It was a cold November morning when my colleague Merlyn and I made our way from our office in Brixton to visit Charlotte, General Manager at the Sutton Community Farm. While the farm looked peaceful from afar, we soon noticed that the place was buzzing with activity. More than 20 volunteers were busy harvesting vegetables; preparing carrots, leek, squash and kale for delivery the next day. Sutton Community Farm runs a weekly VegBox scheme – delivering more than 300 boxes of fresh, organically produced seasonal vegetables to households across South London.
Founded in 2010 in response to a community consultation that showed a desire for fresh, locally grown food to be available in the area, as well as a need for employment and skills training, seven acres of unused green belt land were identified and people in the community were invited to join in starting a local farm.
Since then, Sutton Community Farm’s impact on the community and individuals they support has been exceptional:
- 100% say that volunteering at the farm helps them feel part of the community
- 96% say that volunteering at the farm has helped them to lead a healthier, happier lifestyle
- 96% say that volunteering at the farm has helped them to meet new people
- 92% say that volunteering at the farm has helped them to eat a healthier diet
- 67% say that volunteering at the farm has helped them to have more confidence in growing food
- 62% say that volunteering at the farm has helped them to improve self-esteem and/or confidence
In addition, thanks to our Comic Relief Local Communities fund, the farm was also able to train seven Sustainable Farming Assistants on their six months traineeship programme, who gained knowledge and practical experience in food growing, and they hosted four work experience placements giving young people the chance to gain practical, employable skills in horticulture.
Katie lives alone and doesn't cook as she lacks confidence in the kitchen. She has not worked for years due to anxiety and mental health issues. Coming to the farm each Wednesday (and sometimes Thursday too), Katie eats a healthy lunch and if there are leftovers, she takes some home so she gets two healthy meals where she would otherwise have had none. Volunteering at the farm introduced her to another volunteer, Gareth*, who has been helping her improve her cooking skills by giving her cooking lessons.
Sitting down to lunch one day with Charlotte, Katie told her: ‘This is wonderful isn’t it? Everyone sitting down enjoying this delicious soup together!’ You know, coming to the farm really helps me with my mental health issues in a holistic sense. I just love it!'
Coming to the farm has enabled Katie to build confidence in herself, gain new skills, eat better and make new friends. The experience has been life changing for her and she makes a hugely valued contribution to the farm.
*Name has been changed
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