Putting my money where my mouth is
Anna Louise Batchelor - 12 June 2012
We all want to eat more local organic food; it's fresher, healthier and reduces food miles but just like money, high quality local organic food doesn't always grow on trees.
Over the last couple of years myself and colleagues from the True Food Community Co-operative have been travelling the country talking to would-be and newbie set-up co-ops about how to get started. We've also talked about how to scale up from getting more members to how to provide a viable alternative to the supermarkets. We've been creating a demand for local organic food but with that comes the need for dependable, quality supply.
When you hear figures banded around about how many new farmers the county needs it's easy to get disheartened about the prospect of local organic food. However the Soil Association has been doing a lot of work to nurture supply; from the Organic Apprentice Scheme to assisting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programmes. For me, as a member of a food co-op, CSA is really exciting. CSA is 'the missing middle' between consumer and producer. CSA is about putting your money where your mouth is; putting money where your mouth wants to eat.
If you want to know exactly how CSA works then I'd recommend looking at Bristol's 'The Community Farm' (TCF).The TCF is owned by its members, founders who provided the set-up capital, and newer members who benefit from a discounted veg boxes. TCF is made up of local people investing in healthy food now and food security for their futures.
The future of local organic food will need to take a whole range of forms and will need different types of support from its communities. For the True Food Co-op that's been through three routes. First, through supporting growers going through conversion like Ashtrees Farm. We've also got involved in a 'landless CSA' through supporting the work of archaeobotanist John Letts as he grows low input, Heritage grain varieties for flour see www.oxfordbreadgroup.co.uk for details. Not only do we sell (and sell out!) of John's flour we are taking our third and biggest step in setting up a community supported bakery.
For the bakery and improving our logistics (aka buying a bigger van to transport more food to market) we need our communities support. To achieve this True Food is currently raising 'Loan Stock'; members provide loans in return for periodic repayments via shopping vouchers. One of our members described this as the "ultimate loyalty scheme!".
That 'community' means me too, as I prize open my wallet (and dodge the moths) to support something I want, something I believe in and something which I feel benefits us all; consumers, members, growers, producers and workers as we aim to create a new job too. You see we can't just sit at the dinner table expecting a grower to find land, invest their own money, take the risk of growing and then bring us dinner. We have to get involved if we want the pinnacle of healthy, sustainable and ethical food, that is local organic food.
Anna Louise Batchelor is an environmental scientist who has worked in academia, government and industry. For the last six years she has been part of Reading's True Food Co-op.