Blog article

#CoopFortnight - Community-owned farm runs 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. 

During Co-op Fortnight (24 June to 7 July 2019) around 40-50 volunteers will be coming together to work on the farm and on 2 July they are hosting a meeting for member-owners to elect new members to the management committee and to discuss important issues such as whether to apply for organic certification.

Around 400 members supported the farm through two community share offers, where local people invested sometimes small amounts of money for a share of the organisation and a say in decision making. The funds raised are being used to build a new barn, providing more sheltered space to pack veg boxes and host community activities.

Alice said, “Our members are so valuable in supporting the work that we do. I couldn’t imagine running the farm as a small charity or private business where a CEO or leader makes all the decisions. 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.”

She continues, “The most common reason people give for getting involved with the farm is to expand their social network, and so we’re supporting Co-op Fortnight as a way of celebrating the wider role that membership organisations like ours play in bringing people together.”

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Written by Wendy Carter
Updated: 11/06/2019