As the cost of food rises and the backlash against corporate control of food supplies continues, communities are coming together with positive solutions. Food co-ops are helping people save money, improve their diets, get exercise and meet like minds, and they are giving communities a sense of empowerment.
For its members, workers’ co-op Organiclea is an opportunity to ensure food is produced justly and sustainably. “The idea was that more food can and should be grown locally, in London, and that it’s better to work with others than alone,” explains project worker Marlene Barrett. “A stronger local food economy brings social, environmental, health, economic and cultural benefits.”
The co-op started life in 2001 on an acre of derelict allotments on the edge of Epping Forest. In 2007 it took charge of Waltham Forest Council’s old plant nursery, Hawkwood, where it scaled up production and developed a community plant nursery. It now runs a 12-acre market garden from the site.
Making Local Food Work funding enabled a new phase of indoor and outdoor production at Hawkwood, plus orchard and vineyard development. Working with Hornbeam Cafe, Organiclea now offers a weekly market stall, a box scheme and a chance for local gardeners and allotment holders to sell their surplus through its Cropshare scheme. It provides training, seedlings, compost and support to local growing projects, involving as wide a range of people as possible.
This year, it has secured £100,000 for apprenticeships from the City Bridge Trust. Marlene says: “The programme’s about supporting young people to get into the local food economy, with the money going towards initiatives including paid and unpaid work experience, mentoring and business start-up grants.”
Waltham Forest Council is on board too. It recently announced a ten-point plan to encourage residents to grow food, with plans to create over 100 growing plots, and to work with registered social landlords, community groups and residents to create more.
Marlene says: “Our vision is of a socially and environmentally just food system where the means of production and distribution are controlled not by markets or corporations but by the people themselves.”