Growing Well is a farm-based charity promoting mental health recovery and well-being, that runs a CSA veg share scheme.
They passionately encourage involvement in community-focused organic growing and have a contract for provision from Social Services, allowing the volunteers working on the farm to benefit from a dynamic opportunity that promotes and enhances the recovery process.
The idea for Growing Well began in 2002 when James (Growing Co-ordinator) and Beren (Therapeutic Co-ordinator) recognised there were very limited structured and supportive opportunities for people recovering from mental health problems locally. Beren responded to an advert by Low Sizergh Farm to grow vegetables for their farmshop with the idea for Growing Well. Over the following 18 months Beren developed the idea and recruited a board of directors and they started trading in October 2004.
The land and production
Growing Well rents six acres of land from Low Sizergh Farm in Cumbria, a National Trust tenant farm, with whom they have developed a strong and supportive relationship. Their site contains six polytunnels and three yurts; used for training and relaxing.
James produces an annual crop plan, seed sowing lists, planting plans and harvesting forecasts. A weekly work-plan is used to direct volunteers and a purpose built sales system produces detailed picking and packing lists.
Growing Well is an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) for the Benefit of the Community. They are a corporate entity, with limited liabilities for their members, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Membership costs £5 a year, which covers administrative costs. Their board of directors contains members voted in at their AGM.
Growing Well run a Crop Share scheme that currently supplies 100 local families with seasonal vegetable bags. A weekly share is currently £8.50, paid monthly, which feeds a family of about three. Shareholders can buy more than one share if they wish. From January to May the bags are packed fortnightly or every three weeks, from June to December they become weekly. All produce supplied is grown on the farm and is available for collection from Thursday onwards.
Training and education
Growing well is CEVAS accredited and is a City and Guilds centre for learning. All volunteers are offered training opportunities to develop their knowledge and confidence. They host numerous educational visits for students of all ages, including meet-the-grower walks and food growing activities.
The organisation has recently started supporting vulnerable children in partnership with local schools. This expands upon their work with vulnerable adults, demonstrating that a horticultural environment benefits all ages.
Their mental health recovery, educational and outreach work has been supported by charitable grants from a variety of sources including individual donors, charitable trusts and the lottery.
All of the horticultural work is undertaken by volunteers most of whom are recovering from mental health issues, with a full-time grower employed by the farm. Other paid staff work in horticultural training, volunteer coordination, administration and management. The volunteers get involved in all aspects of the business from horticulture, administration, recruitment and sitting on the Board of Directors.
Growing Well has been contracted by Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group to deliver a second year of a Therapeutic Community, supporting adults with more complex mental health problems.
They have recently made site improvements to provide wheelchair access, and have trialled food processing on site, which they aim to extend in the future.
Growing Well has won numerous awards for its work including the British Rural Enterprise of the Year 2011 and the North-West award for Sustainable Food and Farming 2008. It also holds the Royal College of Psychiatrists Enabling Environments Award.