SWEF Enterprise and Business grant helps market garden to blossom

Young grower turns empty nursery site into thriving food business

SWEF Enterprise and Business grant helps market garden to blossom

A SWEF Enterprise and Business Fund grant from Dorset Community Foundation is helping young grower Lily Brett’s market garden business to thrive.

The £1,900 grant from the fund, which helps young people aged 18 to 30 who have been running their own business, or who are self-employed, for under two years, with costs such as tools, stock and rent, helped buy essential equipment for The Edible Acre at Crossways, near Dorchester.

The garden, set up by 27-year-old Lily and her mum Nicky in 2022, produces fresh vegetables using organic and regenerative principles to supply direct to restaurant kitchens and the public via a veg box scheme.

Lily founded the business after moving back to her home town of Bridport from Bristol, where she was at university, after the pandemic. While in Bristol she had worked as a chef and at two veg box businesses. She said: “My mum is a gardener and has always had vegetable gardens so when I moved back to Dorset and I was looking at somewhere to create my own business we ended up deciding there was a gap in the market for a market garden.”

She approached the owners of a former garden centre at Crossways and agreed a rent. Using her and her mum’s savings they began growing, using the abandoned glasshouses and a no dig method that relies on composting.

“It is a really efficient and clean way of growing, especially if you don’t know what sort of soil you’re on,” said Lily. “We knew whatever happened that like disturbing the soil as little as possible was going to be the way forward. It also ended up working out as the avenue we could take on that site as the soil was just really, really poor.”

Getting the market garden up to speed quickly soaked up the pair’s £5,000 savings. “We applied for the grant mostly because our funds were very quickly going on the maintenance of the site because there was a lot of clearing involved,” said Lily.

“We also needed to re-cover our polytunnel install some irrigation, which turned out to be absolutely crucial with the heatwave we had last year. They were all sort of things that we knew we needed, but we didn’t have the funds for right there and then.”

It felt great knowing that people had faith in the business idea as well, because you doubt yourself a lot when you go into business

She heard about the grant through social media and applied. “I found the application process wasn’t challenging, it helped solidify ideas, which was really useful,” said Lily. She was invited to an interview over Zoom with SWEF grant panel members. “They were really warm, it didn’t feel like you were being interrogated. It felt more like just a nice, relaxed chat,” she added.

She and her mum were overjoyed to be told the application had been successful. “It was really fantastic,” she said. “It felt great knowing that people had faith in the business idea as well, because you doubt yourself a lot when you go into business.”

The Edible Acre now has more than 50 veg box subscribers and supplies ten kitchens. They are looking to expand their sales into farm shops and retail outlets and have become so successful they are opening a second growing site.

“The grant has been a real boost, basically it sort of jumped us forward a year in terms of what we could achieve,” said Lily. “With our own personal budget it would have meant we would have had to rely a lot on hand-watering and we wouldn’t have had the extra covered space for the winter.

“We would have had to wait a whole year for the income to come through for us to be able to go and purchase those items. But by having that at the very start, it feels like we’ve managed to progress a lot faster than we would have without it.”

Find out more about SWEF Enterprise and Business Fund grants, eligibility and how to apply here and learn more about Lily’s business here or search for The Edible Acre on Facebook and Instagram.

Pictured: Lily Brett at her market garden near Dorchester

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