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.
Community food co-ops are making supplying direct to customers a viable option for producers. Social enterprise the Rural Regeneration Unit supports around 300 non-profit co-ops in schools, community centres, church halls and workplaces across Wales.
Run by volunteers, in places already at the heart of community life, they offer convenience and value to customers, who generally pay slightly above wholesale prices. “Wherever possible we link food co-ops to local growers or suppliers, supporting the local economy,” explains Mark Jones, Wales Produce Manager for the RRU, which is funded by the Welsh Government.
Huson’s Farm Produce, a 35-acre family farm in Hawarden, Flintshire, delivers to about 80 co-ops in North Wales. “Supplying direct and in bulk cuts out the middle man, so we all feel the financial benefits,” says Alan Huson. “The feedback’s very satisfying. I believe the co-op volunteers and customers like to deal direct with a grower too. Trade through co-ops now represents 50 per cent of our business. We plan our planting according to the demand of co-op customers. As a result of the co-ops we’ve big expansion plans.”
Nant Celyn Primary School, Cwmbran, launched its co-op in April. Year three pupils take orders from parents and staff once week, for delivery the next week. They weigh and bag the produce, attend to customers and place orders with their supplier. “Customers can collect their fruit and veg when they’re already at school, rather than having to go to the supermarket,” Mark says. “It also provides children with experience of running a co-op.”
In Aberporth Village Hall, the weekly co-op sits alongside the country market, credit union, Citizens Advice, Age Concern and community police. As well as fruit and vegetables, customers can buy meat from Golwyg yr Mor Farm, three miles away, and fish caught and delivered by Welsh Seafoods in pre-packs. Environmental health officers have approved the system, which has been adopted by other co-ops in the network.
A framed photograph of fishing boat the Mercurius shows customers where their fish comes from. Mercurius owner Sean Ryan says: “As fuel prices continue to rise, it makes sense that fish landed in Wales are eaten as locally as possible. This keeps the cost down and the fish fresher, while reducing food miles.”