December 18 2011
Welcome to our blog at the Campaign for Real Farming. We’re Cultivate, a new co-operative social enterprise based in Oxford. From next spring we’ll be growing fresh fruit and veg at our five-acre market garden and selling it from the Cultivate VegVan, our travelling greengrocery. Every six weeks or so we’re going to be writing here about our experiences setting up the project and some of the interesting things we learn along the way. In this first blog, here’s a bit of our story so far.
Who are we? The five names on our founding documents belie the truth – we’re far more than five! The idea for Cultivate came out of a clamouring desire amongst people in Oxford to address what we saw as the problems with food in our city. We love buying and eating local produce but even we admitted to getting a lot of our fruit and veg from the supermarket. We saw a need to create something new to complement existing avenues for getting hold of local food – something that could be used by people who aren’t served by one of our farmers’ markets, or people who aren’t ready to go the whole way and invest in a veg box. We also wanted to create a new sense of involvement between producers and consumers that reflects the cultural richness and fun of knowing where food comes from.
We held a well-attended meeting about local food to hear what community groups wanted to see. All of us had been involved in local food in different ways – as consumers, through growing our own in gardens and on allotments, through research, through setting up local projects and working with communities. Now we decided that in a city renowned for scholarly debate, the time was ripe for some practical action on a more ambitious scale. Although we had business and horticultural expertise, few of us were experienced growers at a commercial level. We talked about setting up training programmes for new growers, starting with ourselves. But, we thought, maybe there were ways of learning and doing at the same time. By bringing an expert grower on board alongside our existing skills, we could get a novel business off the ground to grow and supply at the same time as creating a community network for local food in and around Oxford.
And so Cultivate was born (like all good ideas, in a pub!). Since then legions of people have helped us to refine the idea so that we have a solid business plan, and we have recruited a board of directors to keep us in line. Legally, we exist for community benefit – we make money to serve our social goals rather than to line our pockets – but we’ve got to turn a profit in order to achieve what we want. Profitable market gardening isn’t an easy game, but we’re confident we’ve got a model that works. We’ll keep our transaction costs low by selling as much of our own produce as possible, direct to the consumer. Our van will let us go to wherever it’s convenient for people to buy from us as well as avoiding some of the overheads of a shop. By being a co-operative, our members will create a network of loyal customers and word-of-mouth marketeers. We hope to earn a fair wage from this in the future, but we’re ready for some long hard days for not much money as business gets going!
We’re doing this because we believe that we can have a positive impact on our communities and our environment. In the next few months we’ll be talking to as many people as possible across Oxford about our vision for Cultivate. We hope that they will give their support to the community share offer that will provide the initial investment we need for our first growing season and beyond. In our next blog posting we’ll talk more about our share offer, which will be launching in mid-January. But in the meantime if you want to look us up you can go to our new web site where you can also sign up to our email list. See you in the New Year!
(Julian, Emma, Doireann, Joe and Dan)
Cultivate Oxfordshire Ltd, 14 Southdale Rd, Oxford, OX2 7SD, Registered in England (no. 31487R)