In 2001, a public meeting in Stroud, attended by some 80 people with an interest in sourcing locally produced food, decided to act. After several months work Stroud Community Agriculture Ltd was founded as an Industrial Provident Society. This 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.
The enterprise started by growing vegetables in a one-acre walled garden at Brookthorpe. A gardener was found and the community provided his income even before produce was available. A newsletter was produced and continues to be produced on a quarterly basis.
The operation moved the following year to Hawkwood College near Stroud. 23 acres was rented and a part-time farmer was taken on in addition to the gardener. In addition to growing vegetables a small beef suckler herd and some pigs are now kept.
The animal manure made it possible to maintain soil fertility and ensure good crops of vegetables 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 full organic certification was achieved.
In July 2006 SCA took on the lease of a 24 acre farm in Brookthorpe and this allowed membership to increase first to 150 in the autumn 2007, produce more vegetables and enable a full farm operation to develop further.
A member took the writer along when collecting vegetables one week. A monthly contribution towards the farm and a fee for their share of the produce is paid. She has a half share – under £5 a week.
We entered this building after entering the padlock code number and, on a wall blackboard, read the long list of produce to which a box holder is entitled. There is also a ‘pick-your-own’ entitlement at no extra cost and another gift element is that flowers growing outside can be gathered.
Molly Scott Cato, who recently finished her three year stint in the core group, explained:
The rule of the veg share is that you get three basics – carrots, potatoes and onions – every week, so if we don’t have them left (in this case due to increasing the number of shares this year) we buy them in. Mark never buys anything from outside Europe so sometimes we can’t get onions, if all European supplies have run out. These three staples are also available for sale in case people don’t find the quantity in the share adequate.