Copyright visits The Community Farm to find out how this local not-for-profit co-operative is delivering fresh organic produce to our doorsteps
Arriving at The Community Farm in Chew Magna you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d pulled up at the wrong place. A black and white chalk board sign welcoming you at the gate and rustic, ivy bespattered farm buildings hide the fact that this thriving, efficient project sends out over 400 boxes of the West Country’s finest organic produce every week. But this lack of frills is exactly what makes the farm so special. The sound of thundering farm machines and diesel hum of busy tractors is replaced by a peaceful quiet punctuated by birdsong. This, says the farm’s Commercial Operations Manager Ped Asgarian, is what you get when you abandon modern high-yield techniques and revert to hard work and sustainable procedures, ‘Even here, in the yard, you can hear birds singing, you don’t always get that on a normal farm,’ he says. ‘When you kill off all the insects on a farm with pesticides there is no food source for birds. We have a set of badgers on the farm and deer frequent the area too.’
Ped took us on a tour through the tomato house.
Ped continued to explain the concept and philosophy of the farm as we took the short walk from the yard to the five or so acres of rolling farmland packed with produce. As well as what the farm grows itself, other produce is acquired from farmers nearby, ‘We work with six or seven local producers and they all do different things for us,’ he says. ‘We commit to buying certain things from them throughout the year and set a price, always above market price. It’s all about paying the farmer a better price then he gets at the moment.’
The Community Farm are keen to support farmers by paying a fair rate, ‘If we’re going to work with organic farmers, they have to be paid a good price for their products,’ he says. ‘Although some people may not think it makes financial sense to pay over market price in the long run it does because it ensures the local economy keeps thriving.
Farming’s a very difficult business, it’s difficult to make any money from it whatsoever and unless we buck that trend then British farming is just going to collapse in on itself.
But profit at The Community Farm comes a staunch second place behind the project’s social contribution. Five years ago the operation was run by Bristol organic food pioneer The Better Food Company. It was decided by management and the landowner that it would be transformed into a community supported agriculture (CSA) project. Over 500 community shares were raised totalling somewhere in the region of £190,000 and consequently the business was acquired from its original owners.
All veg boxes are packed and sent out directly from the farm.
Our long term goal is to build a business that can sustain a farm operation and any money that’s made from the business gets put back into the farm, we’re a not-for-profit organisation.’
When we reach the farm, we’re blown away by the sheer variety of produce. A thin line of apple orchards separate rich-red fields recently ploughed and in the process of being seeded, while thick hedgerows provide cover for the pest eating predators that help to protect the crops. Over a ridge a vast field of squash and courgettes in all shapes and forms typify the season, we visit the farm in mid-August. Ped takes us into a series of polytunnels where plump cucumbers hang from their vines and pungent, vivid green and purple basil plants fill the air with fragrance. When faced with an organic utopia such as this, it’s clear to see the hard-work that has gone in to tending the harvest without the aid of quick fire chemicals.
Our main goal is to get people to the farm to reduce the apathy about knowing where your food comes from and to get people connected with that
‘We want people to understand locally sourced and sustainable food as well as the benefits of going organic because there are lots’ says Ped. ‘Recent studies have shown the health benefits of eating organic food but there’s also a massive environmental benefit, something that does get over-looked sometimes.’
Skilled volunteers are always needed at the farm.
The Community Farm’s social enterprise doesn’t end with the organisation’s structure. As well as mustering a team of volunteers, of which they rely on to keep the farm running, the organisation have also joined the Soil Association’s Future Growers Scheme, an initiative laid out to help encourage a new generation of farmers in the UK.
At the moment there’s a real lack of young farmers, It’s an ageing population and when they retire there will be no-one to take over
‘The soil association set up the scheme to encourage young people to get into farming, they (young people) can do a number of those courses here and eventually go on to get a qualification at the end of it’ says Ped.
The farm receives funding from the Bristol Drugs Project to help with the scheme, ‘Some of the attendees (from the project) might not go on to be farmers but will use the opportunity as a stepping stone to move on to other employment,’ say Ped.
‘One of the people last year loved it so much they went on to get a job farming in Scotland. They’ve taken him on for a season and are likely to extend it which is beyond our wildest dreams in the first year of doing the project.’
The Community Farm’s veg boxes start at £6.95 :
Find out more about volunteering opportunities on the farm:
Other veg box schemes in and around Bristol include: