Community involvement has been the heart of the Coop since it began in 1996. It started in a very practical way, with the provision of working capital to the farms by over 500 members of the local community taking out £100 shares.
This is still an excellent way to become involved and there is a link here to an online share application form. Shareholders are known within the Coop as “farm partners”, which shows how the relationship is viewed by our farmers and shareholders alike.
But, as is the case, our farm and community connections extend well beyond those who own shares: many non-members visit the farms and buy food; many people visit and walk on the farms; many people attend guided farm walks, open days, celebrations and barn dances; and many people visit the farms just to enjoy being in the very special places that our unique biodynamic farming creates. In addition, both farms have important educational connections with the community, through the local schools which visit regularly, volunteering and also the young farmer apprenticeships - the true future of farming.
There are also vibrant economic connections with a range of local businesses trading extensively with our farms, some of whom started originally on the farms and then, as their businesses expanded, moved to other premises in the locality. Notable among these are Tablehurst Orchard, which is now Brambletye Fruit Farm; and Cherry Gardens Organic Farm and Farm Shop at Groombridge. Many successful businessmen started entrepreneurial life as farm apprentices, such as Nick Barnard of Rude Health and our lovely Emile and his Hathor Farm.
In addition to being farm partners, community members volunteer their expertise either as non-executive members in the farm management teams or as Coop Committee members. These individuals, especially those joining the management groups, make very deep and strong connections to the farms and farmers, often combining their voluntary work with specific skills such as book keeping, law, event organising, PR, marketing and fundraising. Many also develop new skills (often with training and certification), such as food processing, serving in the shops, running the al fresco barbeque and pizza kitchens and other events. Some run educational and health workshops at the farms. Within this group of generous and skilled people, several become company directors of the farms, taking on legal responsibility for the operation of the businesses. For these people, the connections between themselves and the farms are often deeper than those they enjoy through their paid work, or in any other sphere of their social lives.