Sims Hill Shared Harvest is a Bristol based CSA that was started about 7 or 8 years ago. When a group of local people wanted to set up a growing operation and a Bristol City Council owned field just two miles from the city centre became available (with the caveat that it be used for the benefit of the community), a community support agriculture project was the obvious choice.
Sims Hill rent five acres from the council on a 10 year Farm Business Tenancy with a peppercorn rent. It was the first CSA in the city and it launched with 25 members who paid for 6 months up front without receiving any vegetables, to help provide finances for the growers and set up costs. It now supplies around 85 shares and produces around 13,120kg of veg a year. It runs a schools program, regular volunteer and member days on the land, and offers a work share.
The land was in poor shape when it was taken on and had been grazed heavily. There was no running water or structures. After two years, finances were raised to build two polytunnels, and a natural building packing shed was constructed in 2014. Access is still a challenge as the track is deeply rutted from a neighbour’s tractor, and so is only accessible in a truck.
Sims Hill works in partnership with Feed Bristol, an Avon Wildlife Trust educational project on the other side of the M32 motorway, using an additional 2 acres of land and a large glasshouse.
The CSA structure helped Sims Hill get access to the land because the council were specifically looking for a community-focused project, and it especially helped in negotiating a peppercorn rent which has been integral to the viability of the project. The community activities are a vital part of this, and have helped to show the council the wider benefits of the project. It is hoped that this will be important for future similar projects in terms of laying the ground work for the benefits to the city. The CSA structure also allowed the raising of finances to get the project off the ground and a guaranteed income that allowed the farm to properly plan during the early few years.
Importantly, the stretch of land that the farm is located on has significant historical interest, as it was the site of Bristol’s historic market gardening quarter. It lies on the edge of a long stretch of Grade 1 agricultural soil (known as the Blue Finger ) that stretches out of the city. Much of this land has been sold off or developed, with other sections being under threat. Sims Hill represents an important return to market gardening in the area, and along with a few other enterprises on the Feed Bristol site, a step towards small scale growing again.
Sims Hill helps to connect people to the strong history in the area, and highlights the importance of protecting such soil at a time when development pressures are high. The farm is very visible (running alongside the major traffic route into the city and just a few miles from the city centre), and provides an important link between city dwellers, the history of the land and the future food security of the city.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017