The Community Shares Booster Programme enabled Sutton Community Farm to build a much-needed new barn and build a larger membership to better engage the local community and widen their customer base.
London’s most productive veg box scheme
Sutton Community Farm is a community-owned 7-acre smallholding which was started in 2010 in response to a community need to increase access to fresh, healthy, sustainable food in south London. It provides locally grown produce, as well as events, workshops and a shared space for people to cultivate skills, get exercise and make new friends.
With help of the local community, the farm grows vegetables that are sold via a veg box scheme to around 300 customers a week. Unusually for a scheme of this kind, half the vegetables in the boxes are grown on the farm, making it London’s most productive veg box scheme. Last year they grew 17 tonnes of veg!
Alice Brown, Farm Business Manager, puts this success down to the commitment of the community who get involved as members, volunteers or customers (or all three!). Around 40 volunteers come along to help each week, from a range of backgrounds including retired people, students and part time workers. Some have small gardens with not enough space to grow food, and many are looking for an opportunity to meet new people, take part in a meaningful activity and learn about food and food growing.
As a membership organisation the farm has a life of its own beyond any one individual, with the community having a sense of accountability and ownership. This helps to ensure a focus on fulfilling community needs not simply making as much money as possible.
They joined the Booster pilot in 2016 and secured a development grant £10,000 to develop plans to build a much-needed new barn that would enable them to double the number of VegBox scheme customers they could deliver to each week and host increased numbers of volunteers and group visitors (schools, businesses and other partners).
They launched their share offer in March 2017, with a commitment of equity match from the Booster Programme. In just over two months they raised almost £100,000, with nearly £50,000 coming from the Booster match. Through the share offer they also increased their membership from 141 to 408, giving them the confidence that they had the backing of the community.