Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

October 13, 2010

Help needed to access land

The increasing number of community gardens and widespread interest in localised food production has given new momentum to the idea of establishing an advice service that would help groups to access land from both public and private landowners.  A timely reminder of the need for such a service has come with the recent demise of Forres-based Earth Share, Britain’s first community supported market garden

Cameron Brooks, Press and Journal

BRITAIN’S first community-supported market garden is being forced to close down at the end of the month, it emerged last night.

Earth Share, which has been growing organic fruit and vegetables since 1994, has failed to secure a long-term tenancy on its main growing site near Forres.

Director Claire Wirsig said the firm was unsuccessful in trying to reach an agreement with landowner Burgie Estates, which had impeded its ability to secure grant funding from outside bodies. She said Earth Share, which has debts of around £28,000, was unable to raise money to either lease or buy another field to allow it to continue its weekly box scheme.

Ms Wirsig, 29, said she was “disappointed” that Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, MSP for Moray, was not able to do more to prevent the co-operative from closing down on October 29.

Back yard

Her sentiment was shared by Highland Labour MSP Rhoda Grant who said she was saddened the minister was unable to find a “wee bit of money to help a community, healthy-eating project in his own back yard”.

Ms Wirsig said: “It is with a heavy heart that the directors of Earth Share have decided there is no option left for the company than to cease trading in the very near future. This decision was taken only after full and extensive exploration of all the options.”

The co-operative, which donates boxes to Moray Women’s Aid in Elgin, poor families and the disabled, has grown crops like potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions on the 27-acre site, known as the Field, for about 10 years.

It has 200 subscribers who kept it afloat by buying boxes of fresh produce, but it made a loss of £4,272 last year and £8,077 in 2008. Earth Share, which grows produce at two other, smaller sites it leases in Rafford near Forres and Findhorn, appealed to Mr Lochhead for help in July.

He arranged a meeting between the company and Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) marketing officials to discuss funding and management restructuring options.

Ms Wirsig said: “I really appreciated the input from the Scottish Agricultural College consultants but it was too little too late. We needed land or a significant cash inj-ection to buy land but neither came to fruition in time.”

A college spokeswoman said: “We have been working with Earth Share to help them find the best possible outcome in very challenging circumstances and we will continue to do so.”

Mr Lochhead said: “The Earth Share community market garden is a very valuable local project in Moray, which is why I was happy to step in as soon as they raised concerns, to see what help could be offered. Only recently, representatives of the organisation were expressing gratitude after it was arranged for the Scottish Agricultural College to provide support to Earth Share, and all appeared to be going well. I have not heard back from Earth Share but would be pleased to hear from them if there are any ongoing issues.”

No one from Burgie Estates was available for comment.