Spring news from the farm

At our AGM in February we talked through lots of different things that are happening for Sims Hill, and took some collective decisions. Just some of the things we discussed were:

  • An update on the Park and Ride situation
  • Growing the farm
  • A new traineeship at Sims Hill
  • The future of the Community Food Centre
  • Share price structure
  • Plastic use
  • New Board members
  • The 2018 budget

Read on to find out more, or download the full minutes of the meeting.

Park and Ride

We are very pleased with the support we received during the consultation. Bristol City Council said during the consultation that they don’t want it to be built on our land, and two local MPs are supporting us as well as great support from other local groups and individuals. Until the four unitary authorities (local councils) confirm the next stages of the plan we will not know for sure that the proposed P&R has been moved elsewhere. All the responses are being collated by the councils and should be reported in around May. We are in a strong position, but we need to wait and see what happens next.

Growing the farm

We are sending out around 76.5 “full share equivalents” each week at the moment – that means about 120 households receive our veg each week which is great. We are on target for our plans, and would like this number to be slightly higher by the end of 2019.

Our tractor is currently waiting to be repaired, so we are very grateful to David (a local farmer and supporter of Sims Hill) for continuing to lend us his tractor in the meantime.

A new traineeship at Sims Hill

We want to have a 2-day a week role over the summer for someone who wants to increase their commercial growing skills and experience. Expanding our growing team capacity will mean we are able to increase our crop outputs, and so provide for more households and longer into the winter months from our own stocks.

We require around £3k as a minimum to be able to make the traineeship a paid position. We haven’t got enough money this year to pay someone from our income, but the growing team feel confident that we could increase capacity this year enough to fund the post through our income next year. Over the past few months we have applied for a few grants but not been successful. We will launch a crowdfunder in March to generate this money. Anyone interested in helping, please get in touch via email or social media.

The future of the Community Food Centre

The Community Food Centre has run since 2016. It is coordinated every Thursday by our community worker, Sian, at the Feed Bristol part of the site. The Community Food Centre is a chance for people who might be in food poverty, and/or who experience social isolation or health issues, and who would benefit from being in a small group where they can be in nature, learn cooking skills, enjoy being in a positive group of people. We have a positive evaluation of the impact it has had on people’s lives.

We need funding to cover the project running costs for the project worker, rent to Feed Bristol, cost of providing shares, cooking staples for the lunch. Some time for our growers has also been paid, as they also put time into the project.

The funding that supported the Centre from 2016-2018 has finished. We are writing applications for large grants (£20,000-60,000) to continue the project. In the meantime, for Q1 (Jan-March 2019) we have had a private donor and Sims Hill reserves to cover the costs. For Q2 (April- June 2019) we currently have a smaller amount of donations to cover the expenses. As a consequence, at the AGM members agreed that we spend £2007 for Q2 from the Sims Hill reserves, but also encourage private donations to help cover the costs so that we are not using up as much project reserves.

We agreed that it will not be sustainable to continue running the Community Food Centre only with short term donations beyond Q2, but will keep looking for long term funding even if we have to stop the Centre. This may include partnerships with other organisations who can support the bidding process. If anyone is interested in helping with fund raising and grant writing (with experience, or to develop your own skills) please get in touch by email or on social media.

Anyone who feels able to contribute to help cover the costs of the Community Food Centre in Q2 can make a transfer to the Sims Hill bank account. Please mark your transfer with “donation”.

Our account details: Sims Hill Shared Harvest

The Co-operative Bank        Sort Code 08-92-99      Account number 65406791

Share price structure

At the last meeting, members agreed that the Board can raise the price of shares in 2019 if it is necessary to cover costs. If we do increase the share price, could we offer any concessionary share prices to make sure people aren’t priced out? In response this suggestion, Board members and Julian, a member (but see below!), have done a scoping project.

As part of the project we thought about a two-tiered pricing structure. To do this, we would need some people to be subsidising the cheaper shares and be confident in our margins so that we were not losing money through this process. We are not currently in a position to reduce the price of any shares to a lower concessionary rate as we are not making a significant profit on the price.

A different way to fund concessions and build up the project more generally is to have more “supporter” members (who don’t receive vegetables, they just donate to the project). We would like to make a push for more supporter members and Board members plan to focus more on that in the summer once the traineeship crowdfunder is over.

Plastic use

We have had a few requests and questions from members about going entirely plastic-free. We have already stopped buying any new plastic bags for shares – all are now recycled wholesale nets or material bags.

We still use single-use plastic bags for our salad, etc. If we didn’t use plastic bags for green leaves (e.g. using paper bags or leaving them loose in crates), they would go off too quickly and then are wasted, which is also bad for the environment. We can’t reuse the “normal” plastic bags we use at the moment because of health and safety regulations.

The “normal” plastic bags we currently use can be recycled at supermarket recycling points but it is difficult to know where this plastic ends up. There are different plastic options such as degradable or compostable, but they are more expensive and have their own issues. “Degradable” plastic is currently not actually composted by local councils as their facilities cannot manage it. They take a long time to compost in a home composting system as the conditions are not right for them. “Compostable” bags are sometimes made from sources that are themselves unsustainable or compete with food for land use.

We would like to find a good source of compostable plastic bags that come from forestry by-products so they are recycling a waste product, not competing for land. We will try to transition to degradable single-use plastic for the salads when we find a source that is affordable and meets these sustainability criteria. We know other organisations locally and nationally are facing similar quandaries, so hopefully it is something that the sector can solve soon.

New Board members

Steve Hobbs and Kirsty Philbrick stepped down from the Board this year. Thanks to both for their hard work, thoughtfulness and practical help during their time on the Board.

At  the AGM, two new Board members were elected: Julian Harrison and Julia Nichols. Julian is interested in supporting our financial planning, Julia is keen to support our social activities through events and building a stronger community for members. You can see more about them on our “Team” page. Remaining Board members are Damien Phillips, James Miller, Freya Widdicombe, Kristin Sponsler, Simone Osborn and Corra Boushel (Chair).

The 2018 budget

Our 2018 accounts have been prepared by our accountant and our turnover was around £47,000. The balance for the year including the veg business – as well as the cost of the Community Food Centre and grant income – was £1520. This is good news for the project, as we are growing year on year even with difficulties like the drought of the summer.