Name of organisation
Tamar Grow Local CIC
Tamar Grow Local
Tamar River catchment, Devon / Cornwall border in the UK.
Type of organisation
Non-profit, regional cooperative and food hub
Collaborative short food supply chain; Food Hub; Territorial governance;
Education and information | Innovative governance
Who is Tamar Grow Local?
Tamar Grow Local (TGL) is a non-profit, Community Interest Company (CIC) which acts as an umbrella organisation for a number of local food projects, including a regional food hub for local producers, an apple juice cooperative, a honey cooperative, and a farm start incubator site.
TGL aims to improve local food security and support local food production through a mix of community, education and commercial endeavours. Over time the focus has become increasingly to work with food producers; however, community and social impact work is still important. As of 2019, TGL was supporting 35 local producers through its food hub and a further 22 through its community project support scheme.1
TGL’s model is built on knowledge exchange and education. TGL recognises there is a need for a shift in attitudes that can lead to rural regeneration in the Tamar valley and beyond. TGL states that part of its mission is “Raising awareness of the benefits of local produce and the unique market gardening history of this area” (TGL website).
TGL is committed to replicating its model through different forms of support, education and mentorship. As co-founder, Simon, Platten puts it “…we were really keen on other people replicating what we do and collectively trying to find a way out of this kind of inherent self-exploitation that goes along with local food production.” That is, finding ways to avoid putting the pressure on individual staff members to ensure the financial viability of local food businesses.
Who do Tamar Grow Local work with and how do they do it?
TGL works with a wide range of local actors, including food producers, processors, and eaters from the Tamar River catchment, local government representatives, researchers, and national campaigns organisations.
In particular, TGL is committed to offering support and fair income to small-scale producers and processors in the Tamar Valley. For example, as part of its apple juice cooperative, TGL has committed to offering a stable price on apples (£150 per tonne) irrespective of the market value. This is in order to ensure the preservation of these businesses as well as the orchards themselves which are “reservoirs of biodiversity, but also bio-cultural assets that are so easily lost” (Simon Platten, Interview).
South West Good Food Network (SWGFN)
TGL have been working with some of their producers and neighbouring Open Food Network-supported food hubs to develop a weekly wholesale round between Exeter, Totnes and Callington. The arrangement currently involves commercial and non-profit local food initiatives. It has also enabled producers from further afield in Devon to supply Tamar Valley Food Hubs. The wholesale round, which is currently being piloted, has reduced delivery times and extra journeys for producers. Using the Open Food Network software to manage availability and stock has helped to create an easy transition into cross-trading with other hubs. The wholesale hub is also not-for-profit with the hope that TGL/SWGFN can help grow local food businesses and broker new relationships within Devon and Cornwall.
TGL runs a Farm Start programme, set up with grants from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, UnLtd, and the Plunkett Foundation with the aim of creating opportunities for new entrants to enter the local food market. The programme provides them with access to land, infrastructure and machinery, while defraying costs and reducing risks. TGL operates a 12-acre site which is currently divided into seven parcels. Applicants must present a business plan and take part in six monthly reviews. This helps to steer the tenants to collaborate, identify gaps, and ultimately shape the collaboration in a territorial way. The scheme aims to soften the shock of entering the market and allow tenants to ‘get over the hump of the first year’.
For more info on TGL’s involvement in UK Farm Starts, see video in ‘External Links and Resources’ below.
What are Tamar Grow Local’s main challenges?
Challenges have emerged around how much organisational burden TGL holds as a territorial organisation and its aim to decentralise governance. For example, TGL has identified trade-offs between offering institutional support to new initiatives, versus having them ‘float off’ on their own:
“…we just end up spinning lots of plates. And some of the plates, which we like to spin we’ve had to put down so we haven’t managed to do much more community project development work since we started the food hub, because it just takes all our time” (Simon Platten, Interview).
Part of this has to do with the inherent complexity of holding all elements of a local food system under one ‘umbrella’, as well as the associated ‘burnout’ of staff. In some ways TGL has been perceived to be ‘too efficient’, meaning that other organisations don’t feel they can or want to step up to hold more organisational responsibility. In order to operate at this scale, TGL have found that a lot of pressure gets put onto the core staff in order to financially break even.
Monitoring and evaluation of ‘social impact’
Measuring social impacts of educational and community development activities accurately takes a lot of time and resources, which TGL doesn’t necessarily have. Also given the complexity of their operation it can sometimes be hard to capture how all these elements work together to produce impact:
“We perhaps don’t measure the community stuff enough, and rely on ‘Grow Share Cook’ as a proxy for all our community work. But actually, we’ve got into allotment sites, community orchards, livestock coops still going on, but we don’t know their numbers in terms of membership” (Simon Platten, Interview).
For more info on TGL’s ‘Grow, Share, Cook’ project, see video in ‘External Links and Resources’ below.
What are the priorities for Tamar Grow Local?
In addressing concerns around staff burnout and self-exploitation, TGL is an organisation which aspires to operate with a focus on ‘humanising’ processes:
“…a big point of the team meeting every week is to kind of reinforce our mission, and build morale and get everyone fired up for the rest of the week, which sometimes is easier than others.[…] And so those, those meetings are really important. And we also mix that in with a check in and how we’re all doing. So it does humanise all of those, and we end up discussing how producers are doing and how they’re reacting and relating to each other” (Simon Platten, Interview).
A big part of TGL’s recent development has focused on new ways to collaborate with like-minded organisations for mutual benefit. This is the driving force, for example, behind the SWGFN, which is looking at new ways to share logistics and products in the region. It is also connected to their work with the Open Food Network which is seeking ways to link similarly like-minded open-source digital platforms, through the development of data interoperability. Such an initiative will be of extreme importance to organisations like TGL who are continuously coming up against problems of scalability:
“[new forms of collaboration] are going to emerge out of things like Open Food Network, and their work on interoperability, […] Crucially, they’re doing it without having to impact on the time of local producers, because it’s being done through hubs, which is an interesting model in itself” (Simon Platten, Interview).