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A Community in Bloom A closer look at Herts and Essex Community farm Now in its third year, Herts and Essex Community Farm, Harlow’s first urban farm, has cultivated more than just fresh produce. Volunteer Jo O’Reilly talks us through the challenges of the project and the friendships that have grown along the way. My first involvement with the farm came, like most things with me through curiosity. When a good friend said his flatmate was starting a community farm I wanted to know what it was all about.
We fit our hours working on the project around busy personal lives, whether we work long hours, raise kids alone or struggle with physical or mental ill health, everyone’s contribution big or small is valued.
Once I had spoken to Elliott (Wollen, Herts and Essex Community Farm’s founder) I was impressed by his vision for the fly-tipped plot of land Harlow Council had earmarked for him. I was, however, sceptical about how much could be achieved. First and foremost he had no money. He was depending solely on the goodwill of the local community to get the project rolling. He set up crowdfunding, hoping to raise £5,000. In the end, it raised just shy of £6,000, people had been generous.
We have become a community and we share in the project’s successes, something we celebrate in yearly in July with our very own festival on the site, and also its disappointments, our onion crop this year developed rust.
My first day at the project was a miserable grey day in early March 2014. Impressed by Elliot’s enthusiasm, myself a group and a small group of volunteers found ourselves staring, unprepared, at six-foot brambles and twenty year’s worth of dumped rubbish. This was going to be a challenge. Four hours later, with blistered hands and aching muscles, I was amazed by what the small group had achieved. There was still a long way to go, but the plot no longer looked like a landfill site. Not only was there something incredibly satisfying about working with my hands, the sense of teamwork and camaraderie as volunteers passed around mugs of soup was something I hadn’t experienced before. Over the years this core group of volunteers have become like a family. Although some of us had been friends prior to our involvement with the project, many of us were working together for the first time. Whatever sense of achievement we took away from the project individually, was magnified when we saw what we were achieving as a team.
Despite ups and downs, we all agree that we are proud of what we’ve achieved. This year we have grown over 1.5 tonnes of produce. This means not only have all our volunteers had access to fresh, organically grown fruit and vegetables for themselves and their families, but also we have been able to deliver weekly fruit and veg boxes to Streets to Homes. As the farm grows we look forward to welcoming more volunteers into the fold and sharing our community as well as our vegetables with a wider audience. If you are interested in supporting or volunteering to help at The Community Farm contact Elliot on
or visit the website