A call to action from our Chair

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Dear Friends of Cultivate,

Cultivate looks very different to how it looked in 2011 when it started working to change how Oxford gets its food. Those of you who have been with us since the beginning may well have helped to grow food on the popular Cultivate farm at the Earth Trust.  Some will have formed friendships with other members when collecting their weekly online order at Cultivate’s pods.  Most residents of Oxford are by now familiar with the eye-catching display of locally ethically sourced fresh food at the Cultivate VegVan stops around the city.

Last year I was asked to take on the role of Chair of Cultivate, and have been humbled learning about the actions members, suppliers, customers, investors, employees, board team, volunteers and supporters have taken to make Cultivate the lively social enterprise it is.  I am truly grateful to every individual for all their hard work, enthusiasm and support – thank you.

I’m writing today to ask for your help, to give you an insight I am asking for your help, and to share some of the ways in which you can help right now.

The last year has been difficult for Cultivate.  One of the biggest upsets was having to saying goodbye to a number of staff, both those who have moved on and those we had to let go. We are so grateful to all employees of Cultivate for their hard work, and I want to formally say thank you for their dedication, support and good will on cold mornings on the van and in the barn.

Members will know that redundancies in an enterprise are an indicator of other challenges and this is true of Cultivate.  The VegVan broke down late last year and there aren’t the resources to replace it at this time.  Additionally, the VegVan market sales have been consistently lower than expected.  All of this has meant that we have not had the resources we need to improve our work and make the difference that so many of us want to see in our food system.

Later this week you will also see a job role advert to replace our outgoing Operations Manager, Jack Lawson, who is moving to pastures new in Hampshire.  Many of you will know Jack from buying veg at the VegVan where he has built a great rapport with Cultivate customers.  What might be less well known is Jack’s work effort over the last few years.  Since joining Cultivate, Jack has arguably ensured Cultivate is still here today – he has built relationships with suppliers, overseen a restructure to focus on the VegVan, been up early or out late shifting veg when the VegVan has broken down, moved our offices to Hinksey, developed and launched Cultivate’s Open Food Network online food ordering system…. the list is long! All in the face of fewer and fewer resources and an increasingly hostile environment for global and local food systems.  Best of all for me though, is that I have come to know that Jack’s approach is (and will continue to be) an incredible force for good in the world. I hope you will join me in saying thank you to Jack for everything he has done in his time at Cultivate.  Thank you, Jack – and good luck in Hampshire!

The lead operational role is a vital one for Cultivate and one that we need to fill quickly.  Impermanence and change has perhaps been a key feature of Cultivate’s activity since we began our work, so it is with impermanence and change in mind that Cultivate is looking to recruit someone new to the team.  When the new role holder is recruited, they will be supported to deliver in the manner Cultivate operates now, and they will also be supported to develop the next stage of Cultivate’s life. This will include developing the use of 30 acres of food producing land at South Hinksey.  To be clear, this role will be supported, but it will also be challenging.  It is also clear that if the role is not filled, it would mean there is no operational team at Cultivate, so whilst our Society could still exist, we would need to stop operational work.

When Cultivate started, many of you chose to support us by investing and become a member.  Thank you – your membership and investment has enabled the creation of some brilliant and innovative local-food supply infrastructure.  Investing money was the simple way to support Cultivate, but this isn’t what Cultivate needs at this time.  I now humbly ask for your help in other ways.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy your food from Cultivate. We need you to buy more local food to generate the revenues that keep us going.  Use Open Food Network if you need food delivered to your home.  Phone up Jack if you need a regular wholesale supply.  Come to the Summertown market if you want to meet and chat with other Cultivate supporters.
  • Apply to be Cultivate’s next operational lead – we want an energetic, innovative entrepreneurial person (or people) to join the team.
  • Share Cultivate’s job vacancy through your networks, whether personal, professional, food-based or from another sector.  Share this vacancy and someone from your network might be in the position to help make our vision of an updated food system happen.
  • Volunteer your time. Regularly help out on the VegVan (in its current guise), coordinate a specific fundraising effort, set up a member meet up, agree to pick up a neighbour’s veg box or….
  • Become a member of the board.  The board is really experienced, but like all social enterprises has capacity challenges and some skills gaps. If you think you’ve got something you can add, do give me a call, especially if you could contribute time beyond board meetings. We are particularly looking for people who can (and want to) contribute marketing, planning or financial experience.
  • Speak to me – I want to hear about how you can help Cultivate.  I like a chat, so call me anytime on 07738 216 748 – I’m keen to hear your ideas and work out ways we can work together to make Cultivate sustainable.  I mean it – do call any time.

I want to assure you that the board team is committed to making Cultivate a success, but we do need your help and I hope you can join in in this next part of the Cultivate story.

Good health and good luck to the farmers.


Tom Carman

Cultivate Chairperson