Good to Grow Co-op

A journey through Northern Irish Co-ops…

Good to Grow’s Sandy Carney getting ready for the planting season.

Good to Grow Co-operative

1 Why did you choose to become a co-op?

Armed with a passion for horticulture and a deep concern about the environment, as three part-time Greenmount College (CAFRE) FdSc Horticultural students, we decided to try to do something meaningful that would address the situation on a local basis, while bringing like-minded people together.

We pulled Good to Grow together, as a co-op as we believe by involving each and every member in the business is the best way to make things happen. When people are included with the direction and planning of an organization they become empowered and help move an idea forward. As a democratic organization it also affords one vote to each member.

Good to Grow is a community-led horticultural co-operative, formed early 2020 with a view to making horticultural accessible to all. As a group, the current members bring many transferrable skills from business, media, health and horticulture. They continue to study part-time to up skill, which in turn will add diversity to the group and offer more to members, suppliers and end users.

2 What type of co-op are you?

As a consortium cooperative our structure means it is run for the benefit of its members who are businesses, end users, researchers and other horticultural-linked trades and professions.

By being part of the Good to Grow co-op they may benefit from economies of scale, support, marketing, tendering and innovation. So economically growth may be achieved while costs and risk may be reduced. It also enables members to retain their own brand identity, independence and control.

3 What business are you in?

Horticulture in the broadest terms, but we plan to offer a service which reaches out to all sectors of the industry and enables engagement between the general public and trade. We will offer an umbrella service from incorporating advice, education and outreach, networking, design, horticultural therapy and production. So basically connecting people on a horticultural stage while also offering events, training and advice.

The key objectives are to actively increase pollinators while sustaining and creating employment. The Co-operative hopes to bridge the gap, building knowledge, creativity and horticultural at grass roots, while becoming a veritable hive of activity for all its members.

4 In your opinion, what are the main benefits of being a co-op?

Being part of a co-op means members are equal and have one vote. Rather than power being held by a few with shareholders making the profit, a co-op opens doors which bring fairness and bring about a genuine attempt to involve all stakeholders while inviting new members and directors which means the co-op is always growing.

So each Good to Grow cooperative member will have equal parity and will be directly involved with the growth of the organization. The model builds ownership and a democratic approach. Open to growers, allotment owners, horticultural students, locally grown produce outlets, garden designers, botanists, food security specialists, seed collectors and many more sectors, the platform is inclusive and transparent.

5 Who are the co-op members? How do they benefit from the co-op?

Sandy Carney, Paul Williamson and Gill McNeill are the founder members. We met as part-time horticultural students at Greenmount College and decided there was a gap in the market for a local horticultural networking business.

6 How does the co-op benefit the community?

The coop will provide a one-stop-shop for advice, workshops, education, networking and events for individuals, groups and businesses to learn about their own gardens and growing, local food, the environment and sustainability.

7 What goals/aspirations did/do you have for your co-op?

We wanted inclusivity and where possible to bring together as many aspects of the industry as possible. We also wanted to offer up a networking option, which would work just as well for a student leaving education as it would to an established business. We want to encourage membership as without members a co-op ceases to be viable.

Gardens are getting smaller or non-existent. People are becoming more detached from the food chain and the natural environment. Mental and physical health issues are rife. The environment is at a tipping point. This is why we have created this co-operative. We will provide advice, workshops, education, networking and events for local people and businesses to learn about their own gardens and growing, local food, the environment and sustainability.

Good to Grow is vowing to build for the future a ‘greenprint’ for a healthier, productive and inclusive way forward.

8 What are/have been the main challenges to become a co-op? How do/did you respond?

Covid-19 would be up there as one of the main challenges. We have created a few workarounds and we are fortunate that part of our plan is online. The pandemic has without doubt set us back but we are on course to offer online training sessions in the near future. This time has also brought the benefit of allowing us to pull together our marketing efforts and plan for the future.

Outside commitments have also impacted on the initial set up of the co-op as people find it difficult to juggle other demands. This is one reason why it takes time to build.

9 What support did you get along the way?

Co-operative Alternatives were and still are a great source of mentoring and advice, as have been Belfast City Council and Get Ready to Grow. Funding through these sources has helped with additional digital training, funding towards marketing material and photographic services.

10 What advice would you give to others considering starting a co-op?

Research your market and get the right people around you. The latter is very difficult at the best of times so choose wisely and don’t rush this important step. Understand that people’s circumstances change and that co-ops are all about people and increasing the membership to take eventualities into account.

11 What do you think is the future of the co-op sector in Northern Ireland?

The co-op sector is a vibrant alternative to the usual formal routes. As more people learn about co-operatives and how best to initiate and run one, I feel the benefits will outweigh any initial reservations.

There are plenty of great local, national and international examples to draw inspiration from. The first port of call should be Co-operative Alternatives. Their knowledge and assistance are essential when considering setting up a coop. Visit