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Getting Down to Business conference

Growing For Gold: Essential skills for community food growing projects looking to start trading

Following the success of the Getting Down to Business conference (details shown below) and the interest from community projects looking to sell their produce, Local Action on Food are starting (from autumn 2010) a new piece of work to explore these issues. The project is called Growing for Gold: Essential skills for community food growing projects. If you know of any community growing projects that are selling produce, or if you are looking to develop a commercial strand to your own project then please contact

Conference attendees

Getting Down to Business conference

25th June 2010, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London


Getting Down to Business was organised by Sustain's local food networks: Local Action on Food and London Food Link.  The day bought together a wider range of people and groups around how to improve the economic viability of urban food growing and covered topics such as: 

  • Selling produce, 
  • Community trading, 
  • Generating income from training and other sources
  • Additional support available to help with these activities.

The event reflected the maturity of the movement two years on from Sustain's initial urban agriculture conference (insert link).  The conference aimed to show that the recent flourish in food growing in cities is not a “flash in the pan” but can contribute to local economic development, local jobs and local food.
The event was skilfully chaired by Kath Dalmeny, Policy Director at Sustain, and organised with the support of Harry West from the SOAS food studies centre, which runs an Anthropology of Food MA.  For more information visit

Download the programme as a 1000kb  PDF


Projects and presentations
Session 1 – Growing, selling, buying and trading produce

How community projects can start thinking of selling produce
Seb Mayfield and Paola Guzman, Capital Growth.

The Capital Growth Campaign was launched in 2008 to create 2,012 new community food growing spaces in London by 2012.  Seb Mayfield noted that, in the long term, the project aims to help spaces become more financially sustainable, and he identified three key issues facing community food growing groups.

  1. Training, e.g. in horticulture and the skills needed to manage a group of people. Capital Growth has launched a new training site at Regent's Park,
  2. Getting people involved. The Capital Growth website can facilitate this and is being used effectively to recruit new spaces
  3. Finance. Small grants have been awarded through Capital Growth but these cannot sustain projects long term. Volunteering on projects does take up a lot of time so projects need to start generating income to support them.

Around a third of Capital Growth projects have said they want to trade their produce. This could be done through networking events bringing together community food growers and small businesses facilitated, for example, by the Ethical Eats project.  Visit to find out more.

Paola Guzman gave examples of two occasions when she has co-ordinated selling produce from Capital Growth projects on a market stall. Paola highlighted where the food she was selling came from by:

  1. Getting the presentation right, e.g. displaying the vegetables in attractive wooden boxes
  2. Informing people with labels, maps and photographs of the spaces to highlight the special nature of this produce.
  3. Branding the produce by using a Capital Growth banner, logo and information.
  4. Inviting some of the growers along to talk to customers about what they were buying.

She also outlined some issues such as pricing (by weight or by bag?) and how to collect and transport the produce.

Julie Brown, Growing Communities

Community trading and the Growing Communities model
Julie Brown, Growing Communities

Julie Brown is founder and co-ordinator of Growing Communities, a local box scheme and farmers market in Hackney. The box scheme does not deliver to individuals but uses an old milk float to deliver boxes to key distribution points for people to pick up from.  They have two, one acre urban food growing sites managed by part-time growers that grow produce to supplement the box scheme.  They have also launched a patchwork of micro sites that are managed by their apprentice growers. The project currently employs 22 part-time members of staff.

The project is almot but not quite economically viable. Julie explained that if they paid the growers the London living wage it would be 89% viable, but if they were paid the rural minimum wage this figure would be 107%.  From her experience urban food growing on its own is not economically viable but can be if it sits in a balanced community trading model.

Growing Communities has learnt that:

  • Supplying people all year round is a good idea. This means buying from different suppliers. 
  • Box schemes are great ways to change the current food system. 
  • It is important to grow your own food. Growing Communities does this because it is important to have as much sustainable food as possible, but it also educates people through training (while balancing this with the need for productivity). 
  • Growing needs to be planned (who to sell to, what to grow)
  • Extra funding can be a poisoned chalice. Having their own income gave them freedom to make their own decisions. 
  • The customer isn't always right!  Feel empowered to make the decisions that you want to.
  • You need to think about what you're doing, work out what it is that you really want to achieve and focus on this.

Download Julie's presentation as a 1381kb PDF



How to set up a successful market garden
Adam York, Unicorn Grocery/ Organic Growers Alliance

Adam York is a former member of Unicorn co-operative grocery store in Manchester and ran Glebelands, a successful market garden that supplied produce to the Unicorn store. The Unicorn Glebeland model relied on a planned growing programme allowing the site and the shop to complement each other.

Adam noted the following challenges to running a market garden.

  • Fertility can be a problem with intense growing and access to water. 
  • The optimum size/plot ratio is hard to work out. 
  • Permaculture/Transition ideas can be unrealistic when growing commercially. 
  • Planning permission and poly tunnels can be problematic.
  • It's important to grow what people want, not what you think they want
  • Bullet proof yourself!  If you're going against the grain, it can be tough.

Download Adam's presentation as a 1010kb PDF



Oliver Rowe, head chef and owner of Konstam restaurant

Buying urban produce
Oliver Rowe, head chef and owner of Konstam restaurant

Oliver Rowe is a chef and restaurant owner who buys the majority of produce from seasonal London supplies, including fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and meat. The restaurant's menu changes daily and is based on what is available.
Oliver believes that to get more local food into restaurants chefs need to change their approach to food, so he is now working with other chefs on this issue. He also believes that growers wanting to sell to restaurants need to learn a bit about how the sector works before they begin selling produce.

Urban food growing can become more commercially viable by:

  • Improved communication between growers and buyers
  • Acknowledging that supply does not have to be regular, so small scale growers should not be put off.
  • Making prices open to negotiation - there needs to be a balance between fair and reasonable.
  • Planning your planting with the chef.  It is probably not productive for a small scale grower to have a bit of every crop.  It is better to have lots of few things e.g. a whole plot of chard rather than a couple of bunches.

Q&A for Session 1

Joined by food growing expert Joel Brooks and Bonnie Hewson Community Supported Agriculture and Buying Groups at the Soil Association.

Session 2 - Diversifying

How to generate income from training
Darrell Maryon, Heely City Farm

Heely City Farm started in 1971 in Sheffield and now has 60 employees, a £800,000 turnover and 30 “future jobs fund” trainees.  One acre of their five acre site grows vegetables and the farm works with other local projects including for people with disabilities and young people.  The farm runs vocational schemes and courses and has a café which uses produce from the farm and an energy centre.

In 1999 Heely City Farm tendered for a contract with Learning Skills Council (LSC) to run a training in horticulture programme.  The farm worked with the local college to create their own qualification and between 1997-2007 there were 13 organisations offering food growing skills and training.

Darrell offered some advice to groups wanting to run their own training and charge for it:

  • It is important to market it at the right audience i.e. people who can afford to pay for courses.
  • Get money from a local college to run food growing training - small and friendly can be an asset.
  • If you are planning on working with schools then you have to be very professional and research what is required.
  • You might want to think about charging people to come and volunteer for a day e.g. larger groups and corporate “away” days.

The Hawkwood experience
Marlene Barrett, Organiclea

Organiclea was originally an allotment site in Waltham Forest where local residents and volunteers came together to share food and skills and run a weekly market stall. 
The project received funding to refurbish the Hornbeam Centre which is the hub of their food work.

Organiclea has a box scheme, a market stall, and a weekly newsletter and also accept Sure Start vouchers.  The Hornbeam Centre café uses surplus food from the market stall or box scheme.  There is also a Cropshare scheme, where local people can sell their allotment surplus on a stall, and a leaflet on selling allotment produce is available on their website.

The training and plant nursery site in Chingford, called Hawkwood, is an ex-council plant nursery.  The site is 12 acres and they have a 10 year lease, and the site has over 50 regular volunteers and hosts informal and formal training. Some income is generated by the training courses and by selling plants from the nursery.

Download Marlene's presentationas a 1020kb PDF



Engaging the community and the Organisation Workshop model
Glenn Jenkins, Marsh Farm Outreach

Marsh Farm Outreach is a worker co-operative based on a housing estate outside of Luton that has engaged a deprived community with high levels of unemployment.  Resident Glenn Jenkins, along with a group of other residents and volunteers, has developed a model for community support based on the Organisation Workshop model used to help deprived communities in Brazil.  The model “plugs the leak” and helps stop money leaving the community, thereby strengthening the local economy and creating jobs and social enterprises.

Glenn and the other volunteers measured the “GDP” of Marsh Farm which came to £94 million a year, comprising £52 million residents' money and £40 million public funds.  The residents are working to create opportunities to keep the money on their estate. A staggering £1.7 million of this money is spent on fast food so the community plans to create its own urban farm to improve food security and the healthiness of residents' diets.

Session 3 – Help available for food growing projects

What specialist support is available and how to get it
Richard Snow & Maresa Bossano, Enterprise Support & Making Local Food Work

Richard Snow runs the Enterprise Support strand of the Making Local Food Work Programme which gives free support and advice to small/ medium size food businesses and social enterprises.  Richard explained that when starting a food enterprise you need to have

  • A plan and a vision
  • Good governance, transparency, and a solid business plan
  • Good marketing for the project

He explained that it is hard to make a living growing fruit and vegetables, so you should look at how you can add value by, for example, the following activities: 

  • Selling produce
  • Secondary produce
  • Selling to the public sector
  • Providing training and consultancy services
  • Offering study visits
  • Renting out your facilities

Download Richard's presentationas a 378kb PDF

Maresa Bossano  co-ordinates the Making Local Food Work Food Co-ops and Buying Groups project.  Maresa gives free support and advice to groups that want to set up a food co-op or buying group and she recommended thinking about:

  • Competition (or partners)
  • Targeting customers - who are they and they do (this will influence your sales)
  • Scale - what size are you going to be?
  • Pricing - covering your costs vs. what people will pay.
  • Staffing - will you have paid staff, volunteers or a bit of both?
  • How your finance and administration will be managed.
  • Cost – benefit analysis: is it worth it?

From Maresa's experience, ingredients for success include:

  • The quality and value of produce
  • Committed staff
  • Effective marketing and publicity
  • Good location
  • Partnerships
  • Sufficient time and money (start small)

Download Maresa'spresentationas a 1760kb PDF

Local Action on Food: The Local Action on Food network was run as part of the Big Lottery funded Making Local Food Work programme, 2007 to 2012. It has now closed.

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