Urban Growing

Where’s that carrot from? Sims Hill and the importance of local, small-scale farming

By Alex Reuer

Sims Hill is a member-owned and cooperatively-run community-supported agriculture scheme (CSA) in the Stapleton/Frenchay area of Bristol. CSAs are farms whose members contribute their skills, time and money in return for fresh, local and naturally grown vegetables. It’s a partnership between farmers and members in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared. In this blog post Sims Hill member Alex Reuer describes how this Bristol-based CSA works and how to get involved.

At Sims Hill, members commit to paying a monthly membership contribution in return for either a full share of vegetables or a half share. What goes in the veg shares is whatever produce does well and is in season at any given time. In addition, Sims Hill offers the opportunity to actually get your hands dirty by volunteering in the fields – currently every third Sunday of the month. There’s also the option of becoming a workshare member which means rather than paying for your vegetables, you volunteer four hours of your time every week to help our growers get everything sown, grown and harvested in time.

The objectives our members decided upon were for Sims Hill to…

  • provide naturally grown food,
  • offer opportunities for education, work and recreation to the wider community,
  • include and support people who are socially or economically marginalised, and
  • to build community life through creating a relationship with food and its production.

Today, Sims Hill employs a grower-in-chief who is our farm manager, plus an assistant grower and our new trainee grower. We are hoping to be able to fund a seasonal trainee position every year from now on, in order to pass on valuable skills, train up the next generation of growers and help provide decent employment opportunities for new entrants. In order to save on fossil fuel usage, we use a freelance delivery driver to deliver all the veg shares to designated pick-up points around the city instead of to individual homes.

Until June 2019, we also ran a Community Food Centre which was designed to combine the therapeutic benefits of a community garden with a food bank. Over the past two and a half years, we gave out about 300-odd bags of fresh veg to participants who came to help on the farm and have a facilitated, fun day of gardening, cooking and eating together. There was strong feedback that the project was helping people with stress levels and was inspiring them to eat better and cook more. We are hoping to attract fresh funding to keep doing community work of this or a similar kind – so watch this space!

All our vegetables are naturally grown and chemical-free. Instead, we maintain fertility by ensuring crop rotations, growing green manures to replenish the soil and in some cases, using no-dig methods. A no-dig system requires you to build up your beds by regularly adding organic matter (compost) on top, which improves soil structure and adds fertility. Last winter, we started setting up no-dig beds in our polytunnels and have now expanded this to some outside areas, too.

But why?

WHY do all of this when there’s perfectly good veg to be had on my local supermarket’s shelves?

Sims Hill vegetables only have to travel about four miles down the road, which means a short supply chain and less fossil fuel usage – no refrigeration lorries required.

We produce less food waste by growing and harvesting only the amount of vegetables needed for our members each week. This also means a massive reduction in plastic packaging. Any surplus veg we do have is sold wholesale to local shops.

Even wonky vegetables get used. There are no beauty standards. As long as it’s good quality and practicable, all our veg goes in members’ veg bags.

We currently have the capacity for new members. Please contact simshillmembership@gmail.com to enquire – and feel free to tell all your friends!

Alex Reuer has been both a paying and workshare member of Sims Hill since 2017. As a freelance translator, terminology specialist and language consultant, she works with a range of clients all over Europe and the world. Her passions are the environment and social justice/equality, international law and human rights.

The CSA at Sims Hill fits into all six of the Bristol Going for Gold Action Areas. Have you logged actions for Buying Better, Food Waste, Urban Growing, Community Action, Eating Better or Food Equality yet? Take action now as either an individual or an organisation. If you are involved in a Bristol organisation or business and wish to support local agriculture, one of your Going for Gold actions could be helping to improve the access that your staff have to local food and food retailers. You might also want to get involved with corporate volunteering or team-building days can boost staff morale and productivity levels, while helping a local project.

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

* Required field

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Our Sponsors