Operating across two sites separated by a motorway, Sims Hill Shared Harvest is one of several small scale growing activities that constitute Bristol’s ‘blue finger’ and which are restoring top quality agricultural land within the city back to its historical use.
As the name implies, Sims Hill Shared Harvest is a member-owned and co-operatively run business where the residents of Bristol can invest in a share of organic local vegetables and fruit produced by the enterprise. Day-to-day running of the business is handled by its Board of Directors, who are elected every year by the members at the Annual General Meeting, and there are around five open members’ meetings throughout the year where the members can come together and contribute to the major decisions that guide Sims Hill, including the financial budget. Its site – or sites – is just two miles from Bristol city centre in Stapleton.
Its location in fact is within a strip of the highest quality of food-growing land in the country, so rare that less than 3% of all UK soil falls into the category. The land stretches around the northern edge of Bristol and over much of the last century it was a source of local food. Somehow this farming activity gradually declined, but Bristol is once again awake to being an amazing food city with a new breed of environmentally committed, small scale growers taking up the land, often helped by the ‘old’ infrastructure such as the glasshouses, as in the case of Sims Hill where its glasshouse provision is within an original such building.
The area was threatened briefly in 2105, and indeed a strip lost to a busway as I recounted around my visit to Humphrey Lloyd at Edibles Futures, another grower on the blue finger strip. However out of concerns about the land which had raised themsleves previously had been born the Blue Finger Alliance, and the busway issues served only to re-enforce its existence. A wide-ranging collaboration formed to protect the precious resource by letting people know just how important this land is, how it affects them and working to ensure its continued protection, its allies include Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Avon Wildlife Trust, Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, Soil Association, and Bristol Food Policy Council to name but a few, alongside current residents of the land such as with Sims Hill Shared Harvest, Feed Bristol, a project set up by Avon Wildlife Trust mixing locally-grown food with biodiversity, Beacon Farms, a co-op to protect good land and set up a sustainable, educational market garden producing high quality good, local food whilst training new growers, and the Stapleton Allotments Association.
The Blue Finger Alliance is now a major plank on a coherent strategy for the provision of local food in Bristol – Bristol Good Food Plan- and looks a model which other could adopt elsewhere. The vision is all embracing – a city fed from within the city itself and surrounding countryside, so nearly all its food is fresh, local and delicious… a city in which everyone could learn how to grow their own food, on land that they could walk or cycle to. The sources of local food and their alignment with environmental health are indeed just too numerous to list, and Bristol I suspect can rightly claim to be the ‘green capital’ of England. Sims Hill Shared Harvest is bang in the centre of it all, not only producing fruit and veg but formed to help protect the Grade 1 agricultural soil and to act as a model that others can follow.
In addition to the historical glasshouse, Sims Hill has a couple of polytunnels and 5 or so acres of land across two sites split by the M32. Head grower, Martin Campodonic was my guide on the visit, assisted and abetted by a couple of the many very able volunteers who support the project. As in the recent post on Growing With Grace, the glass house in particular was rapidly becoming a green jungle as summer growth reached its peak. Truely summer in the ‘Green City’ in both body and soul!
PS Since I visited Sims Hill growing responsibility has been taken over by Miriam Schoen, seen on these pages in the Camphill Oaklands Park blog. Martin is still involved and on the management board but Miriam has been appointed to the new role of Farm Manager, and tasked with taking Sims Hill to the next level of operation.
For more on Sims Hill Shared Harvest, see the enterprise website
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