Founded in 2008, Farnham Local Food currently grows vegetable shares for 70 members. Located in the south east of England, in easy commuting distance of London, Farnham is an area with very high land prices, with farmers competing with recreational users (often horse owners) for land.
Farnham Local Food grows on two sites, one which has field scale veg and the other with more intensive veg production, which is also the main focus of community activities, events, the pick-up and distribution point. Members are very involved in production with harvesting done by the members on a rota basis.
In 2015, the owner of the main site gave the group notice to leave. Their subsequent search for new land was very challenging, highlighting some of the issues that are key to community supported agriculture and engaging local people in food production. This is well reflected in the documentary movie “Land for our food” produced by the Access to Land network.
Over the following months, the group explored various land options. An initial offer of land was withdrawn. They were later offered the use of six acres with infrastructure, ease of access, parking, water, electricity, a barn, but with heavy clay soil that was prone to waterlogging. The landowner however was less amenable to the day to day involvement from the volunteers and members, and wanted to change the management set-up – employing the growers himself, with the CSA run as a separate organisation managing the members, contracting him to produce veg.
They were offered another 2.5 acre site which had great soil, a gentle south-facing aspect, one mile from the original site but with no infrastructure in terms of water or electricity, and very limited access and parking. It was part of the land from a farm estate where the farmhouse had been sold off and the farm buildings converted into a B&B. It was an attractive land offer.
Despite the challenge of lack of access and infrastructure, Farnham Local Food are moving to this site but changing where they focus their activities. The older field veg site will become the CSA’s hub once they’ve created a car parking space with the newer site specialising on more perennial and less intensive veg.
Farmer Gavin Bridger says, “It’s the community engagement with the project - with the harvesting and helping to grow the vegetables, and coming to the field where it’s all grown to collect the veg - that a lot of our members sign up for. It is how I first got involved in growing and is what lead me to the Soil Association’s Future Growers Apprenticeship Scheme to get enough experience. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this aspect of Farnham Local Food. It’s not insurmountable problems that we’re facing, but with different priorities to a conventional vegetable-growing business - and with decisions being made by a committee - there is a fair bit of weighing up to do between the compromises we will have to make. As a community-led CSA, the community side of things is rated as importantly - if not more so - than the horticultural viability. So this dynamic is a major influence in decision-making on our land options. But it has also been a real positive. The physical moving of the sites, polytunnels and equipment has been really supported by the members and volunteers, and meant we’ve continued with seamless veg production without a break at all.”
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Members of Farnham Local Food CSA scheme