces organically grown food with and for its 78 members.

Everyone is welcome to join, no matter what their knowledge, ability, age, gender or cultural background and with a mix of learners and experienced growers, there’s always someone to help out.

“People often learn new skills when they come,” continues Nikki. “They weave baskets or prune trees or they can just come and sit here and make the tea.”

FlintShare run what they call a ‘Veg Account’ scheme where members can use either time or money to get their share of what is grown.

Members work on the gardens when they can and take a share of the veg when it is available from a weekly collection hub at the Northop site.

“Our members represent around 65 households across Flintshire,” says Nikki. “Not all of them are active but we have a core of 35-40 people who are active growers.

“You pay £25 per year to become a member and can then access the produce from any of the sites at any time but we ask that you weigh the food that you take and you email that and the hours you have spent working to the veg account holder.

“We work out a rough balance of labour for veg and if you want to take a lot more veg than your labour covers you can pay in cash. It all works on trust and we don’t really police it.”

As well as growing veg, FlintShare keep bees, run workshops and gather to share “good food, good craic and good company” as Nikki describes it.

They also have a weekly newsletter for members to keep everyone up-to-date with FlintShare activities.

“Last year we declared over a tonne in weight on the veg account,” says Nikki, who is leading a pruning class as I learn about her work. “Our Northop site produces all our tomatoes, chillies, aubergines and peppers and we also grow melons and peaches but these are very work intensive and space hungry, so we are always looking at growing things which have a bit more value.

“The Hawarden site is beautiful and is the warmest of our three sites but when we arrived here at Cilcain it was just a mass of bracken. The whole site has been cleared and we used the bracken for mulching and composting.

It was incredibly acidic land and we have gradually improved it and it is now very good and gorgeous to work.”

Nikki, who lives in Loggerheads, explains the group would ideally like to open a site within walking distance of Mold but finding a piece of land that someone is willing to let them use for free with a 10-year lease is “a tall order”.

“We’re part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network, which is a new way of having a relationship between food and producer which allows the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms,” she adds. “It is something I am incredibly enthusiastic about promoting and around Wales we have an incredibly vibrant CSA network.

“There are all these wonderful little pockets of communities which are managing their green space in their back yard which might be their village green or bowling green or a woodland or meadow. People are beginning to realise it is up to them to care for what is around them and take responsibility for it.”

Getting back to the community aspect of FlintShare, Janet Wainwright, who lives in Pantymwyn and guided me towards to site from the nearby village, said the group was hoping to encourage more members to join.

“We’d like a wide range of people because the largest demographic is retired men and women of a certain age,” she says. “People with ninn-to-five jobs could come here in the summer evenings and weekends. We grow to organic standards but we ‘sell’ to the membership at 80 per cent of what a supermarket would charge, so it is good for saving money too.

“I’ve made fantastic friends through FlintShare and if I was ever to move away from here the hardest part for me would be leaving FlintShare - it’s a community in itself and there is always a few glasses of wine and beer around and the chance to have a nice chat. “

For more information on how to get involved with FlintShare go to www.fflintshare.co.uk