VegVan Farm will support the community from the ground up
There’s been a lot of talk about pivoting to survive for businesses during and after Covid19, but what about when you’re ready to start a new business and have to divert the idea before you’ve even begun? This was the challenge faced by Terri-Jayne Mowle, whose nutritious street food business idea has grown into VegVan Community Farm and is getting ready to welcome its first students this September.
VegVan Community Farm CIC is a two-acre space in Belton and is based on the idea that to have a fully nutritional diet you should have five colours of the rainbow on your plate. The initial concept was to serve healthy food via the VegVan but when the pandemic struck, the street food idea became a non-starter. Terri, who has a business background in coaching as well as interior decorating and design, decided the best thing to do would be to set up a community farm.
The business will be helping children, aged 5-16 identify the five colours for a good diet by spending time on the farm. The experience will include yoga for calmness, kinaesthetic learning with digging, planting and moving things around plus eating the food grown on-site. It will also be a place for communities to access nature and relearn forgotten growing skills whilst supporting others.
Offering children a safe space
Terri has drawn on her own experiences growing up in London to develop her ideas for the business. While living with a parent who was bipolar, with no medication or help back then, she often visited her grandparents, who had an allotment in the garden. This gave her a welcome break and a chance to be closer to nature. She spent a lot of time with her grandma Pat, baking or cooking using ingredients picked from the garden. Though life wasn’t terrible at home this all helped improve her own mental health, response and resilience.
Terri explains: “I thought I could offer other children that space as I had. You don’t know what is going on behind closed doors. There will be children that need that little bit of help, will want to acknowledge that they are not alone and should be shown it does not define them. Offering something similar could make a huge impact on their lives.”
Terri is designing the farm using permaculture principles. This is based on three ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares. They use concepts like companion planting where you have the appropriate soil for the appropriate plants and appropriate positioning of plants instead of using pesticides. It’s also about designing a space for humans and not taking more than you need from nature.
Whilst still working full-time on her previous business venture she started to set up the farm in 2021. However, she began to get overwhelmed by all the signposts for the funding she needed to get things moving.
Finding “Somebody who just got it!”
She explains: “I had no idea which grants we were eligible for, which I could go for and which ones applied to community interest companies. There’s no booklet or guidelines that tell you all this. I’m a doer and a solution-based thinker. Generally, I can get through anything, but I was getting very frustrated. I’m sure I also have OCD tendencies which made things tricky, not having anything substantial to get into.”
Fortunately, one of the signposts was the Business Gateway Growth Hub and Adviser, Aruna Bhagwan. Terri continues: “I was close to tears during our first session. It was just so lovely to have someone as a sounding board as I was doing this on my own. I was saying to Aruna ‘I want to do all these great things for all these wonderful people, I’ve always wanted to have a go but I’ve struggled to get there.’ In just our first meeting, Aruna came up with five or six solutions!”
Terri continued: “She’s been a very strong mentor for about six months. I don’t know where I would have been without her. I was working 18-hour days and then going to the farm. If it wasn’t for Aruna’s words of advice, life would have been so much harder.
“She gave me HR help, marketing help and when it came to legal help referred me to CASE. For someone that was overwhelmed by all this different information having a piecemeal approach or coming together with her to create a strategy was more help than I’ve ever had.
“She advised me to look at smaller grants, ones I might be eligible for and go for those. She’s provided support in putting a company structure in place. It was such a relief speaking to Aruna – somebody who just got it!”
Invaluable lessons learnt through workshops
Terri also attended several Business Gateway workshops.
She commented: “Negotiate to win” was brilliant. The idea of working out who the receiver is before you speak is a fantastic tool. Something that many of us do without knowing and I didn’t realise it was something I needed to work on. I can be quite strong when I speak which can offend or put people off. That was a huge lesson for me. It’s a lesson that could boost my sales by 50%.
“Another one was on financial forecasting. I would have paid myself less but following this workshop, I realised the money is better off in my pocket than the taxman. Having done financial forecasts before, I’ve never done one in this style. It made me acknowledge how much money I was giving away which could be supporting the community. I might as well take the pay for the hard work I put in or use it for another project. Once again this was invaluable. When you look at the total figure at the end of the year, it could have been £50-£60,000. That’s at least 20 students for an entire year, five days a week coming to the farm. Why would I throw that away!”
Business Adviser, Aruna commented: “Terri is an experienced businessperson on a mission to support others in her community. The challenge she faced was a business support landscape that is wide and complex resulting in frustration and overwhelm. I’m extremely pleased I was able to help her cut through all the noise and guide her, in a structured way, towards achieving her ambitions.”
VegVan Community Farm is now at the marketing stage and hopes to welcome students to the farm in September. Terri has a team of eight core members and has welcomed at least 40 volunteers. She concludes: “I imagine it would have taken a couple of years to find out everything I’ve learnt from Aruna and Business Gateway workshops. The support has got the business to where I want to be quicker, not just for me but the people who need help right now following the pandemic and the isolation, not to mention the local food production we need to feed our nation. It’s also very timely with concerns about climate anxiety, well-being and the action we need to take right now.”
Leicestershire small businesses interested in free support from the Business Gateway should call 0116 366 8487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
If businesses or individuals want to get involved with the VegVan Community Farm for CSR days, family activities, sponsor a child through their permaculture and nutrition education or volunteer, they should contact Terri by emailing email@example.com.
Images courtesy of Beth Walsh Photography.
Pic 1: Top right – L-R Business Gateway Adviser Aruna Bhagwan and Terri-Jayne Mowle on the farm with Mac the dog.
Pic2 : Terri-Jayne Mowle, Founder and Operations Director working on the veg patch at the farm.
Pic 3: VegVan Community Farm’s core team of volunteers: L-R: Ben Stocking, Karl Smith, Rebecca Peart, Aruna Bhagwan, Jo Shepherd and Terri-Jayne Mowle
Pic4: Family, friends and volunteers at a recent soft launch of the VegVan Community Farm: Front L-R Terri’s dad Dave Mowle, Terri-Jayne Mowle with grandma, Pat
Follow VegVan on Instagram