A group of friends who started a veg box scheme during lockdown have crowdfunded £100K to buy their own FARM – to help provide for hundreds of families.
The ‘Middle Ground Growers’ group of pals provided around 65 organic veg boxes a week to local people during lockdown – all delivered by bike.
But they have now raised enough money to buy sixteen acres to turn their venture into a farm – and feed more than 600 families with their five a day.
Hamish Evans, 24, Xavier Hamon, 39, Livi Rhodes, 31 and Sammy Elmore, 29, began growling veg on a small rented plot when the shop shelves were bare in 2020.
They later raised 100K themselves and now thanks to a crowdfund of £95,000 they have a working farm – with a market garden and orchards to grow fruit and veg.
The group also aims to build a wildlife haven, wetlands and wildflower meadow at their new site in Upper Weston, Bath.
The friends now hope to teach others how to grow sustainably and set-up mini sites in Bath for growing more local produce.
Hamish said the group come from a background of farming and support for environmental movements.
He said it all began when group wanted to “help people in crisis”.
Hamish said: “We’ve all worked in a background of farming, ecological farming, before.
“During lockdown there were all these food security issues, local food made a big resurgence with supermarket sales being down.
“When the shops started to look a bit bare with shortages, local food went through a bit of a boom with people realizing they could use the farms down the road.
“We wanted to find a meaningful livelihood as well, getting to work on the land and outside.
“There is no reason why we cannot grow the majority of our calories and nutrients locally.
“In the context of a climate emergency, ecological crisis, global food and energy shortages, Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, there has never been a greater, more urgent need to produce our food locally and organically.
“We have found with our current veg box scheme that this also brings communities together, provides meaningful employment and a general sense of hope again to people’s lives.”
From a variety of backgrounds in business, agriculture and mechanics, the group was well suited to work as a team to get the project off its feet.
Hamish said: “The land itself was about £200k but we pooled together all of our life savings and got it. None of us could have done it on our own.
“We’ve basically done it all through crowdfunding and our savings, so we needed the £100,000 to get started.
“We spent about a year after we bought the land drawing up all the plans. We were trying to be really realistic with it too so we reduced costs and kept things efficient.
“This is our full time job for us now. Once we got the veg box going I quit my job and now we’re all fully paid. We supply a few restaurants now too”.
Sammy added: “It’s a mix between wildlife and farming, we’re trying to meet the two, that’s what regenerative agriculture is.”
The farm now aims to provide 400 food deliveries a week, offering three types of box, all for under £20 including delivery costs – done by bike.
“We grow about 70 different types of veg, so a lot of diversity because it’s good for the land.
“The boxes vary every week with fruit from the orchard, eggs, apple juice, greens, beans, peas etc.
“We have three different sizes of boxes this year, a £12, £15 and £20 box.
“The smallest box is best for about two people, whereas the bigger box is good for a family of five or so.
“They’re great value and we have more slots available so people are welcome to make orders.
“It’s great for people with wider economic constraints as well because it makes things nice and affordable for lots of people.
Aiming to build a community among their customers, the group now does ‘group deliveries’ so people can exchange recipes and make friends in similar circumstances.
He explained: “We’re taking on some apprentices this year because we want to train up new growers, we’re taking on new plots this year and always want to grow capacity so our volunteer days are also really great.
“At some point we’ll probably need a bit more help with the business side of things though as we’re handling all of that ourselves at the moment.
“We’re aiming to try and provide a big part of the food supply of the city if we can, but don’t want to go past our capacity or just become another big inefficient farm.
“We’d love to train up people to make their own plots too so we don’t have to cycle across town and can really make an impact.
“Food is such a huge part of fighting climate change and so making that more sustainable for the city would be great”.
Vegetable beds are being put in place this week – with the help of an army of volunteers.
One of the volunteers helping out said: ”It’s quite physically gruelling work, by the end of the day you really like like you have earned your supper.”
A crowdfunder was launched on October 23 for the £95,000 to help build the farm.
The page reads: “Imagine visiting a farm of incredible beauty, hundreds of blossoming apple, plum and pear trees, wildflowers and berry bushes, a no dig market garden brimming with nutritious organic vegetables and fields of squash and peas protected from heatwaves and drought by the shade of trees.
“Imagine hearing the murmur of water trickling in the brook, bees busying away, the damselflies hovering around the wetland and ponds, the birds nesting in the edible hedgerows. A farm teeming with activity, people from all backgrounds and abilities learning and working together in harmony.”
The group has already got planning permission for a solar barn and two polytunnels from Bath and North East Somerset Council and received a grant for planting 10,000 trees from the Forest of Avon Trust.
Of the £95,000, it is envisaged that £30,000 will go towards the solar barn, £5,000 on polytunnels, £15,000 on a market garden and £5,000 on ecological restoration.
A further £40,000 will be used to pay for staff and labour costs.