Sims Hill Shared Harvest
Feeding Bristol, from Bristol
Supermarkets offer us a very convenient way of buying food, however, the way the food stacked on their shelves is produced, selected, washed, packaged and sold can have huge environmental and human rights implications. These impacts can include excessive packaging, unfair prices paid to farmers, workers' rights issues overseas, animal welfare, air freight, waste (rejecting vegetables based on size and appearance is common practice) and taking custom away from town centres and thus turning bustling, diverse High Streets in to ghost towns.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an alternative way of producing food which is fair, kind to the environment and gives communities control over their food. CSA has been steadily gaining popularity since its conception in Japan several decades ago where it is known as Teikei, "food with a face".
CSA is a popular farming model where individuals come together and invest in the running of the farm (this typically includes wages for growers, seeds and land rental) and in return receive an equal share of the harvest. The budget for the farm and what members contribute is negotiated, seeking to establish a fair and transparent deal for all concerned. This may include subsidized membership for members on low incomes.
This unique form of food production helps build relationships between people, farmers and the land. For its members this means the opportunity to truly know the origin of their food, see exactly how it is produced and have a say in how the farm is managed. Farms become not just places to grow food but social hubs, where friends gather and take part in work days and seasonal celebrations. For farmers, growers and land owners CSA presents a viable economic model. Investment and commitment from the community can make a massive difference, especially for small farms where margins are narrow.
The birth of Sims Hill Shared Harvest
Just over a year ago a public meeting was held asking the question "Does anyone want a CSA in Bristol?" From this a small group of people stepped forward to explore the opportunities. It was quickly realised that it was feasible and there was certainly enough interest. Sims Hill Shared Harvest was born!
Bristol City Council were very interested and supportive of our vision and offered a large site of some 6 acres (known as Sims Hill) in Frenchay, North East Bristol. The site is part of a fertile strip, stretching out into the hinterland and historically used to grow food for the city. In recent years the site has been neglected and underused and it seems fitting to restore the land to its former productivity.
Over the 2010 summer a second public meeting was held to present the work and achievements of Sims Hill Shared Harvest. It was well attended and we launched the project as member-owned and led CSA that will:
Provide quality fruit and vegetables grown using natural farming methods
Offer opportunities for education, work and recreation to the wider community
Work to include and support people who are socially or economically marginalised
Build community life through creating a relationship between food and its production
"The farm will be managed using a standard CSA model where members contribute to the farm costs in exchange for a share of the harvest but Sims Hill Shared Harvest represents much more than this. Some of the core principles are taken from permaculture and community development models, so there is a strong emphasis on education, inclusion and equality as well as environmental stewardship. All members will be encouraged to have their say on how things are run, and the legal structure of the farm promotes this."
So far 120 households have expressed an interest in the project, and over 40 are already directly involved. Our first members meeting was held in January 2011, and we have started a workshare scheme through which people can do a few hours work for their share. By year three we will have reached capacity, supplying 100 households with veg. By then Sims Hill will look quite different. Not only will it be immensely productive but there will be ponds, more trees, and spaces for people to come and enjoy being close to the land and each other.