If you’re looking to make a gradual transition from community or allotment growing to commercial production, FarmStart offers the perfect opportunity to build up your skills and experiment with organic growing on a larger scale. It’s the UK’s very first farm incubator initiative!
Without hefty savings or a farm in the family, starting a new career on the land is almost impossible for most. By providing access to affordable land, shared equipment, training and a growing market, we’ve created a supported route into farming for brand new entrants, helping build a new generation of organic growers in the North West. FarmStart means that skilled and enthusiastic people from all backgrounds can build new careers in producing fresh, healthy, sustainable food for local markets.
“By the end of the first year we had also added spinach, courgettes, beans and leeks to the mix. The soil on the farm is amazing compared to the sticky clay of my allotment and I was surprised when by autumn time…..we had two hundred kilos of vegetables. This might not seem like a lot but if you think of it like bagged supermarket carrots that is two hundred bags of carrots! Things have really progressed on the site from when I first started and it really seems to be coming together and getting better all the time. They are a great bunch of people with a really positive attitude. It’s a great thing to be a part of”. Read more about Simon's first two years as a FarmStarter.
The FarmStart programme will run at Woodbank Nursery in 2018, a 1½ acre site in Stockport home to a variety of growing projects. Encompassing two large polytunnels, Woodbank aims for year round production and specialises in tender crops grown under cover, for example early peas and tomatoes and cucumbers during the summer and salad leaves during the winter. The programme at our Abbey Leys FarmStart site is on hold for 2018 whilst we invest in improving the site ready to recruit new growers to an improved programme in 2019.
Our Woodbank programme is for people who want to focus on increasing their commercial scale growing experience and skills before taking on the additional challenge of setting up their own growing business. The programme involves classroom training covering the key topics for commercial scale organic growing – ranging from building and maintaining soil health, to managing pests and diseases in an organic system to crop planning for a commercial scale. We also get you thinking about the other side of running your own business, from pricing to book keeping to working with volunteers. You then get to put all this into practice by working alongside an experienced grower in the field for the year. This is not only to help you learn more about growing, but to give you a realistic experience of life as a commercial grower, to help you decide if this is for you.
At Abbey Leys FarmStarters take on up to ¼ acre sections to trial their growing skills and business ideas. If they prove viable, they can expand each year. Some growers work on their own, others with friends or family, and depending on what they grow, spend anything from a few hours to a couple of days each week tending their crops.
FarmStart is a grower-member of Manchester Veg People, supplying veg to restaurants and institutions throughout Greater Manchester, as well as to our sister co-operative Veg Box People. We also supply Abbey Leys Farm Shop and Farmers Market and Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton.
Around twenty people have participated in the FarmStart programme over the last 5 years, many going on to jobs with existing growers, growing on other sites or to work in a range of other exciting food related projects.
"It doesn't get much better than half an hour down the road. As a Veg Buyer at Unicorn Grocery, this is the 'field to plate' freshness offered to us by Farmstart. It's been great to witness novice growers getting such a buzz from seeing their produce on our shelves. Our involvement has afforded them the opportunity to get to grips with the retail end of growing... customers' quality expectations, pricing etc. Not that quality has been an issue, the produce delivered to us in the past two seasons has been excellent. The next challenge will be whether the Farstart-ers can convert their enthusiasm & newfound skills into viable organic growing businesses. Hopefully, the answer is yes, certainly Farmstart is exactly the kind of enterprise we feel is invaluable in nurturing budding organic growers".
Dan Weston, Veg Buyer, Unicorn Grocery
Our original Farmstart Abbey Leys site is located on Abbey Leys organic farm near Knutsford, established in 2013 but on hold for 2018. In 2018 we are recruiting for FarmStarters for our FarmStart Woodbank site, offering protected growing facilities (in polytunnels) in the heart of urban Stockport. Click on the links to read more about each site and how to apply for Woodbank.