2016, a year on the farm…

2016 was a big year for the farm. Before we get stuck into 2017 I’d like to take the opportunity to look back on the year that was and share with you some of my reflections and photo highlights. Sutton Community Farm is supported by a dedicated bunch of people that put a huge amount of effort into making the farm the special place it is. Massive thanks to staff, volunteers, customers, members and all those who have supported, and continue to support, what we do. We’re a drop in the ocean, but together we’re proving that an alternative way of producing and consuming food is possible – one which puts people and planet at its heart and strives to challenge a broken food system that does neither.

In 2016 we’ve recruited (and retained) more VegBox customers, grown more veg and worked with more volunteers and visitors than ever before. In a challenging and often disconnected world this is testament to the importance of community spaces such as ours. A farm is an enterprise that produces and distributes food. Sutton Community Farm brings people together of all walks of life around this common aim, supporting a rich web of benefits.

Despite our successes we face significant challenges for 2017. The wider political and economic environment is challenging and uncertain. Selling vegetables is a competitive business and with the rising cost of paying valued staff a fair wage, a new obligation to pay pension contributions, uncertainty over the value of Sterling and the implications of Brexit on food prices, plus the continued downward pressure from supermarkets who squeeze farmers on their prices and present consumers with falsely cheap vegetables based on poor farming and labour practices, things are as difficult as ever! We’re optimistic though and I hope this shines through in the pictures below. Each year that passes we go from strength to strength, proving that our efforts are paying off.

So, if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2017 why not join us, or those like us. Think about becoming a VegBox customer either of ours or your local scheme. Join our crusade in showing that it’s possible to consume food in a way that’s fair and takes care of the planet. And if you’re already a VegBox customer of ours, then please spread the word – tell your friends and neighbours about us. If every one of our customers introduces a friend this year then we’ll end 2017 on an even greater high than 2016, with greater financial security and a sustainable business model enabling us to plough back surplus income into our community without having to rely on charitable grants and donations to plug the gaps. That’s what I’m excited about this year, I hope that this excites you too.

Best wishes,
Charlotte (General Manager)

Read on for some highlights from 2016:

January – March
We said a fond farewell to Sam Smith, Manager for over three years, and I took over the reins. We also welcomed in Samantha Bourn as our new Growing Apprentice, and Veryan Wilkie-Jones to run our healthy eating outreach and education project: Sutton People’s Kitchen (Phase II).

Our first community share offer closed and we welcomed over 140 new member shareowners to Sutton Community Farm.

We were delighted to win the Business in the Community award at Sutton Community Awards.

We delivered hop rhizomes to subscribers of our Grow Beer Sutton project, ready for them to get growing in preparation for brewing our very own beer later in the year.

April – June
Storm Katie caused a lot of damage to our polytunnel. Luckily Joris, Harley and Samantha made short work of the repairs, with George on hand to document the effort…

Sutton People’s Kitchen events on Sutton High Street kicked off, and our trained cook club tutors began delivering healthy cooking and eating sessions at local schools.

We launched a new, improved VegBox online ordering system plus redesigned our flyers (thanks Robyn!) and hit the streets in earnest promoting our VegBox scheme across south London.

Volunteers Peggy and Gay proudly presented a rejuvenated compost system they, and a dedicated crew, continue to work hard on – one that regularly reaches cooking temperatures and converts our plant matter into lovely compost to spread back on the land.

In just one busy week we hosted over 100 children and parents from local schools on the farm, worked with 40 corporate volunteers on Team Challenge Days from local businesses and delivered a typical Wednesday community day with well over 30 volunteers Spring planting out in the fields and polytunnels! As the year went on this level of weekly activity became the norm with more and more people from all walks of life enjoying a visit to Sutton Community Farm.

July – September
We said goodbye to Veryan and welcomed Manisha Abeyasinghe as Project Coordinator for Sutton People’s Kitchen.

Staff and volunteers alike enjoying an early harvest of summer veg – our beautiful, tasty cherry tomatoes.

We welcomed over 60 of our new members to the farm for a pizza party on a scorching July day. That week we calculated that we fed over 150 people on the farm, and delivered over 200 VegBoxes around south London that fed many more! It’s really important to us to host people at Sutton Community Farm and show you what we do and explain what we’re all about.  In the words of one of our members Hélène, it “was great to … chat with people who care about what they eat, where they live, what community they want to build.” Hélène says her boys can now picture where their veg comes from and the amount of work that goes into growing it!

In mid July we hit our 100% earlier than expected this year – with ALL the veg in our VegBoxes from Sutton Community Farm. By the end of September we’d smashed all previous records with 11 weeks when 97% of the veg in our boxes came from our small five acre patch. Well done to Joris, Harley and Samantha for their success in production, and also congratulations to Pavlina on finding creative ways to use the veg in our weekly design and recipes. We continue to work with other local producers to supplement what we cannot grow ourselves and have recently updated our Food Sourcing Policy.

We brought Sutton People’s Kitchen to the farm in August with a celebration lunchtime banquet for over 50 volunteers. Later that month we hosted our Annual Members’ Meeting where the farm membership voted Judy Groome to the Management Committee as our first Member Representative. Judy is a volunteer, customer and local resident and joins the six other members on the Committee.

And just a few weeks later our Harvest Festival attracted over 150 people despite the rainy weather. Check out this video on community shares showcasing footage from the day.

October – December

We now deliver from Putney to Greenwich, to Redhill and Reigate and everywhere in between, slowly but surely making ourselves known across south London! We are extremely fortunate to have been donated money towards a new 100% electric vehicle to help with the expansion of our VegBox scheme. Enormous thanks to Subsea 7, Naturesave Trust and RBI – our zero-emission van is already out delivering VegBoxes each week and we aim to have it branded soon!

After a successful harvest of hops back in September we got together at the farm to drink the Grow Beer Sutton tipple brewed by our volunteer brewers: Rod and Ben. And very quaffable it was too! Read more about the project here.

Our Sutton People’s Kitchen activities wound up for the year with the last workshops hosted at the farm and the final sessions in schools delivered by our dedicated tutors. Since April we engaged over 3,000 people across the borough, delivering 135 cook clubs, pop ­up stalls, banquets and workshops bringing cooking skills, healthy recipes and fresh, local food to Sutton. Thanks to everyone that participated in the activities and to the 40+ volunteers that gave their time to make the project a success. We say a fond farewell and a huge thank you to Manisha (Project Coordinator) as the funding has now come to an end.

Mid-December, an unseasonably warm day and our last outdoor community lunch of the year. Working together then enjoying a hearty soup made from surplus farm veg is an important element of Wednesday volunteer days on the farm. It’s a chance to take a break together and enjoy some of the fruits of our labour, quite literally. We reckon we’ve made over 1,000 bowls of soup this year!

2016 harvest data is now in and totals 14.8 tonnes of vegetables from Sutton Community Farm! This compares to 13.4 tonnes in 2015, and 10.8 tonnes in 2014.

Christmas time and we packed and delivered over 300 bags of fresh, local fruit and veg – almost 100 more than an average week and our biggest EVER delivery. Robyn coordinated and choreographed everything beautifully and thanks to all the volunteers and the drivers that worked so hard to make it all happen.

Thanks for reading this post. I’d like to leave you with this short video made by Power to Change and invite you to pay us a visit in 2017.