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Saturday, 23 May 2015

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Group reaps bumper crop of grant funding

A CO-OPERATIVE that aims to give members more control over how and where their food is produced is going from strength to strength after receiving nearly £45,000 in grant funding.

GO Local Food Ltd, which was set up by Ovingham residents, attracted £3,500 from the Community Foundation’s LEAF fund, and £41,400 through the Big Lottery Fund’s Village SOS scheme.

The money will enable the group, which now has 33 members, to introduce poly-tunnels at its vegetable growing site.

It is also paying for the employment of a full-time horticulturist, meaning a better crop to share this year and progress towards the group’s ultimate goal.

One of GO Local Food’s seven directors, Fiona Morris, said: “The long-term vision is to have a Tyne Valley farm where members can get their crops, meat and eggs.

“We’ll probably need 100 families involved and five acres before we start to get the turnover so it can support itself.

“It’s not just going to be about the members, though, but about other enterprises in the area and commercial investors – people who love the idea, but who might not want to get too involved.

“There are all sorts of opportunities and we want to go and involve people in places like Hexham, Corbridge and Stocksfield.”

GO Local Food originated through community association Green Ovingham, set up in 2009 with the aim of challenging climate change by supporting sustainable lifestyles.

Green Ovingham created five working groups, one of which decided to set up a community supported agriculture scheme in 2011.

Director Christine Morrison explained: “The food group wanted to demonstrate what it actually means to take more control of the produce we buy.

“We identified through market research that people were concerned about how far their food travelled, plastic packing, and how the food is treated and grown.

“It seems absolutely bonkers if you live in an area like this if you can’t at least produce some things yourself; we shouldn’t leave it all to the big supermarkets.”

To make an initial connection with the community, the group started providing veg bags, put together with local produce sourced from the Team Valley’s North East Fruit and Vegetable Market.

At the same time, they got to chat with residents about their ideas for the future.

In February 2012, Halls of Heddon nursery agreed to lease land at its Ovington site – half an acre last year, going up to an acre this year.

At an open meeting in March, then, GO Local Food Ltd was officially born, with around 30 people agreeing to form a co-ownership cooperative.

From members’ monthly contributions, a part-time grower was appointed and work began in April – even if an appalling growing season meant little by way of results.

With the funding allocation, however, things should be looking up this year.

Recently hired horticulturalist Ian Todd said: “I’m really excited about it.

“Obviously, the weather has slowed things down a lot, but I really want to get on the ground and start work.

“There’s a lot of knowledge among the members and everyone can have their own input.”

According to Christine, several similar schemes have proved successful elsewhere – even if it’s taken some time to get there.

For now, GO Local Food has four priorities to focus on: attracting investors, increasing membership, growing its land and promoting its quarterly mini farmers’ markets.

Christine said: “We have had fantastic support from local businesses – Halls of Heddon, whose land we rent, Wylam Nurseries, which produced our very first cropping plan and helped us get started, and from Tyne Valley Nurseries and McGee’s in Prudhoe.

“I believe we need to link quite closely with other producers.

“So anyone like that who wants to get involved with us should get in touch.

“It’s important that this is something that is embedded in the community. Together, we can do more.”

GO Local Food members pay an annual fee of £24 and monthly contributions of £30.

For more information, or to get involved, email golocalfood@gmail.com