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A Magazine for

Cooperatives for Change

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Cooperatives are built on foundations of equality, where all members have a voice and an active role. In Sheffield, the focus of many food co-ops is on reconnecting communities, reducing environmental impact, from food miles to packaging, and supporting the local economy.

We spoke to Chris Baldwin at Beanies and Fran Humphries of Regather to find out why food cooperatives matter.

Chris Baldwin, Beanies

Tell us about Beanies.

Beanies is a wholefoods shop and greengrocers with the largest range of organic fresh fruit and veg in Sheffield. We specialise in vegetarian and vegan foods and have an extensive range of organic and speciality products.

We established the first organic box delivery scheme over 20 years ago and are delighted to work with local growers. We have close relationships with Sheffield Organic Growers, Moss Valley Market Garden, High Riggs in Stannington and Heeley City Farm.

Most of our wholefoods come from Suma, one of the largest co-ops in the country, and Lembas, another successful Sheffield co-operative. We have strong links with local producers, from chocolatiers to vegan cheese makers, bakers to coffee roasters.

Why are food cooperatives a good option?

As people have become more conscious of the negative effects of a global economy, particularly its effects on the environment, there's been an upsurge in demand for high-quality, local, seasonal food.

People will always need fresh food

Consumers recognise that if they buy locally they're buying fresher, invariably with less packaging, and cooperation at all levels helps to meet this demand. And it's a two-way conversation. Our customers are a discerning lot. They know what they like and they tell us. We can pass on those requests and our growers can respond directly to them. Those same growers have come together to create co-operating businesses, pooling their resources and skills.

We've always valued our status as a co-operative, workers supporting each other to create an ethical and successful business.

We work with and within the local community. By supporting our local growers we offer them a regular outlet for their produce, which allows them to sow and reap with confidence in receiving a good return for their efforts. So co-operation as a principle spreads beyond the company and out into the community.

What does the future hold?

With Brexit looming on the horizon, it's an uncertain time for all of us. But working together we can build a little security into our systems. People will always need fresh food and our close local relationships will become all-important in the months ahead.

As for Beanies, we're delighted to be growing into our new premises on Barber Road. We've found a space which gives us room to provide more of what our customers are demanding. We're developing our range of unwrapped wholefood lines, increasing our range of refills and there's a scoop-it-yourself dried goods section where you can use your own containers.

We hope our new café will offer a comfortable and relaxing space for our local community to come and enjoy a coffee and a vegan sausage roll.

beanieswholefoods.co.uk

Fran Humphries, Regather

Tell us about Regather.

Regather is a community society based in Sharrow. We run an organic veg box scheme, working with local suppliers like High Riggs, Sheffield Organic Growers, Wortley Hall Walled Garden, Forge Bakehouse, Our Cow Molly and lots more.

We make our own cider and apple juice, and we have a bar and venue, where we have a full programme of live music, comedy, film, supper clubs and talks. We also organise the Folk Forest Festival and this year we have started growing organic fruit and vegetables in the Moss Valley. We've been very busy.

Our organisation's mission is to help local communities eat better food. For us, 'better' means healthier, organic, and more sustainably and locally-produced. Regather's vision is to empower the city to take greater ownership of local food production, giving Sheffield communities a say in how the whole system works, so they can make it work better for them.

How do food cooperatives help communities?

Food co-ops have more benefits than just providing good food. Our veg box scheme provides an outlet for local food producers, supporting their work and keeping money circulating in the local economy.

we're building communities with food at their heart

Environmentally, food co-ops generally can offer systems with less waste and less transportation. We deliver four days a week by electric cargo trike (quite a sight to behold), as well as having box collection points across the city, making it easier for customers to collect their boxes by foot or bike. We offer plastic-free and UK-only box options.

Food co-ops support and increase local food production and with the support of our box customers, we've been able to launch our 15-acre growing site this year, where the Regather Farm and orchards are going into production. Produce from Regather Farm already supplies our veg boxes and will supply local wholesale markets from 2020.

How healthy are our local food systems and what's next?

Sheffield has a lot of citizens who want to be actively involved in the local food system, as conscientious buyers, or landworkers, or volunteers, or those who want to learn more about their food. As a city, we're thinking more about the food we eat and we're building communities with food at their heart.

As cooperatives and food lovers, we need to work harder to transform our urban and peri-urban areas into productive landscapes that feed our city. The more we can grow locally, the fresher our food, the more local jobs we create and the lower the environmental impact we have.

Whilst progress like the creation of Regather Farm are really exciting steps, partnerships with the large city-wide institutions - the Council, NHS, universities - committing to changing their food procurement policy could create investment to secure more land and projects for food growing around Sheffield.

For Regather, the future looks like hard graft to turn a 15-acre field into a productive plot that feeds into our veg box scheme, nurtures wildlife and protects and restores the soil. The future looks like recruiting more volunteers, friends, workers and buyers to become more involved in our vision for Sheffield food, as growers, box packers, gardeners, customers and members. If you'd like to get involved with us, please get in touch.

Ros Ayres

Information on upcoming events and more can be found at regather.net.

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Next article in issue 140

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