Chalk up another milestone on Cultivate’s progress – on the 16th of April, the community share offer officially closed. It was open for three months, with the initial goal of raising £55,000 of investment to see Cultivate through the first year of operations. But exceeding all expectations, within eight weeks the share offer was oversubscribed, and Cultivate had to decide whether to end there and then or to aim higher. Existing investors were consulted over a five-day period and their overwhelming support swayed that decision and the cap was raised to £80,000. This puts the co-op in a much stronger financial position, seeing it straight through the second year without the need for additional grant funding (though with any luck there will be some of that as well).
Finance is a considerable barrier to new entrants to farming like us, so the success of the share offer is not something we could have taken for granted. What’s incredible is that so many people came forward to invest despite the fact that they will not personally stand to make great profit from the enterprise. Investors will receive a small interest rate if the business does well and a small discount on produce, but it’s fair to say that they have not been driven primarily by financial return. So why have they done it? First and foremost – they simply do want to see a more resilient and interconnected local food economy. Rewards will be found in our community rather than on the bank balance sheet. But a second reason is at least as important – people want to be involved directly with achieving the vision. People haven’t just come forward with start-up capital, they’ve come with energy, enthusiasm, leek and potato soup, advisory sessions, press consultancy, digging arms and welly boots. Apathy is so last year.
The total amount invested at close of play was £82,200 from 236 investor-members around Oxfordshire and further afield. To mark this momentous achievement (or so it felt to us), we thought the best place to celebrate would be where it all began three months earlier. Our favourite cafe-bar-restaurant local food social enterprise the Turl Street Kitchen hosted us upstairs for another night of wine, chat and shameless vegetable-related humour. For those who came, thanks for making the evening a grand time. For those who couldn’t make it, we missed seeing you, but we’ll catch you at a VegVan stop near you soon!
It feels like the end of an era… but really it’s the start of a whole new Cultivate – we’ll be stashing away our hats as unwitting share salespeople and getting stuck into the growing, selling, learning and teaching from here on in.