The creation of a community supported farm in Stroud had 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.
The inspiration for this initiative was drawn from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement already established on organic and biodynamic farms in North America, Japan and Germany from the mid-1980s. It grew out of an interest in sourcing locally produced food and in a deep felt wish to transform our global economic system, dominated by a handful of multinationals, who control our food system, into one of mutual support.
The first steps were to establish the principles and objectives of SCA, find land and a grower. By the early summer of 2002 the SCA had secured land on a one-acre walled garden at Brookthorpe and found a skilled and experienced grower in Mark Harrison. The first community group of 30 members demonstrated its confidence in the project by providing for income and rent before the produce was available. The first newsletter was written and continues to be produced on a quarterly basis.
Forming a co-op
Once up and running a formal structure was needed, so in 2003 the 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 who represented the members.
Building a farm
As SCA grew, the base of 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 an extra farmer, Laurence, was employed part-time. 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 ‘Hog Hands’. However, soon the pigs were incorporated as part of the whole farm with a sow, Dulcie, who produced regular litters of piglets.
The livestock, housed during the winter, provided a supply of manure which enabled the farm to maintain soil fertility and ensure that good crops of vegetables could be grown without relying on external sources of manure and compost. With the livestock in place the farm attained full Demeter and Organic certification in 2005. This guarantees to the wider public that organic and biodynamic practices have been applied.
The farm took on an apprentice, who participated in the two-year Biodynamic Apprentice Training programme. There were regular well-attended monthly farm work days and social events open to everyone (members and non-members). Members were actively encouraged to get involved in running their farm.
Growing the farm
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, in 2005 SCA received a 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 help fund much needed capital equipment. This proved very successful and before the year’s end membership had risen to 100 and we began 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 to 150 in the autumn 2007, produce more vegetables and enable a full farm operation to develop further.
This number has grown over the intervening years, rising to 220 full and 108 half vegetable shares plus a waiting list and non-veg share members who enjoy the other benefits of the farm. The enterprise became stable and robust providing steady employment and finances. We supported apprentices every year and they have gone on to spread the ethos and understanding. Over the years we have also hosted many visitors interested in CSA and there are now many CSAs in the UK and further afield.
Around this time, in 2009, Sam Hardiman was recruited to take over from Laurence. Sam’s main responsibility was caring for the increasing number of animals (pigs, cows and sheep to come), but he soon became “Farmer Sam”, partnering Mark in the running and development of SCA running many school visits and becoming a big influence in the social events of the farm – including his legendary tractor/trailer rides at the Farm Barndances.
Transforming and changing
As part of our commitment to education and helping people engage with the land, in 2018 we set up a Starter Farm, supported by the main farm, on land adjacent to Hawkwood at Oakbrook farm..
In 2019 we heard that the land at Brookthorpe might be sold and so began a period of uncertainty and change with confirmation of sale in early 2020. Luckily, we were offered the opportunity to take on more land at Brentlands Farm in Brookthorpe where we had been grazing our sheep and cows on the land around the orchards. This land, which has been under permanent pasture, is being prepared for growing organic vegetables, using green manures and soil amendments.
In 2020, after nearly 20 years as our head grower, Mark Harrison made a decision to move on leaving a big pair of boots to fill! We struggled to find a new head grower in the intervening period. Since the winter of 2021/22, following a governance review with the Farm Team, a largely new core group and interested members, we have begun to move towards a flat management system with our young but experienced and very enthusiastic Farm Team. After 14 years as ‘Farmer Sam’, Sam Hardiman is also moving on to new pastures. We wish him well as SCA continues to grow and evolve to deal with the challenges of our time.