We were lucky enough to have Pete Richardson of Westmill Organics speak at our recent AGM. Here’s Katie’s summary of what he had to say about his relationship with Cultivate and the positives and pitfalls of being a small grower.
It’s not about competition it’s about co-operation. This was the sentiment expressed by Pete Richardson, owner of Westmill Organics and one of Cultivate’s largest local suppliers. He was talking about his relationship with our food coop and his experiences as a small local grower at Cultivate’s recent Annual General Meeting.
Pete farms 30 acres of land on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border and has been supplying Cultivate with locally grown, organic produce for several years now. In the past year he has ‘re-visioned’ his business, dropping his box scheme, which saw him spending hours driving around the county, in favour of selling wholesale to restaurants and cooperatives allowing him more time ‘in the field’.
As someone with a pretty humble 3 meter square veg patch, 30 acres of farmland seems like a huge amount to me, but Pete was keen to emphasise that in the grand scheme of things he really is just a small grower and this comes with positives and pitfalls.
Pete believes that small growers are able to survive because they can create diversity and are therefore more robust. ‘That’s the beauty of small scale systems’ he says. He’s also able to experiment with different farming methods using polytunnels, green manures, planting hedges, and exploring no-dig. But as a small tennant farmer there can be restrictions from the landowners and, as with any kind of farming, you are in the hands of the weather making each season a risky endeavour. This can mean smaller growers have less time for collaboration and bigger projects as a lot of their time and money is taken up with simply trying to survive.
But it was great to hear that Cultivate has been a source of support and a steady income for growers like Pete and other local farms. This means that he’s in a much more stable position to continue to grow organically and explore new methods of farming. It really highlighted the difference that can be made when people start shopping locally and how far we’ve come in the 6 years we’ve been operating as a cooperative.