Otter Farm

Farm with Grand Designs ploughs through £60,000-target on Channel 4

Mark Diacono raised funding from 700 backers to build kitchen school at Otter Farm

"Traditional finance is all over the place and Crowdfunder offer a finance solution that drives marketing and build customer bases at the same time, it makes total sense. Everybody benefits," says Mark Diacono, founder of Otter Farm in Devon.

The former River Cottage gardener crowdfunded over £60,000 in what became a high profile fundraise to build a creative hub for Otter Farm up and scale his social enterprise.

The build was going to £100k's, and with the attention of Kevin McCloud and Grand Designs, Mark made the decision open the build up to the community, offering future Otter Farm produce, and bookings on the course, when everything was up and running.

Crowdfunding dream team, Simon and Mark also ran a live hangout touching on how Mark did it, and how you can too. Catch up on the hangout here.

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The campaign

Pre-launch

Mark knew that it is important to get the campaign off to a good start, and get pledges on the board as early as possible. 

He began to gather support before the campaign went live, telling as many people who would listen about the project and the rewards on offer.

Launch

Email

Right on launch Mark emailed everyone closest to the project, and told them to get pledging! 

That included the Grand Designs production crew, who were on sight filming the launch of the project.

Everyone already knew about the project as they had been pre-warmed to the idea, so the project gathered some early traction from minute zero.

Once Mark had some pledges on the page, and was happy with the message, he emailed his entire database.

Minutes later, hundreds of pounds were pledged on the project, including high profile pledges from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall and Kevin McCloud.

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Social media

Mark used social media once the ball was rolling. 

Throughout the campaign he continued to share engaging content.

"I have always used social media to share updates from around the farm," he said. 

"Mark is a very skilled writer, and social media updates throughout the campaign were brilliant. 

"Lots of personality with variations, keeping the content relevant whilst including a call to action." Said Si, Crowdfund coach to Mark.

Almost 40% of pledges to Mark's project came through Facebook and Twitter channels, making it a very worthwhile exercise.

Press

"Once the project was beginning to gain traction, we got the press out." 

An article pre-written by Mark was sent out to trade magazines and press. Some picked the story up, lots didn't.

The story gained local press, but was also strong enough for a feature in The Guardian, resulting in almost £1,000 of pledges.

Sharing with influencers

10 days in and Otter Farm had built some traction, mostly from Mark's own networks. 

It was time to go wider. 

Mark knew the backers who had supported the project so far were dedicated to getting Otter Farm to the finish line, so he asked for their support in sharing the project with their friends.

The power of backers sharing to their own networks instantly amplifies the number of people looking at a given project. 

Mark also made lots of calls to friends in the business, each who had their own spheres of influence and asking them to help out with the project. 

The call to action was clear - please pledge, and then share the project with your followers.

Amongst others, Kevin McCloud and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall both supported Marks project, and with a combined following of 275k followers, that has quite an impact.

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Thinking outside the box

Towards the end of the campaign, Mark had gathered support from nearly 500 backers but pledges were slowing down, and he knew that his target was still £24,000 away. 

"We had tons of coverage and lots of people knew about Otter Farm, it was brilliant."

Mark then hatched a plan to try some 'out of the box' ideas. 

He decided to run a competition every day. 

One backer's name gets pulled out of a hat and they would win a course - it was as simple as that.

Next was an idea to go back to the (now considerably larger) group of backers of the project once more.

"We wanted to find a tangible way to thank the backers for their support so far, and at the same time leverage their support in the short window of opportunity left in the campaign"

Mark set up a deal. Pledge again on the project, and no matter what you pledge on, we'll give you a bottle of wine from the winery, on top of everything else you've pledged on. 

It worked! The community were re-pledging.

Mark and his team at Otter Farm crossed the line with one day to go, and actually raised £4k over the original target.

"In hindsight, I'm very pleased we went all or nothing," Mark added. "I'm positive we wouldn't have got over £60,000 if we were on keep what you raise, as the drive to get the project over 100% just isn't there."

What they said

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Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: "What Mark's been doing at Otter farm is inspirational. What he's planning to do is one of the most exciting things in British horticulture. 

"I'm delighted to add my support to such a far-sighted and well-thought out project." 

Phil Geraghty, MD, Crowdfunder: "Projects like this show the true power of the crowd, the dedication and commitment of a community and the sheer opportunity that is out there to make great ideas happen. 

"Crowdfunder exists to enable more projects like this to become a reality, just like Mark's idea - let us help you make your grand design happen."

What's next for Otter Farm

Thanks to 700 backers, the kitchen school is now up and running.

"The new website is live, and before too long our doors open. Our first courses and events are available, along with waves of plants ready for autumn and winter planting.

"I'm also very excited, and delighted, to invite you to see our whole project unfold on Grand Designs this Wednesday 2nd November, 9pm on C4."

What is Otter Farm?

Otter Farm is the brainchild of food writer Mark Diacono. 

The farm hosts a kitchen garden, vineyard, forest garden, orchards and nutteries, and perennial garden all cared for organically.

Mark and his team have a unique model, taking advantage of climate change to grow delicious food usually sourced from overseas, without chemical/high carbon inputs.

As a result, Otter Farm has become known as the 'Climate Change Farm'.

The project

"Now, we want to open our doors and share what we do," says Mark. 

To do that, the team needed a building - a place where they can welcome visitors to a whole host of cooking and growing courses - everything on the journey from plot to plate.

The team decided to crowdfund to make it happen, setting an ambitious target of £60,000.

And, through his innovative vision for the build, Mark also caught the attention of the team at Grand Designs.

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