Organising fun and engaging activities for your community is a great way for people to learn more about your food co-op and its benefits. There are also lots of educational materials available that you could give to your customers to promote healthy eating.
Resources are often available, and can be downloaded or ordered free of charge, from your local NHS clinical commissioning group.
Linking with national campaigns
A useful way to promote your work is to tie your activities to national food celebrations. Many national campaigns also provide free information packs with guidance about what activities you could do and other tools, such as a sample press release. Sustain's food calendar lists many of these celebrations and events, month by month.
Offering tasters of food co-op produce is a good way to involve people directly with food and is a great way to start a conversation. This could include chopping up a few of the more unusual fruit and vegetables whenever the food co-ops is running so people can try before they buy. This will hopefully encourage customers to buy a wide range of foods. Alternatively you could try having a one-off event to provide a wider range of both fresh produce and cooked dishes.
Case study - Somerset food co-ops
A community food worker in Watchet in Somerset organised a tasting session at the local children's centre, where a wide variety of bite-size fruit and vegetables were laid out attractively to encourage healthy snacking. This led to the centre ordering produce regularly through the co-op and the children being more open to trying new types of food.
Prior to starting up co-ops in the Mendip of Somerset, potential customers were asked if they could taste the difference between local, organic produce compared with 'value' branded produce from a local convenience store. Many people had a preference, but not always for the obvious choice. One participant described a carrot as being too 'carroty'! It was a great process for getting talking to people about food, where they shop and what they value when it comes to food.
Cookery demos and courses
Showing people how to prepare and cook produce is a popular way of sharing skills and knowledge and you'll probably engage more people if they can actually take part in the food activities. If you don't feel confident doing this and don't have the kitchen equipment and facilities you need, you may be able to invite in a community chef to run a demonstration. You could also focus on foods that are simpler to prepare and don't need cooking, for example different salads or fruit kebabs and smoothies.
Case study - Somerset food co-ops
A community co-op worker in Highbridge in Somerset ran a short cooking course for young mums. Each week a healthy meal was prepared and adaptations were suggested to make the food suitable for babies. The sessions concluded with everyone sitting round the table, eating the food and discussing the costs and nutritional value. Participants told the organiser that they were keen to try out the recipes at home.
As part of training sessions and educational activities you could also run some interactive games or a quiz. For example you can use pieces of fruit, tins, packets and cartons to ask people to guess five items they think can count towards the recommended consumption of 'at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day'. You can then discuss the answers or place them on a big picture of the 'Eatwell plate' picture showing healthy eating guidance (previously known as the 'Balance of Good Health' plate). These can be downloaded from NHS Choices.
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