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Go local visit to Growing Well, near Kendal

by on January 26, 2016

Go Well TalkOn Saturday 8th January the Directors paid a visit to fellow community veg people Growing Well, near Kendal in Cumbria.

After a tour of the fields and the (very impressive) polytunnels we got the chance to grill veg-nerd in chief James Smith about scaling up a food business. Just like us, Growing Well are committed to producing excellent veg for their local community and doing it in a way that respects people, the planet and tastebuds. They’ve been up and running for an extremely impressive twelve years.

James had plenty of excellent advice for us as we think about next steps; keep your focus on your main objective as a business; be confident about your product and its social and economic value; get systems out of people’s heads and embedded in the organisation’s daily activities and; make sure funders feed the business, not complicate it.

Go Well Poly tunnelThere are differences between us and Growing Well, of course. GW have always been clear that they wanted to use organic veg growing as a space to provide mental health recovery services. Being based in rural Cumbria those were in short supply before James and the team came forward. This has perhaps made their various bottom lines clearer than ours in some ways: if they aren’t providing those services and breaking even, they aren’t Growing Well. At the same time, they are far more tied to other organisations’ funding and agendas than we ever need to be.

In the relative warmth of the yurt we talked about the business of fruit and vegetables over tea and coffee. With eight employees GW are on the cusp of being a medium-sized enterprise, and it was especially interesting to hear James talk about the ways that they have engaged with other food businesses as they’ve grown larger. He also emphasised the need to be business-minded at all times; GW try to make ever last clove of garlic and every half-rotten onion count. Those relationships beyond the organisation have allowed them to sell on surpluses and things they’ve made to use up what can’t be stored or put in the veg bags.

Our tour of their incredibly tidy premises was also a real inspiration, and showed how things could look for us in the future. It seems that their relationship with their landlord and the synergies between their businesses have been crucial to them getting the most out of their product. For example, GW have taken over an old cheese refrigeration unit on the dairy farm, which allowed them to keep their salads crisp in the summer.

GW pack 100 bags for roughly 40 weeks of the year, and volunteers make up the majority of their able hands. Some of these volunteers have complex needs. Walking around you had to admire their ability to communicate with all these people over the working week, although James also told us some stories about how that communication can break down. The apple tree saplings getting strimmed was especially heartbreaking.

We all came away feeling reassured in many ways. James is quite clear that GW has been through a lot of ups and downs of all kinds, but they’re still there. Things will never go perfectly when you’re growing plants in the North of England, but things don’t need to be perfect: they just need to work.

From → Events

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