Digging deep for local community

A community-owned vegetable growing business in Somerset is making major improvements to its site with help from The Co-operative Loan Fund.

Plotgate Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms a 10-acre site in Barton St David near Glastonbury and supplies the local community with boxes of seasonal organic fruit and vegetables. The community benefit society was set up in 2015 and following a successful pilot project went into full production in 2016. It currently produces 35 boxes a week and is aiming to increase this to 100 over the next two years.

Plotgate CSA is one of just six ventures to be selected for the Just Growth funding programme designed to support community-based food and farming projects. Eligible ventures that raise finance from community investment can have it matched with a grant (funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) and a loan (arranged by Co‑operative & Community Finance). So far 62 people have bought shares totalling £25,000. The loan was released in November and work started immediately on excavating a reservoir.

Amy Willoughby, one of the founding directors of Plotgate CSA, said: “We are using the loan to help improve the infrastructure. The whole site is completely off grid and we like it that way. We are entirely responsible for our own water collection, irrigation and drainage and for generating our own power from solar PV.”

The infrastructure works will include building a barn, landscaping, irrigation and reservoir, solar power system, polytunnels, track and hard standing improvements, as well as the purchase of some tools and a small tractor.

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, which manages the Co-operative Loan Fund, said: “This is a really good community supported agriculture project. It’s run by people who are not only passionate about growing fruit and vegetables but who are also committed to enhancing the ecology of the site, the health of the soil, and the wellbeing of all the people involved. The Co-operative Loan Fund is pleased to support inspiring new ventures like this.”

Plotgate CSA was registered as a multi-stakeholder community benefit society using rules developed by Somerset Co-operative Services. The rules allow for different classes of membership for producers, volunteers and consumers.