History and structure
The idea for Common Soil came out of the call to expand Stroud Community Agriculture (SCA), a well-established, thriving community supported agriculture scheme in Stroud. The large waiting list for SCA indicated that many people in Stroud wanted a locally grown, chemical-free regular vegetable box and to be connected to where and how it’s grown. However, if SCA expanded its size further it would lose the community feel.
In 2019, a member of the core group of SCA called a meeting for those on the waiting list to gauge interest in setting up another community farm with the same model. The Community supported agriculture network calls this ‘mushrooming’, where a large and well-established community farm will support the set-up of other farms, rather than growing larger themselves.
A working group of around 10 people was formed and a wider community meeting of 40 people held to develop a shared vision. Plans for development were then stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During this time, a small number of the working group started growing food together on a small piece of land we had access to in the Slad Valley. We created veg beds together from a field that had been pasture for many years. Inspired by the changes we saw for ourselves – in feeling more connected to each other, to the land, a sense of purpose and belonging and new knowledge about food growing, as well as enjoyment of the delicious food – we had renewed vigour to expand and professionalise the operation to enable more people to benefit.
The Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted the issue of food security, so it had never felt more important to give more people power over where their food comes from. Producing more food locally, with respect for the land and biodiversity, is the action that we all felt was important and possible to take towards reducing carbon emissions, limiting damage to the environment and people’s health.
In 2022 we ran our first growing season as a community supported agriculture scheme and opened membership to 22 brave and trusting initial members, who supported us through a direct connection with the farm. Read more about the community supported agriculture model that we work to.
Structure and membership
Common Soil is registered as a Community Benefit Society (number 8774). This is a form of co-operative structure and operates on a one member, one vote principle. It means that all of those involved – people working for Common Soil and people receiving veg or signing up to support the organisation as part of the farm community – become members and have a share of the Society, so have a chance to have a say over how it is run and how food is grown. All those signing up to vegetable boxes also become members of the organisation and, through the community membership scheme, people can have a share in Common Soil without receiving veg. Each person has one share and each share is of a nominal value of £1, which does not change (included in membership payments). Shareholders do not have any personal financial liability for the organisation.
The organisation also ensures it is of benefit to the wider local community, so establishes projects to serve the community and particularly people facing financial or social disadvantage. The membership model is a form of mutual support and belonging, not an exclusive club.
For the first year, the founding members make up the management committee, but at each annual general meeting the committee is elected from the membership.
The organisation is a not-for-profit venture, meaning that any surplus income that is generated (we’ll be lucky!) is re-invested into the development of the organisation. There’s an asset lock, meaning that if we wind up the organisation, any assets will be transferred to another not-for-profit organisation. There is full transparency around finances, shared at the annual general meeting, or upon request.
It’s notoriously hard to make ends meet in food growing. However, the community supported agriculture model is a way to share this burden. Common Soil was kick-started by a crowdfunding campaign in December 2021 that raised £7,000 from the community to help us get seeds in the ground and support the growers before we could sell any vegetables (Mother Nature requires patience and commitment before the bounty).
In the first year, we also received funded mentoring support and a small grant for capital items from The GREAT project and a larger grant from People’s Postcode Lottery, which enabled the purchase of a polytunnel, supported core running costs while the membership was small, and enabled us to donate produce to the local food hub to expand our reach. In the second year, Natoora is kindly supporting us during our expansion of the farm towards self-sufficiency through the CSA membership model.
Our plan, by 2025, is to be self-sustaining through income from membership of the farm.