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Local Action on Food
A growing trade: helping communities take control of their food production

Polly Higginson reports from the recent Local Action on Food ‘Growing your own business’ event.

Community food-growing projects are flourishing in the most unlikely corners of the country. Most have strong social aims and are working to improve the food supply, help people learn, and create new opportunities for local people. But there can be a perception that these kinds of food enterprises are amateurish and un-commercial, and many have found themselves being propped up by grant funding when their aims might be realised better with a different sort of financial set up.

The Local Action on Food network’s recent ‘Growing your own business’, event aimed to break down some of those stereotypes, by highlighting market opportunities for community-grown produce, and providing logistical advice for projects keen to trade their wares and generate valuable income.

Attendees at the event heard about the Wenlock herb garden, a 140 m2 site on a housing estate in Hackney, London, which cropped and sold 200 kilos of salad over a short season to a range of outlets, and earned an income. Bristol’s Avon Organic Group spoke about its ‘combined stall’ for selling surplus organic home-grown produce, which earns a significant amount for some of its members. There were even examples of private sector businesses offering support, such as the supermarket Thornton’s Budgens, in North London, which invested in a space for local people to grow food, sells the produce in the store, and uses the income to maintain the food-growing space.

The event underlined that getting to grips with the realities of this new way of thinking about trading for food projects is challenging and new. A key lesson learnt from the day was the importance of being both bold and diverse, by thinking about offering something different, for instance specialising in producing high-value crops like mushrooms, herbs or salad. Other advice from the groups who presented included: understanding the competition; taking control over finance and using it to shape decisions that are realistic; creating fruitful relations with customers and understanding what they want; and having the right people involved in the project, deciding who should do what, and achieving a good balance of skills.

To help with this Local Action on Food has launched the ‘A Growing Trade’ report, which includes information for community food-growing groups that are looking to trade their produce. It covers a wide range of issues from pricing produce to the legalities around trading. Visit www.localactiononfood.org.

In London, support is also available through London Food Link to connect urban food-growing spaces with a range of outlets to sell produce to, including restaurants, markets and retailers. Contact Emily@sustainweb.org for more information.

The Growing your own business event was organised in partnership with the Making Local Food Work programme. The Enterprise Support strand offers free business advice and a range of information to support community-led enterprises www.makinglocalfoodwork.org