Where we are now!
The creation of a community supported farm in Stroud has lived as an idea for many years. It was only in 2001 however following a public meeting in Stroud attended by some 80 people, that the decision was taken to make it a reality. During the following months regular meetings took place.
The inspiration for this initiative was drawn from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement already widely established on organic and biodynamic farms in North America, Japan and Germany. It grew out of a growing interest in sourcing locally produced food and in a deep felt wish to transform our self-serving competitive economic system into one of mutual support.
Between November 2001 and the following March regular meetings took place. Gradually the principles and objectives of SCA were established and the decision was taken to start by growing vegetables in a one-acre walled garden at Brookthorpe. A gardener was found and the community demonstrated its confidence in the project by providing his income even before produce was available. A newsletter was produced and continues to be produced on a quarterly basis.
Forming a co-op
It now became necessary to have a formalised structure and after several further months work Stroud Community Agriculture Ltd was founded as an Industrial Provident Society. This new cooperative structure had a not-for-profit goal and gave each member an equal say in its management. Decisions regarding purely farming issues were delegated to the farmers while overall policy was to be set by the elected core group. Details are available in the membership pack.
Building a farm
Due to changing circumstances the operation moved the following year from the walled garden in Brookthorpe to Hawkwood College near Stroud. A full 23 acres was now rented and a part-time farmer was taken on in addition to the gardener. This meant that a proper little farm could be set up. In addition to vegetables it now became possible to run a small beef suckler herd, have some pigs and offer a regular supply of meat to members. The pig initiative started as an independent community enterprise
called ‘Hog Hands’. A group of people undertook to share responsibility for their care. They then received a share of the harvest. Later the pigs were incorporated as part of the whole farm. A sow is kept and she produces regular litters of piglets.
By keeping a herd of cattle it was now possible to maintain soil fertility and ensure good crops of vegetables could be grown without relying on external sources of manure and compost. The herd is maintained throughout the year on the farm’s own grass and hay. In order to be able to sell surplus produce and meat on the organic market it attained full Demeter and organic certification. This guarantees to the wider public that organic and biodynamic practices have been applied.
The farm also took on an apprentice who participated in the two year Biodynamic Apprentice Training programme. There are regular well-attended monthly farm work days and many other social events open to everyone (members and non-members). Members are actively encouraged to get involved in running their farm.
Growing a community
The increased land area meant that more members were needed to ensure the project remained viable and a new membership drive was launched. To support this, SCA received a one year grant from the National Lottery Seed Programme ‘Growing Home’. This paid for someone to actively promote membership to a wider circle, produce a leaflet and to help fund much needed capital equipment. This proved very successful and before the year’s end membership had risen to 100 and we had to start a waiting list that soon rose to 30 families.
With the waiting list and a longstanding wish to expand towards the 100 acre goal, the search was on for more land. By good chance a farm in Brookthorpe was looking for new tenants. In July 2006 Stroud Community Agriculture took on the lease of its 24 acres. This allowed membership to increase first to 150 in the autumn 2007, produce more vegetables and enable a full farm operation to develop further.
We now provide vegetables for about 220 households each week, beef, lamb and pork. The enterprise has been stable and robust. There are regular annual community events, consistent employment and steady finances. We have supported apprentices every year and they have gone on to spread the ethos and understanding. We have also hosted many visitors interested in CSA over the years and there are now many CSAs in the UK and further afield.
We have just started stewarding additional land adjacent to Hawkwood, which has been purchased as a co-operative to take care of it. As part of our commitment to education and helping people engage with the land, we are also presently setting up a Starter Farm supported by the main farm, for graduate apprentices to learn by running their own sheltered farm.