A food co-operative is a group of people organising to buy food in bulk, direct from wholesalers or even from farmers themselves. By pooling buying power co-op members (who may pay £1, say, to join) can save money on their food bills and are able to buy healthier, better quality foods. Fruit and vegetables usually offer the greatest savings.
Although co-ops are often run by unpaid volunteers, they need money for start-up costs: to buy the equipment such as weighing scales and knives, and the initial float. And there are continuing costs, principally transport, hire of premises and paying volunteers' expenses or paid staff.
Legally, a co-op must be a membership organisation. There are different ways of doing this. You could have an annual membership and yearly fee, or free membership on a daily basis, recording daily members in a log. Most co-ops have a yearly membership, charging a nominal fee of between 50p and £2. This can go towards the cost of buying equipment needed for the co-op to run effectively.
Community cafes are places where people can come to eat a cheap meal in a sociable setting. They can be situated in community centres, unemployed workers' centres, Healthy Living Centres and other community buildings. Some are run by volunteers and some by paid staff. Almost all rely on external funding as they are run on a not-for-profit basis. Community cafes often provide a range of additional services including advice about welfare benefits, counselling or health information. They may hold regular open days when people have the opportunity to try different recipes, and they may be a venue for cooking demonstrations, but community cafes do not necessarily provide healthy food.
A community shop may take the form of a not-for-profit shop, such as a grocery, serving low income or isolated shoppers. Such shops can provide a range of basic foods, along with toiletries, baby products and pet foods. Community shops may be set up in response to the closure, or threatened closure, of existing local shops.
Cooking clubs and recipe swaps
Cooking clubs typically involve groups of participants working with, say, a health professional, and take the form of a series of practical cooking sessions. Members of the group may take it in turn to cook different recipes and then everyone gets to have a taste. They are often aimed at families on low incomes with pre-school children, and may be attached to an under-fives facility or mothers' support group. After school clubs, kids clubs and Sure Start centres are also being promoted as good venues for cooking clubs.
Community transport schemes
An alternative to bringing the food nearer to the locality, as some food projects do, is to take consumers who normally face transport problems to the shops. This can be done by local authority subsidised public transport or by supermarket-run buses, as well as local projects.
Links with local shops
Some projects involve local shop keepers. In one project, health promotion workers encouraged the local shop keeper to stock and promote healthier foods. Introductory visits were made to the shopkeeper to explain the purpose of the project and its implications for changing food habits, and follow up visits were then made to encourage the stocking and promotion of healthier products, including negotiations with distributors and wholesalers. Information to help shopkeepers promote certain lines was developed and community sessions on healthy lifestyles and healthy eating were run.
Vouchers and coupon
If price is an important influence on food choice then a direct method of influencing choice is to offer a price incentive. Town halls and health authorities are not normally in a position to dictate the prices set by food retailers, but in some projects they have taken an active role by distributing money-off coupons to local people for selected items. The shopkeepers can then redeem the money from the local authority or health authority. Other voucher schemes are designed to address specific problems such as getting food to homeless people.
School nutrition action group
School Nutrition Action Groups (SNAGS) bring together teachers, caterers, young people, school managers, parents and healthcare staff to improve the provision of healthy food and nutrition education in schools. Representatives from the pupils, staff, school caterers, parents and other relevant groups meet to develop policies on issues such as: breakfast provision in schools, provision of snacks in the tuck shop and vending machines, uptake of fruit and vegetables, pupils' choices in the canteen or the dining room and teaching nutrition in the classroom.
Arriving at school having had no breakfast at all can lead to poor concentration and inhibit learning abilities. One solution to this problem is for school caterers to provide a breakfast service for children, this is becoming increasingly common. Where this is not the case, however, breakfast clubs can be set up. Breakfast clubs serve a range of healthy options including cereals, fruit juices and toast. They should also include a range of social, health, education and childcare elements into the healthy breakfast provision.
Lunch clubs and community meal services
Community meal services (Meals on Wheels) and lunch clubs are usually run by the local authority but may be run by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) or the local Age Concern. Community meal services (Meals on Wheels). Lunch clubs often based in local facilities, such as church halls and community centres provide a hot meal and offer social support for older people. The clubs can also provide other services such as learning computer skills, shopping services, hair dressing etc. Some lunch clubs are subsidised by the local authority other are set up and run by non-statutory agencies and other are run entirely by volunteers. However lunch clubs are set up, they are all heavily reliant on volunteers.
Food distribution schemes
Several projects, both local and national, exist to re-distribute surplus food from shops and supermarkets to day centres and hostels for the homeless. The largest scheme is Fareshare which operates in eight local areas, London, Southampton, Manchester, Brighton & Hove, Kirklees, South Yorkshire, Edinburgh, and Dundee.
Box schemes are arrangements for customers to receive a weekly box of fresh fruit and vegetables - usually organic - direct from a farmer. They require commitment from a group of people to purchase regularly. Usually the grower delivers the produce to a number of central locations and nearby members will each collect their boxes from the nearest collection point. In some cases it is possible to select your produce. More often, however, members receive a box of mixed, in-season fruit and vegetables each week and the contents are a surprise!
Food growing schemes
Food growing schemes encompass a range of projects, growing for resale, schools growing projects, growing on allotments, training and therapy projects, and community gardens. There are various reasons why growing projects are developed and they are often part of a wider community project. They can provide, cheap, fresh, local home grown food, training and skills building, companionship, therapy and other benefits.
To see a range of community food projects visit the following websites:
Food Action Network database
Download - Making Links: A Toolkit for Local Food Projects (PDF 477Kb)
Cultivating communities website
Scottish Community Diet Project's website
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