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.
In West Yorkshire, a cluster of co-ops is showing how good food and sustainability are part of the same solution. The Handmade Bakery and the Green Valley Grocer catalysed the Colne Valley local food economy when they set up in the same shop five years ago.
Workers co-op the Handmade Bakery has since grown from three members to six, plus three probationary members and a growing number of non-member workers. In 2011 it converted a disused mill in Slaithwaite to include a cafe and cookery school alongside the bakery. It produces 1,700 artisanal loaves and 400 handmade pastries a week, and turnover is expected to top £300,000 this year.
Consumer co-op the Green Valley Grocer expanded into the space the bakery left behind and increased its range and its sales. Last year it spent over £57,000 on locally produced food, almost a third of its purchases. It aims to source half its stock from within 30 miles by 2015.
Deputy shop manager Ange Dews says the shop brings people together. “We’re supporting the voluntary Meals on Wheels scheme and we’ve managed a series of Totally Locally market festivals in Slaithwaite,” she says. “Although we’re threatened by two supermarket developments, we feel we’re a central part of this community.”
Workers at the two co-ops joined customers and friends to set up the ‘pig club’, a co-operative of meat lovers who share husbandry of a herd of pigs. There are now two pig clubs in the valley.
This inspired Tim Bennett to create the Slaithwaite Charcuteria, producing chorizo, salami and black pudding from local meat, for sale at the shop, the bakery and farmers markets.
Edibles, a workers co-op in West Slaithwaite, grows food using permaculture principles and runs courses for adults and children.
The newest member of the network, Golcar Food Growers’ Co-operative, is developing six acres and plans to supply the Green Valley Grocer from next year. Golcar Food was brought together by teachers Richard Murgatroyd and Mel Griffiths, who bought the land with the intention of establishing a growing co-op.