On 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.
There 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.
I love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as a grower, chef and campaigner. Christine has already highlighted his current campaign, War on Waste . Go Local tries really hard to reduce waste at every stage. We all work too hard in a variety of ways to waste what we grow!
You’ve probably already noticed that some unusual thinnings like turnip tops, broad bean tops and beetroot things pop into our crop shares because we aim to use all of the crop.
Christine described how we love all our veg wonky or straight! But I thought I’d show you what happens after the crop share is over! So, firstly we calculate the crop share really carefully to reduce waste and we also offer a swap box for things people might not like.
We encourage members to take all of their crop share. If you can’t use it, freeze it or preserve it just give it to someone else!
However, inevitably there’s always a bit left over so Ian boxes it up and takes it to local pub, The Rat Inn and they buy anything they can use – you can see what they were offered this week. When we were preparing the cabbages we took off some outer leaves so the pub had less preparation to do. They weren’t wasted either! You can see Ian’s sheep happily tucking into those tough old outer leaves!
I got home from work late this evening and wanted something quick, warm and comforting!
I gently fried an onion and a clove of garlic in olive oil then added in thinly sliced sprouts and kale cut into ribbons. I added in a knob of butter and cooked until the veg was soft then I added beaten eggs, stirring through the mixture until the egg was scrambled.
I ate it as it was but if you wanted some carbs it would have been lovely on toast! Super comforting and quick!
Saturday tea made by Ian from Go Local crop share:
Buttered sweet corn; stir fried Brussels and garlic; oven baked spicy potato wedgies and bread from Wylam bakery! All pretty yummy!
While searching for further broad bean inspiration I found this recipe for broad beans grilled in their pods. Ian and I decided to test it out on the BBQ and I have to say the results were pretty yummy!
Ian made a honey and mustard sauce which he spread on the pods and as the recipe describes it gets on your fingers as you eat and flavours the beans in a literally finger licking style!
I also found this wealth of broad bean recipes – surely something for everyone!