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Bute Produce 

Bute Produce is a local community garden which produces affordable, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables, volunteering and employment opportunities and a source of renewable energy on the Isle of Bute.

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What are the aims and objectives?

The aim of the project is to develop a sustainable social enterprise which raises awareness and understanding of local food production and provides training, volunteering, employment and educational opportunities for the wider community. The project also produces affordable healthy fruit and vegetables, thereby reducing food miles and supporting the local economy. 

Specifically the project aims to:

  • grow and market local fresh produce and improve diet and healthy eating awareness;
  • improve the local food produce supply chain network on Bute;
  • provide healthy volunteering, learning and employment opportunities which raise awareness of the natural environment and local food production;
  • establish a green box scheme;
  • establish a ‘pick your own’ fruit and vegetable garden;
  • encourage other community growing projects throughout the island and across the country;
  • reduce the island’s carbon footprint;
  • generate local economic benefits/employment/training;
  • offer a local supply for public sector procurement; and
  • increase the availability of quality fresh produce on the island and thereby raise the profile of Bute as a ‘green island’.

The project aims to incorporate:

  • employment and training opportunities available to young people and the long term unemployed to support them to gain the experience and skills required to move into employment.
  • outdoor classroom facilities for local schools and groups, with the community garden base being adjacent to the new joint campus in Rothesay.
  • volunteering opportunities for all age groups via working with a range of community based organisations to ensure access for all and to encourage those most in need of support to engage.  The project also aims to assist volunteers in developing new skills and offers work experience and training.

Why was the project set up? What are the projects future plans?

The project was set up to address a need identified for availability of fresh, affordable local produce and to provide an opportunity for skills development and employment in land based skills. 

In May 2008 a feasibility study was carried out with 140 local households and 16 local catering outlets in order to establish demand for local produce. The project also sought to raise awareness of local food production by working with each of the island primary schools (over 450 children participated) and with local community groups and existing local producers. Further, a review of existing community gardens and local produce projects was carried out.

“We’ve worked hard to get off the ground and to help other projects to do the same.”

Bute Produce was officially launched in September 2009. The project’s market garden was established and became income generating in 2010. Four local farmers have offered the provision of land to the project to grow produce or plant fruit orchards. The project aims to increase its food production by 150% over the next two years and to subsequently provide local produce to local schools and, where possible, to supermarkets. Increased food production locally will provide more employment opportunities to the island residents. The project is aiming for financial independence by late 2013. 

Bute Produce is a component of Fyne Futures Limited, a Social Enterprise that incorporates recycling, carbon reduction and regeneration activities. Fyne Futures has diversified and grown over the past seven years and recognises scope for ongoing growth within Bute Produce, moving beyond agriculture and tapping into marine resources (e.g. seaweed for biofuel). The Isle of Bute does not currently produce any alcohol, as many of the other islands do, and the project has plans to create an orchard and to produce freshly pressed juices from apples or cider locally. 

Who are the participants and the partners?

Located on the Isle of Bute, a small island off the West Coast of Scotland, Bute Produce is designed to meet the needs of the whole island. The Isle of Bute is 47 square miles and has a population of around 7,500 people.

Bute Produce is based on a six acre site donated to the project by the Mount Stuart Trust, which is adjacent to the new Rothesay joint school campus.

The project has been developed building on research undertaken by the Argyll and Bute Agricultural Forum and working closely with Fyne Homes Housing Association, with development support from Inspiralba. The wider community have been involved via ongoing consultation. There is a development group involving a range of stakeholder representatives, including the local farming community, Bute Healthy Living Partnership, Community Regeneration, local producers and the farmers market.

Bute Produce employs two staff, a part time administrator, three trainees and offers one regular volunteer placement. Since 2009, the project has worked with 15 core trainees each for a six month period. The majority are young males with little or no work experience who were referred to the project via employability schemes. 

“We take a customer facing, bottom up approach.”  

The main project partners are a local farm which has responsibility for the distribution of the green boxes, the three local primary schools and Towards Zero Carbon Bute. The project also works in partnership with Fyne Homes Ltd, Bute Waste Watchers, Achievement Bute, Step Up, Argyll and Bute Agricultural Forum, Farmers, NFUS, Small Scale Producers, Argyll and Bute Council, and the Mount Stuart Trust/Bute Estate. The project is developing and growing effective partnership approaches and on-going engagement with the wider community, user groups and individuals to continue to shape the project. 

Bute Produce has had funding support from: Argyll and the Islands European Leader Programme, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Government Wider Role Programme, Argyll and Bute Council, Mount Stuart Trust and Community Energy Scotland.

What does the project do?

Bute Produce is committed to growing local produce which works to make the Isle of Bute more sustainable and less reliant on the mainland by growing and consuming their own seasonal fruit and vegetables. Bute Produce adopts a ‘plough to plate’ approach. The project also utilises what the island has – plenty of land for growing produce and people who have the potential to contribute positively to the local community and economy but are currently unemployed. 

The project grows fruit and vegetables, raises awareness and understanding of local produce and provides training, volunteering, employment and educational opportunities for the wider community. In addition, the project reduces food miles and the island’s carbon footprint by providing good access to locally grown fresh, affordable food. The project also has the island’s first wind turbine which generates enough energy for the market garden plus surplus energy that can be directed back to the grid. 

Produce is available to on-site customers at the ‘Veg Shack’ which stocks a range of local, fresh, organically grown produce. The Green Box scheme delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to local residents, and includes a bespoke option allowing customers the freedom to select items they would like delivered each week. A ‘Food Hub’ is in development, which will be a both a virtual and physical space to allow local farmers to upload and display what they have available in terms of all types of produce, including meat, dairy produce, and conserves and chutneys and for local people to order it online. The order can then be collected from the physical hub.

The project works specifically with the local primary schools to educate young people. The Ferry Berry Club is aimed at children between three and nine years old.  Members receive a membership pack, quarterly newsletter and dedicated workshops to learn about food miles and the benefits of growing locally. Aided by the four Ferry Berry characters – Serena Strawberry, Bertie Blackberry, Godfrey Gooseberry, and Rudolf Raspberry – the children interact to explore different fruit facts and tasks related to their individual characteristics.

The project provides short term (up to six months) trainee placements and employed training opportunities as well as on-going volunteering opportunities.  Many trainees continue to volunteer when their placement ends. The project tailors its activities to suit each volunteer based on their backgrounds, interests and what they enjoy.  Working on the land has been reported to be therapeutic and beneficial for those with poor mental health and disabilities. The trainees and volunteers work in teams planting seeds, picking produce, and putting together boxes for the bespoke delivery scheme. This approach embeds a social element into the work of the project, is health promoting, and nurtures self development.

“You can see the positive results of working with them [trainees]. After a while they’re confident and sociable and most of them go on to employment.”

Furthermore, to promote routes into employment, the project helps trainees and volunteers to develop new skills and to build up confidence and provides team working opportunities and structure. Trainees are largely young males with little or no work experience and may have a history of involvement with the criminal justice system and/or substance misuse. The project provides a platform for them to overcome the challenges in their lives and develop skills and ongoing opportunities. Trainees and volunteers take ownership of their work at Bute Produce – they see their hard work grow, can taste it and gain a sense of achievement and belief in their abilities. The Veg Shack is staffed by trainees which supports their development of customer service and retail skills. The project also teaches cooking skills using local food, including what the trainees and volunteers have grown; this enables healthier eating habits.

The project is income generating through on-site produce sales from the Veg Shack, green boxes, membership of the Ferry Berry Club, vegetable soup packs, Christmas tree hire, usage of the wind turbine, and from consultancy fees. 

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

Bute Produce supports development of new skills and assets, offering the opportunity to spend time outdoors and to meet new people, as well as to gain a sense of achievement. The project provides volunteering and trainee placements and seeks to help the individual discover their talents through offering a wide range of activities and ways to get involved. The project also utilises the physical asset of the land to generate a range of, social, environmental and economic benefits for the island. Whilst the land is not owned by the community the licence to use the land allows it to be utilised as a community asset.

The project has generated the support of the community to ensure sustainability and has developed future plans which will have a positive impact on the environment, health, education, social, and employment. People learn both practical and technical skills alongside softer skills. The physical activity involved through volunteering coupled with the social interaction of working and learning with others also benefits health and wellbeing.

Bute Produce provides opportunities for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, against a backdrop of growing organic fruit and vegetables. The project supports people to identify and focus on the assets and strengths within themselves and their local communities, and helps them to use these assets to make sustainable improvements in their lives. Furthermore, the project works to empower individuals by supporting them to build self esteem, self confidence and life skills.  It also utilises people’s existing skills, abilities and interests to place them in suitable positions and supports them to develop their potential, investing in participants as active citizens and encouraging them to contribute to their local community and the local economy.

How has success been measured?

Volunteer and trainee involvement with the project is monitored and recorded.  All volunteers and trainees complete a personal development and training plan which includes an outline of expectations and aspirations on starting the project. This is used to measure progress in relation to training and learning outcomes, personal development and future goal setting. 

Quarterly meetings are held with time allocated to discuss feedback from project staff, customers and support agencies, to establish development routes and address any issues arising. Organisations which refer into the project also evaluate the progress of trainees whilst they are attached to Bute Produce. In addition informal ongoing monitoring and support is provided on a day-to-day basis by the Gardener Trainer. 

Friends of Bute Produce have established a support group to encourage the project and make suggestions for future development and expansion.

What are the strengths and challenges? 

A key strength of the project is the development of the trainees, in terms of both physical and softer skills, as well as the energy and commitment they bring to a local project. Two of the 17 trainees who have been part of the project are now full time employees of the project, with 13 of the 17 trainees having moved into employment or training opportunities.

Three years ago 99% of fresh fruit and vegetables consumed on the island came from the mainland. Today 87-90% comes from the mainland. Within the next three years this figure is predicted to fall to 50-60%. The project has therefore helped to reduce food miles and has also educated local people about the importance of locally grown produce and increased the number of people who are now growing their own fruit and vegetables at home. Initially the project was business focused but over time has become customer focused and outward looking.

The success of the project has exceeded the expectations of local people (especially local farmers) and supported other community groups to develop (e.g. Ardentinny, and Campbeltown Community Organic Garden). Each of the local primary schools now have a garden area which is supported by the project, including North Bute Primary School which uses a part of a garden donated by a family who live beside the school.

The project highlighted the shortage of available growing space as an ongoing challenge. The impact of the Scottish weather on growing produce and gardening was also identified as a barrier, with volunteering for the project being heavily dependent on the weather. It is felt that better marketing will help to get the project message across and assist with engaging with a wider audience.

“We are making small differences to many people’s lives. If this replicates throughout Scotland and beyond think of the possibilities….”

Although the project is not yet fully sustainable, it is envisaged this will happen in the very near future. Bute Produce currently depends on external funding but the grant funding required is reducing each year as the project develops income generating streams.

On a personal level, staff expressed high levels of satisfaction in helping local people and seeing trainees make a positive impact on their lives with the support of the project. Staff also reflected that working with local people highlighted the social problems on the island and the hands on experience they have had of working within a tight knit island community and understanding the challenges this brings. Staff also felt they themselves had learned new technical and agricultural skills.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  environment, adult lifestyle, children’s lifestyle, social capital, economic participation