Plotgate CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) celebrated its first birthday on Saturday evening with a very encouraging turn out for the first AGM. It was only one year ago that the community share offer, which launched the organisation and provided the initial start-up finance, was presented to the public in Barton St David Village Hall. The share offer raised a whopping £25,000 of investments from “supporter members” in the local community, some of whom gathered on Saturday to vote upon the interest they should be paid on their investments. Armed with voting cards, members exercised their right to vote on all major issues affecting the co-operative; a truly democratic system.
The start -up funds have been put to good use in the past 12 months; 3 poly tunnels (soon to be 4), a new barn and a water reservoir have all been built, and have transformed the site. The garden area has been doubled in size, and will grow again this season as the CSA looks to double its membership. The AGM provided a good opportunity to look back on the past 12 months and see just how far the organisation has come, although the Directors all admit there is a long way to go, especially given the ambitions on the project.
And this is an organisation with ambition. This CSA really is trying to do things differently. At its heart is the belief that we need to produce food that is “truly sustainable”. This is why the organisation is committed to its “Off-Grid” status (there is no mains power or water to the site), and is attempting to create innovative cultivation tools and growing systems which will allow the organisation to grow food for 100 families without the need for a tractor. This commitment provides many extra challenges to the team. For example, they are going to be looking at UV water purification systems this year, that will allow them to create potable water from off grid sources, and ensure that seedlings can be raised without the risk posed by water-born pathogens.
Plotgate is also different from other farms, in the way that it encourages people participation. CSAs grow food for their members, and those members are part of the farm; from decision making at meetings like the AGM, to regular volunteering, this is all about people power! The Directors thanked many people for their support on Saturday evening and the long list was testament to the way in which people have embraced the organisation, and found their own ways to be a part of it. For some, that is by subscribing to a veg share every week or fortnight, for others it has meant getting their hands muddy in the field with the growers, volunteering to cook at feast, offers of unwanted goods, the loan of equipment… the list goes on, and it was apparent on Saturday that the Directors all felt very touched by all the services and offers that the membership has made.
The AGM focused on an Annual Report (what has been going on on the ground), a Social Report and the Financial Report, aiming to give equal weight to the three parts and to recognise the importance of “Social Accounting” in the field of social enterprise. Plotgate CSA has been working with the Fund for Enlightened Agriculture and with Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) to develop a toolkit for measuring the social impact of organisations. They hope that this will allow the social and community building elements of the project to achieve full recognition, as this is the heart of the organisation.
2017 will see the end to Plotgate CSA’s start-up finance, and the organisation faces the challenge of being financially independent by the end of the year. The project is funded by subscriptions which offer members a weekly or fortnightly share of the harvest. It was clear from the AGM that the Directors have clear targets for how to achieve this and have set a realistic rate of growth for 2017- they now have to test whether “truly sustainable food” is what people want, by growing their membership subscriptions this year. It’s make or break for 2017!