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HOW WE STARTED

Sarah and Stephen have been tenant farmers at Upper Wilting Farm since 1987. They also run the School Farm and Country Trust which has been in existence since 1976. The objects of the Trust is to provide farming and country experiences to assist schools, youth groups, colleges of further education, universities and voluntary organisations to gain easy access to a working farm for educational visits, recreational visits, projects, workshops, training courses, research and associated activities. We are available to assist you if you are thinking of setting up a similar project.

In 2008, Sarah and Stephen were approached by some members of the newly formed Transition Town Hastings Group to ask about the possibility of growing some vegetables on the farm. Sarah, being a keen horticulturalist, agreed to develop a pilot project using the kitchen garden of the farmhouse. The clearing of the overgrown site was started in April 2008. To find out who might be interested in joining us, an open invitation was circulated to other like minded people, similar societies and community groups within the area, to see how much interest there was. We held our first meeting in July 2008 and it was attended by 15 people.

At the meeting, Sarah gave a short talk on community supported agricultural projects happening in other parts of the country. Each person attending was then asked to say why they had come along, what they could offer the project in the way of skills and what direction they would like to see the project follow. Many variations on a theme were discussed including using the land for allotments or to organise ourselves to grow as a group.

The overwhelming consensus from the meeting was that everyone wanted to grow crops to the best organic practices, that they wanted to grow crops as a group and they wanted to learn more about how to grow fruit and vegetables. We found that we were a very diverse group with a whole range of skills and abilities. We also decided that we wanted to be a very active group with the main emphasis on producing crops rather than holding lots of meetings and ending up talking about it all rather than doing it! We set about getting crops planted and ran the pilot project in a very informal way. Some of those from the initial meeting came along and some found that they were not able to commit to the project. Other people heard about what we were doing and some came to join us. We then expanded from just being in the kitchen garden and took over part of one of the fields. We are now using just under 2 acres of land.

By the end of 2008, it was obvious that there was a real interest from the local community in the project and we had gained enough momentum to continue. We then decided that we needed to manage the group by setting ourselves some goals and we needed to decide exactly what we were doing and what we were trying to achieve. We formed our first management committee, drew up and adopted a constitution, opened a bank account and started to apply for some grants so that we could plant some fruit and carry out some training events.

After many consultations with other organisations such as the Soil Association and The union of Co-operative enterprises, we have now established a structural way of working within our group to make it a fair, legal and as sustainable as possible.

In 2009 we had a membership of 25 groups. Our target for 2010 is 30 family groups. We ask a small membership fee of less than £1 per week . We expect at least 4 hours work per month from each membership but as the work comes in peaks and troughs, members can bank their hours in the busy months and have reduced their hours through the winter. In return each family group takes home a share of the harvest. We have deliberately grown surplus crops to sell through the farm shop and to other community groups to raise revenue to buy seeds and equipment. We have two working days per week, Wednesday and Saturday but are flexible if members want to come at other times.

At our Annual General Meeting, which is normally held in April each year, we set our target membership and the annual membership fee. At present we expect at least 4 hours work per month from each membership but as the work comes in peaks and troughs, members can bank their hours in the busy months and have reduced their hours through the winter. In return each family group takes home a share of the harvest. We have deliberately grown surplus crops to sell through the farm shop and to other community groups to raise revenue to buy seeds and equipment. We have two working days per week, Wednesday and Saturday but are flexible if members want to come at other times.

The management committee plan the crop rotations, crops to be grown and someone from the management committee organises the ‘work force' on the day. We also have a wipe board with a list of tasks that need to be done. We encourage everyone to take an active part to have their say. A lot of information is circulated by email.

With thanks to the Lottery Awards for All Funds