Why trade in community grown food?
The motivations for running an urban food growing project vary. Some community groups are interested in providing sociable opportunities to work together and improve the green space in their neighbourhood. Others are motivated by helping people with mental health problems. Others may be interested in creating training, volunteering opportunities and paid jobs, or using a growing space to grow food for a community cafe, food co-op, or to trade to generate income.
In our "A Growing Trade" research project, we looked specifically at examples of where community projects are trading produce grown in urban areas. The projects we talked to reported the following benefits of trading in community grown food:
- Generating income: At one end of the scale, this might help cover core costs and volunteer expenses. At the other end of the scale, there is the potential to generate income to pay the grower a wage and expand the activities of the project.
- Changing the food system: Trading your produce is an empowering way to be able to help people change the way they shop and how they value the food they buy. It can also help them to appreciate the importance of food growers and farmers, and put them in touch with the seasons. It is vital for more local food initiatives to thrive economically if we are to have a significant influence on changing how our food system operates.
- Linking with the community: Trading produce can be a useful way to raise your profile with the community and encourage them to support you. Trading your produce also has the potential to link in with businesses and other community food initiatives, as well as local people. It is a good way to have more people directly value what you are doing.
- Cutting the food miles: It makes sense to trade in urban grown produce. As a producer, there are advantages to trading your produce where there are a wide range of outlets and opportunities on your doorstep. You are also able to produce a high quality and reliable crop that cannot be beaten in terms of freshness and has small distances for transportation.
- Strengthening skills: Trading in food can encourage new skills and opportunities for the people involved in your project. As well as learning how to grow food, people involved in your project can learn about running an enterprise, marketing, handling money and dealing with customers. This can be an advantage if you are working with the unemployed or vulnerable groups who might benefit from such experience. There is also the opportunity to get people with a different background involved in your project bringing skills such as marketing, accountancy, food safety and hygiene.
- Dealing with gluts and surplus: Throughout the year, you will probably have excess produce, and it is an enterprising solution to sell these to your local community. Even if the food grown meets the needs of your project there is always the opportunity to sell produce that is surplus to the groups needs. This can be sold directly or preserved and sold at other times in the year. There may also be the opportunity for someone to come and harvest your surplus for you.
- Raising funds for other activities: Food growing can be an important part of a larger community food enterprise that encompasses other types of trading and activity. It might be the case that you want to run a more diverse food enterprise that also decides to grow food as part of it. The food growing might not be financially viable in its own right, but could be subsidised from other trading activities. The food growing can play an important role in its own right, in outreach, marketing, and providing opportunities for local volunteers to get involved. See for example the Growing Communities model (see case studies).
Examples of why community groups choose to trade their produce
Avon Organic Group, Bristol
This community group was established in 1984 and is made up from a wide range of local growers including gardeners, allotment holders, community growers and organic campaigners in Bristol. The group runs a regular market stall at Bristol Farmers' Market selling combined surplus produce from members of the group. The group saw it as a way to reach out in to the community and tell people about what they are doing. The success of these stalls brings an income for the producers and also raises funds to support the group's activities.
The group say they find it beneficial to trade their surplus produce because it:
- publicises the Avon Organic group and the projects that they are involved with, including the Horfield Organic Community Orchard
- allows the members to communicate what they are passionate about, growing organic food and encouraging other to do the same
- brings in a significant contribution of income to some of the members (£10 to £150 each week for some members)
- raises additional funds for the community group
- deals with gluts and stops their own wastage
- raises awareness of the high standard of produce, proven by the fact that people want to buy it
Find out more about Avon Organic Group at: http://www.avonorganicgroup.org.uk/
Wenlock Herb Garden, London
The project was established in Spring 2010 on a 140m2 patch of disused land on a housing estate in Hackney, London. The project is a commercial venture launched by members of the local community which aimed to transform an area of land, pay for staff time to run the project and to feed any profits back in to the housing estate. The commercial element was important to ensure that their project had a long-term future and that it was able to pay for the time of the people that were involved. The project decided to sell directly to restaurants and also to tenants on the estate.
The group want to grow produce to sell because they:
- wanted to create jobs through their activities
- wanted their project to have a sustained future, away from funding and grants
- found that the right market existed and they wanted to supply it
Find out more about Wenlock Herb Garden at: https://sites.google.com/site/thegrassshootscollective/the-grass-shoots-collective/the-growing-kitchen-garden/the-wenlock-herb-garden
Ecoworks is a not-for-profit community organisation based on the Hungerhill Garden Allotment Site in St Ann’s, Nottingham. The projects runs activities for people that are socially disadvantaged including food growing, courses and training. They also operate a café and box scheme both of which use their own produce. They have a 400m2 market garden, poly tunnel and 500m2 mixed fruit orchard. They have just acquired an additional 12.5acre site. The project is supported by NHS Nottingham and has received funding from the Big Lottery's Local Food Fund and The Tudor Trust. The project aims to be self sustaining beyond 2014.
Their box scheme has between 60-80 customers per week and consists of around 80% to 90% of their own produce in summer and autumn. They also sell salads all year round to restaurants and cafés across the city, supply produce to their own café and are venturing towards local farmers markets to sell produce and preserves.
Ecoworks promotes a range of issued relating to food growing but chooses to sell produce because:
- they want to provide access to affordable food for their local community
- it compliments their food growing training work and café
- it generates income towards the cost of paying a member of staff to coordinate activities
Find out more about Ecoworks at: http://www.ecoworks.org.uk/