Julie Brown, director of Growing Communities’, a trading and wholesaling operation, says her mission is to feed urban communities locally in a way that is fair and sustainable in the face of corporate dominance and climate change.
Two of her suppliers, Martin and Sarah Mackey, grow potatoes and kale, in Kent as tenants on their holding, Ripple Farm. They sell some of their potatoes at local markets for a pound a kilo, about the same as you would pay for the equivalent grade in a high street supermarket. They also Growing Communities which mixes their potatoes with other produce in vegetable box schemes, starting at £7.75 for a week’s supply for one.
In conventional production, the average price for potatoes at the farm gate has been just 11p per kilo recently (less than a fifth of what Brown pays). A large-scale supplier to supermarkets or manufacturing will typically get only this small fraction of the retail price of around £1 per kilo in the shops, with markups along the way for complex transport and logistics systems, processors’ costs, retail margins and executive pay.
Julie starts from the position that the price she gives the Mackeys for potatoes must cover their cost of production and enable both of them and their staff to earn a reasonable living. So she pays them 60p per kilo for delivered goods. Her packers are paid the London living wage, the amount the Resolution Foundation calculates is required to cover the real cost of living and in good years, a share of the profits in bonuses.
One of her organisation’s governing principles is that the pay ratio between top and bottom should be no more than 2:1, so Brown takes a salary of £30,000 a year. Unlike many agency workers supplied to industrial farms to harvest and pack, the workers on Ripple Farm receive holiday pay, sick pay and good protective clothing to keep them warm and dry.
Short supply chain
Her supply chain is short and direct, keeping other costs to a minimum. She also believes her customers should know where the money goes and explains that most of her markup goes into wages. Suppliers like Martin Mackey can plan for and control routes to market, remaining outside the system of supermarket and big manufacturing just-in-time delivery that now accounts for the vast majority of UK production.
Large-scale producers say they have to bring in migrants because local people do not want these jobs, especially where they are seasonal, and small wonder. The Mackeys’ business, on the other hand, is arranged so that there is year-round employment five days a week, and a hard stint outdoors in the morning might be balanced by a less arduous indoor job in packing and admin in the afternoon. The work is tough and physically demanding, as agricultural work has always been, but it is not allowed to be crippling. Finding good staff is not always easy but with good pay and conditions, the jobs have been filled by local recruits.
- Food is sourced sustainably.
- Distribution is low carbon
- Trade is fair, meaning that: farmers are paid a fair price, food is affordable (but not ‘cheap’) and workers are paid living wages
And farms are directly connected to the urban communities they feed: trading and distribution are organised around community-led retail systems which prioritise local and direct sourcing, enabling supply chains to be shortened and communities to source increasing amounts from closer to where they live.