Lancaster’s community-supported agriculture project offers crop-shares as it heads into its third season

The initiative grows organic vegetables and has been selling them direct to customers and to local retailers, cafes and restaurants since 2021.

The Plot now operates on two sites, at Old Holly Farm near Garstang and in two poly-tunnels at White Lund.

The Plot uses farming methods that are nature friendly and support healthy soils.

Lancaster’s community-supported agriculture project offers crop-shares as it heads into its third seasonFarmStarters at work at The Plot.
FarmStarters at work at The Plot.

All produce is grown to organic certification standards. Most of it is organically certified by the Soil Association, and a small amount is grown using the same standards and principles, but is not yet formally certified as it takes two years to convert a new site to organic.

Dennis Touliatos, head grower at The Plot, said: “Using organic methods is very important to us as this means working with nature, regenerating the soil and supporting the health of the eco-system we’re part of.

“Organic farming methods are better for the climate, for wildlife, the people working on the land and the people eating our produce.”

The Plot not only produces vegetables and herbs – the initiative also thinks about the future and trains new growers through the FarmStart programme.

Planting tomato seedlings at The Plot.Planting tomato seedlings at The Plot.
Planting tomato seedlings at The Plot.

The annual programme is a year-long hands-on training course for new entrant farmers who want to learn how to grow food for a living.

This March, a group of six new growers have started their training and they are full of enthusiasm.

Lisa Jones, one of the new group who started the FarmStart programme this year, said: “So much has happened at The Plot already. In just five weeks we have dug out weeds, prepared new beds, planted seeds, rotovated the new growing area and started to pick veg for orders.”

Shona Legaspi, another one of the group of trainees, talks about her motivation for taking part in the programme.

Ongoing work at The Plot.Ongoing work at The Plot.
Ongoing work at The Plot.

She said: “I feel strongly that we need to change a great deal about the way we live and work as a community and … I have come to the conclusion that this must happen at a local level.

“FarmStart for me provides an opportunity to act and potentially contribute to meaningful change through organic growing.”

Trainee Martin Foster added: “I hope [the FarmStart programme] will allow me to be an active agent in changing food production and supply in our local area.”

Taking part in the programme means a lot more to the new growers than just learning a new trade.

Grower Dennis at The Plot.Grower Dennis at The Plot.
Grower Dennis at The Plot.

For many of them, it is an expression of their values, a way of growing community and contributing to building a better future. FarmStarter Emma Whittacker said: “For me one of the really important aspects of the FarmStart programme is to be able to connect with others with a shared vision of how we could grow, distribute, cook and eat food in the future.”

North Lancashire’s FarmStart programme was initiated by FoodFutures to fill the gap in demand for locally grown, seasonal and organic produce.

The broader vision is to build capacity to produce locally grown food through a ring of producers and farms working together across the Lancaster district.

The Covid-19 crisis highlighted the need for shorter supply chains, adaptable business models and collaboration between local producers, retailers and consumers.

Alongside this, local growing projects like The Plot re-connect people with their food, nature and the land and it is a way of providing meaningful, sustainable jobs for local people.

It can be very difficult for new growers to establish themselves, and the FarmStart model aims to make this easier by providing access to land (which can be unaffordable for many), training on small-scale climate resilient approaches to food growing, a supportive community, access to the local market and local supply chains.

Seedlings growing at The Plot.Seedlings growing at The Plot.
Seedlings growing at The Plot.

The programme also has ripple effects on the wider local community.

FarmStarter Lisa is hoping to connect the training to her other job as a Forest School Leader at local forest school ‘Roots to Branches’.

She said: “This year we are growing our own veg at the school to cook in our sessions. This is part of our wider initiative to encourage families to grow their own food at home. I’m hoping my new found skills at The Plot can be transferred to Forest School so that I can help others discover their own passion for growing.”

The Plot sells vegetables, fruit and herbs directly to consumers through a community-supported agriculture model. This means that customers buy a crop-share for the whole season from end of May to early December and get a weekly box of seasonal produce that is freshly harvested.

This kind of model makes crop planning easier for the growers and gives them certainty on who is going to eat their produce. Farming involves many risks, and the CSA model shares these risks between farmers and consumers.

It also helps reduce possible wastages, because only the exact amount that is needed is harvested each week and delivered as freshly and directly as possible, with minimal food miles.

New customers can sign up for a crop-share with The Plot and veg box deliveries are set to start at the end of May. Weekly veg boxes are delivered through local milk rounds with Sands Milk across the Bay area, from Galgate to Arnside and Silverdale. Customers also have the option of picking up their box from collection points at the farm near Garstang and at three points in Lancaster.

On Wednesday June 7, 4-5pm, The Plot will be opening the farm gates at Old Holly Farm, between Forton and Garstang, to visitors for a free tour (registration required).

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