March 27, 2015

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Written by Gina Wilson, Senior Project Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Spring is here. The green shoots a sign of all that goes on beneath the surface.

The early months of 2015 have seen a number of developments for Growing Livelihoods.

6th-7th January brought the inspiring Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC), with a strong focus on new entrants to horticulture and farming. Most of our Growing Livelihoods pilots attended and participated in a roundtable discussion on Incubator Farms. We spoke about the need for ongoing mentoring; support to develop enterprise skills; the importance of cooperation around peri-urban routes to market and the challenge of moving from knowing how to grow to getting the infrastructure in place to run a successful enterprise – the ‘journeyman’ years. Other key points I picked up at ORFC included the need for blueprints outlining economically viable small-scale models; further exploration of part-time models; the need to look at the viability of existing enterprises – not just new ones; the importance of freely sharing administrative tools online (great examples from Grow Beer) and crucially the gap created without having a centralized body of research on barriers and how to get past them. I enjoyed learning about low cost technical innovations to help small-scale producers.  A low power remote farm camera – set up where there was no mains power using a Raspberry Pi, battery powered camera and giffgaff, programmed to send an image every 15mins – was a great example of how to keep an eye on vulnerable infrastructure during bad weather.

9th February, our first Growing Livelihoods Network event brought the pilots together to discuss their projects, share learning and visit FarmStart Manchester. In an informal and supportive setting, we used Groupzap to capture our discussions. 

Key themes to emerge were pricing and costs; certification and insurance; supporting apprenticeships; shared services and cooperation; infrastructure and branding.

Our short film, shot on the day, gives a great overview of the pilots.

5th March, marked a commercial sector roundtable discussion at Reading University hosted by Professor Hadley on behalf of the Growing Livelihoods partnership. Academics, industry leaders in mainstream horticulture and co-operative businesses discussed their views on smaller-scale growing. The excellent work of YoungHort in promoting horticultural careers to young people was highlighted. Mentoring was again emphasized, as was the potential to design online systems suited to small-scale growers.

There are multiple paths to commercial growing, can we start to map these routes and help to better promote opportunities to new entrants?

Are you interested in earning an income from growing food? What’s stopping you?(tweet this)

16th March, the Growing Livelihoods Network became virtual as we hosted a Google Hangout. In future, these will be coordinated monthly and pre-agreed topics explored together. Additional contributors will be invited to join future Hangouts and share their knowledge. The next topic will be commercial models and planning for an event in August.

Coming soon…

The Growing Livelihoods partnership (Carnegie UK Trust,Plunkett Foundation and the Land Settlement Association Charitable Trust) are delighted that the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has offered a grant to extend the number of Growing Livelihoods pilot groups from five to ten. An application process will open shortly to recruit the next five pilot groups.  Successful applicants will receive a small grant, access to specialist support and be part of the Growing Livelihoods Network, linking up with other groups trying to achieve similar aims.

Planning is underway for a Growing Livelihoods Network event in August 2015 – date and location to be confirmed. We would like to extend this event beyond our pilots, if you’re interested in being part of this please get in touch [email protected] Follow #GrowingLivelihoods for updates.

        In other news

Scottish Food Commission is to establish a network of local good food champions to encourage the sourcing and selling of locally produced, in-season food.

        Useful resources:

Making Local Food Work practical guides and toolkits to help you set up or develop a community food enterprise.

        Website to watch:

Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre