Help at hand for new local food co-ops

Article published: Tuesday, January 19th 2010

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to live a healthier lifestyle then Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, are helping to make it that bit easier by advising people on how they can buy local organic produce in bulk.

Sustain have recently appointed an advisor for each region across the country to assist groups of people in setting up food co-operatives, enabling them to buy healthy and organically grown produce at an affordable price from local producers.

Co-operative food groups are not a new concept, but the shift in recent years towards an organic and sustainable lifestyle – outside the grasp of large supermarkets – is bringing with it a new surge in community food production. With reduced transport and virtually no packing and processing overheads, the resurgence of co-operatives is helping to create in local economies sustainable and long-term plans of food production and distribution while reducing the environmental impact involved.

Vicky Urmston of Bolton Whole Food Co-op was motivated to go co-operative after bad experiences with supermarkets. She advises those who wish to set up similar groups to “start with a few staples that you all want to buy and make sure there is an agreement to share tasks.”

The Co-op, which was set up twenty years ago, buys its produce from local organic suppliers. Ms Urmston said: “People are used to shopping at supermarkets and don’t see the advantages of food sharing groups.”

Ruth Kelly of Sustain points out that it is not always easy, or affordable, for people to buy fresh healthy produce. Yet the alternative of co-ops can bring with it increased selection and choice to consumers as well as the benefit to the local community.

“By forming a food co-op to pool their buying power and ordering in bulk direct from farmers and suppliers, communities can buy a wide range of foods at cheaper prices,” she said.

The project is being supported by funding through the Big Lottery money, channelled via the Making Local Food Work programme. Anyone wishing to set up a group or find their local food co-op can find more information on the Sustain website.

Samantha Bradey

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