BS3 Community Smallholding
About this project
- Date started:
- June 2008
- In planning
- Number of people involved:
- Number of people benefitting:
- Goals or benefits:
- Related Transition stage:
Community building, experience of growing, local food provision for members, education & inspiration for others in Bristol, a social space to learn in and celebrate together in, and a practical manifestation to promote Transition as an instigator of action, not ‘hot air’. An ‘easy’ way in with people less familiar with Transition issues.
The original inspiration came from a collective interest in permaculture and being part of a local Transition group wanting to learn & build community through the action of growing our own food.
We are designing the planting & structures on the land along permaculture principles, in particular working out how we can have maximum food yield whilst being able to have social activities on the land. We are planning a performance area, with the wide side of raised beds as the seating!
Outcomes so far:
So far we have had several work sessions to clear the land in the fenced off areas, and to open up the pond area, and we have dismantled a shed from a Freecycle offer. We have since formed an official 'crop sharers group' for paying members to manage the bulk of food growing on site - we each pay an annual fee to spend on the land, and work 6 hours a month nimimum in exchange for an equal share of any harvests. The shed has just been re-built on site and we have created several raised beds, some in the shape of beehive cells! WE have filled some with good compost and some with manure to rot down over time. We currenly have broad beans, onions, garlic and raspberries in, and potato beds dug with potatoes chitting ready for planting Easter weekend.
We are situated between established plots of a group of local older men who are much more working class than our middle class group, and they have given us a very warm & supportive welcome after initial suspicions, and give us a share of their produce whenever they see us! This is the first example any of us know of where our two social groups in our area actually cross paths, and it’s great getting to know them and understanding our differences. This is one of the most positive and unexpected outcomes of the project so far.
Obstacles, and how we overcame them:
The main problem has been getting people to understand that this project needs commitment and ownership of everyone, and isn’t a passive or ‘laid on’ activity. People have taken time to take this on, but now individuals initiate work sessions, tell the group, set out a work plan and take responsibility for ‘making it happen’ – people are growing in confidence, and learning to work better together without needing a ‘chief’!
Go straight into it without too much planning!
Once you get going, an approach of “we’re all learning and this is about trying things, not being perfect or telling others why something won’t work” helps everyone feel a real part of it. The more experienced growers give their input, but no idea is vetoed – we feel people will learn better by trying than being told it’s not the right way to do something.
Get to know the council allotment team and fellow plot holders (if you’re on an allotment) and build relationships. Have huge ambitions, but take it one step at a time – keeping it manageable keeps people interested. First & foremost, focus on it being fun!
Links and partnerships:
Bristol City Council Allotment Dept have been amazingly supportive and encouraging. We’ve got a good mutually-supportive relationship with the local Climate Action Bedminster group and had a stall at their Best of Bedminster Show to tell more people about the smallholding. We’ve joined the Bristol Local Food group and this week is Share the Harvest across all food projects in Bristol. We’re going to have a presence in a local ‘corner shop’ that used to be a Post Office and are involved in helping it to change to a new business to stay open.
Sources of funding:
No funding – we feel quite strongly that to model the sustainability we are aiming for in Transition, we need to make things happen without looking outwards for funding (which we feel is an unsustainable approach). We have challenged ourselves to meet the needs of the project within our community, and we have sourced lots of materials from asking local businesses for their ‘waste’ (scaffolding planks, wood, pallets, Freecycle shed etc). Membership subs will pay the rent and for any seeds / plants that we can’t get from Freecycle of other local projects. We will also use a % of the produce to raise funds, by turning them into chutney,s pickles, jams etc. There may well be times when we need a bit of money but we want to find ways of raising this locally and small-scale, in exchange for an event / activity we put on. Saying ‘no’ to funding has immediately led to more creative responses and to us forging relationships across our community which wouldn’t have happened if we went for formal funding.
Sources of materials:
Local industrial estates, Freecycle, local timber merchant's 'waste' pile, local van hire company, Bristol Seed Swap
Most people joining our Transition group gave ‘growing food’ as the thing they most wanted to take action on. I approached the council to ask for a large piece of land, and they gave us several options on existing allotment sites. We now have a smallholding site on one allotment (Bedminster Down ‘C’), and a standard plot on another allotment (Redcatch) – they are at opposite ends of the area we cover, so anyone joining the group would be close to one of them – and they run as one virtual smallholding.
In both cases the land had been grazing pasture for a long time, so we are starting from scratch. Bedminster Down ‘C’ has a large fenced area for chickens (when we are more established) and a wildlife area with a pond.