CAT alumni launch School Farm Community Supported Agriculture

CAT alumni, Jenny Gellatly and Melissa Harvey, form half of the all woman team launching a crowd funding campaign to grow the UK’s only organically certified, no-dig community farm based in Totnes.

School Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which is based on the Dartington Estate, operates as a not-for-profit social enterprise providing fresh, organic vegetables, grown using low-carbon methods. Jenny and Melissa, who had both worked at CAT at different times, but became friends through the extended CAT family, ended up at the farm following the horticulture training at Schumacher College.

The CSA completed a pilot this year and has been overwhelmed by support and demand for both its local grown produce and educational activities. At present the CSA supplies 20 local families and has this year held over 50 volunteer days, a subsidised beginners gardening course and several open days for the wider community, one of which drew a crowd of over 600. They also deliver the practical elements of the horticulture training through Schumacher and Bicton college.

The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë
The CSA team Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë

The CSA model works with members of the farm investing at the beginning of the season, and then receiving a weekly vegetable box and becoming involved in the growing through contact with the farmers, volunteer and open day activities.Some additional financial support is needed in these early stages as the farm builds up land, resources and membership. The growers have chosen to raise funds through crowdfunding website Buzzbnk, where people can go online to pledge their support and money.

The four woman team, Jenny, Melissa, Laura and Zoë, who coordinate the farm and grow the vegetables all met through the networks of CAT, Schumacher College and the Soil Association.

Jenny says: “My experiences at CAT never feel far away, even though it is ten years since I was a volunteer there in the Site Maintenance Team.  No doubt the days on site – fixing and mending, building and creating – provided me with a lot of the practical skill that I can now use when it comes to running the CSA farm.  More than anything though, it is the spirit of CAT that stays with me, of trying new things, new possibilities and of co-creating the kind of world we want to live in.  That ‘get stuck in and make it happen’ approach really helps when it comes to co-creating something like the CSA we are establishing here in Devon.”

Melissa says: “The story of CAT has been an inspiration and demonstration of what it is possible to achieve when people come together, share skills and ideas and work towards a shared vision. When working in the Information department I used to give guided tours. My favourite part was stopping by an enlarged photo of CAT in the 1970’s. Asking the difference between then and now people would note that there were both more trees and plants, and more buildings. This simple observation really embedded my realisation that, when working sensitively, people can have a positive impact for both themselves and nature. This is very much how we work at School Farm, growing vegetables with and for people, developing a social and training space, and also working with nature to provide a nurturing habitat”.

Background information:

School Farm has been a thriving market garden and centre of education since 2007 when the neglected site was brought back to life by horticulturalist Nick Gooderham. This year, 2013, was its first year operating as a community supported agriculture scheme. Under this model the farm supplies local families and businesses with fresh organic vegetables and also provides a service to the community in the form of educational and social events.

Crowdfunding:

Crowdfunding is a way of putting your money straight into projects which you consider most important and useful. On the Buzzbnk website School Farm CSA is offering donor rewards such a gardening course or packs to get you started on your own local projects but really the biggest kick comes from being involved and helping a worthwhile project get off the ground or expand.

What we will do with the funding:

  •  Increase our CSA membership availability to meet our membership waiting list.
  •  Expand our 1 acre growing area into a 2 acre field above our current site.
  •  Put in necessary infrastructure in the 2 acre field including edible windbreaks, protected growing space, sheds for crop storage and covered space for further educational activities.
  •  Create one full-time grower role.
  • Offer more educational opportunities including apprenticeships in partnership with local colleges, more gardening courses and more volunteer opportunities.
  • Continue to bring new entrants into farming by providing space where students can put into practice their learning and trial their own business ideas.
  •  Reach out to the wider community, particularly those most affected by the economic downturn, we will investigate offering CSA membership on a sliding scale.
  •  Continue building the involvement of the local community through membership, volunteer opportunities, educational experiences and our events program.
  • Develop further networks and partnerships across the UK.
  • Trial more ecological ways of growing food, utilising perennial crops, green manures and, in the long term, horse power.

To support the School Farm crowdfunding campaign you can donate or become a supporter (for free), where you can also see a short video about the farm.  You can also visit the website and join us on Facebook.