A fair and sustainable local way of feeding urban communities

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.

Fair price

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.

Pay ratio

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.

Local workers

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.

To summarise:

  •  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.




Time to change: Professor Lang’s challenge: embrace local sourcing

tim langSusan Press in the Co-operative News reports a challenge issued by Professor Tim Lang, Head of City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, to the Co-operative Group. It is time to radically change the way food is delivered and distributed to the Group’s 4,800 retail outlets:

“At a time of growing interest in locally sourced food, he thinks there should be far more support for producers supplying direct to local stores. He says: “I think the co-op has lost its way a bit. Back in the 19th century, the first co-operators led the movement against the adulteration of our food and sourced local food which everyone could afford.

Unfortunately, the Co-operative Group has gone down the road of emulating the supply chain model of its major competitors with regional distribution centres and centralised supplies . . .

“But our food supply is being more and more standardised by very big and powerful companies. There are more local artisan and special interest foods, so we have come a long way, but small producers are held back by lack of access to land, ownership of which is dominated by large landowners.”

One of Professor Lang’s current concerns is the growing concern around food security – the availability of food and access to it

He points out that worldwide, figures show around two billion people are going hungry and for the first time in decades the number of food banks in the UK has tripled in the last 12 months.

Lang says: “For the first time since 1945 we are living at a time of rapidly rising inequality, with around five million people living in poverty according to the recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission”. He looked at the history of the co-operative movement:

“In 1994, the Group set up the Responsible Retailing Code, building fair and sustainable relationships with suppliers across its whole supply chain across the world, also leading the way on Fairtrade. It was pioneering stuff, but we need to be building upon that knowledge and working for more sustainable food thinking concerned with the future of biodiversity and our eco-systems . . .

“Like the other major retailers, the Co-operative Group goes for cheap meat reared on cereals. Around 40 to 50 per cent of our cereals are fed to animals. We need more grass-fed meat and dairy and we all need to eat less meat and double consumption of fruit and vegetables because we are storing up huge problems for the future  . . .

“We don’t need supermarkets offering 35,000 lines or people working hard to earn enough money to buy a car so they can drive to the local hypermarket. We need to look at what things will be like in 2050; the effects of climate change and the billions more people there will be on the planet. We need to establish a good food culture which is also good for the environment.

“Stores have to have better access to local food with a shorter supply chain and we have got to re-design the whole food system because frankly it is environmentally crazy.”

Read the whole article here: http://www.thenews.coop/article/time-change-food-professor-issues-challenge-embrace-local-sourcing


Professor Lang was the first to coin the term ‘food miles’ – in the 1990s – to describe the distance groceries have to travel to reach us. He was invited to set up the London Food Commission in the 1980s with the Greater London Council, which did some of the earliest work on the effect of food poverty. He pointed out the damage done to school and hospital meal services by government policy, making a major contribution to the Food Safety Act (1990) and the creation of the Food Standards Agency (2000). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation, a special advisor to four House of Commons select committee inquiries on food standards globalisation and obesity and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to DEFRA.



Farmers’ markets in India, Poland, England and America


farmers market 2 krakow. jpeg.

Julian Rose sends a link to a video about a new farmers’ market set up in Krakow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEd_FnoD6kU&feature=youtu.be. When questioned about the web’s reference to many farmers’ markets of long-standing in the city, Julian explained:

“Most of these markets are not authentic ‘local’ suppliers and are also often fronted by middle men. Probably around half the sellers can’t (or won’t) tell one where their produce came from. In many instances it is shipped in from surrounding countries that have surpluses – and is sold very cheap.

Shortening the supply chain

”So this market in the film is an initiative of Krakow local authorities to highlight those farmers/growers/processors who operate close to the city and who sell good quality and fresh produce. We support this initiative – and take the view that there are still far too many heading out to the supermarkets – with the consequential loss of local markets. A familiar story . . .”


“It is clear that organized retail is not the answer to food mismanagement“

onion trader medium cartoonIn the Deccan Times, analyst Devinder Sharma records that in August, hoarding and speculation in India led to middlemen making huge profits from creating an artificial scarcity. Prices rocketed. The organized Indian retail chains were supposed to remove the array of middlemen and provide vegetables and fruits much cheaper to the consumers, but their prices had remained almost at the same level as the open market.  He writes:

“But there is a renaissance in food delivery, quality of produce and economics that I find is slowly but steadily taking root. From Australia to United States, from Japan to Argentina, local food systems are changing. Enhancing the livelihoods of local producers, and meeting the consumers’ aspiration, food markets are now becoming popular . . .

“Farmers Markets provide farmers and consumers with a suitable environment to interact, and that enables farmers to meet the specific needs of the consumers. They enable greater consumption of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, and reduce the carbon footprint. Since consumers are now increasingly aware of the damage chemical pesticides and fertilizers do to health and immune systems, demand for organic food is growing by approximately 20% every year. Moreover, since farmers come and sell directly to consumers on a regular basis, farmer’ markets eliminate middlemen and provide stable prices”.

More commission agents are now operating in India’s traditional markets and Sharma calls for a mechanism to be evolved that makes farmers’ markets only accessible for genuine farmers. He suggests encouraging them to form cooperatives for marketing purposes – each cooperative to participate in farmers’ markets, leaving farmers to undertake other farming operations.

Problems of authenticity also surfaced in Britain and America

national farmers markets association logoHeathfield News reports from Sussex: “Unfortunately soaring popularity has spawned a new problem – bogus markets that claim to offer food from local farmers promoting locally-grown produce – but are in truth shops and businesses selling goods from widespread sources.

“Now the Farmers’ Markets are fighting back with a series of measures aimed at protecting the original ethos of local growers selling their produce direct to the customer. America’s National Association of Farmers’ Markets has launched the world’s first accreditation system for Farmers’ Markets”.


ChangeKitchen in Digbeth

change kitchenChangeKitchen CIC is a social enterprise which was set up by the Birmingham charity, SIFA Fireside, using the  training and catering skills of Birgit Kehrer, the brains and the hands behind BSustained.

Increasing the use of environmentally friendly, organic, local and fair trade products is a priority. Fairtrade goods such as coffee, tea, spices and sugar are supplied by Lembas and Traidcraft, among others.

change kitchen 2012 awardAward winning ChangeKitchen sources fruit and vegetables used in their cooking as locally as possible – a lot coming from Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Birmingham and the Black Country, depending on season and occasion. They often source produce directly from local farms in these areas.  Some of the vegetables are organically produced, particularly the carrots and potatoes.


Watch their website for news of ‘pop-up’ events at ChangeKitchen HQ, 122 Pershore St, Birmingham B5 6PA and other venues.



More localisation of food-growing, less market speculation and global trading

Mark Coba for CNBC reports: “We have two or three times the amount of food right now that is needed to feed the number of people in the world . . . A lot of people aren’t analyzing the situation correctly. We can deal with short-term food shortages after a disaster, but fixing long term hunger gets ignored”: the words of Joshua Muldavin, Professor of Geography at Sarah Lawrence College, USA .

Lack of ‘effective’ demand

“We don’t have a food shortage problem; what we have is a distribution problem and an income problem. People . . . don’t have enough money to buy it”, agrees Emelie Peine, professor of international politics and economy at the University of Puget Sound. 

Food waste

Roger Johnson, North Dakota president of the US National Farmers Union, added that a major problem causing scarcity is that up to half of all food produced is wasted:

“In the undeveloped world, the waste happens before the food gets to people, from lack of roads and proper storage facilities, and the food rots; in the developed world, it’s the staggering amount of food that’s thrown out after it gets to our plates.” He added: “Many farmers don’t make enough to live on each year. Underdeveloped economies and some global trade are pushing them to the side.”

Unfair trade

In ‘developed’ Britain, there is also an ‘income problem’ as well, because supermarkets often buy fruit, vegetables, eggs and pigmeat cheaply and sell them dearly. For more than ten years they have bought liquid milk at below production costs, causing farmers to leave the dairy sector.

“Tame the investing markets”, said Muldavin

“The market trading of commodities is overboard and not helping food prices, Why does a bushel of wheat have to be traded five times a day?”

Remarkably, a professor of agribusiness at Arizona State University, Tim Richards, pointed out: “We’re destroying local food markets around the world by forcing them to buy U.S. commodities.”

Is adopting GM technology the answer?

“GM technology comes with a risk. I’m not in favor of genetically modified foods to feed a starving world; the health side effects can be dangerous in my opinion.

“What we need is more localization of food-growing. Let the crops natural to the land grow, instead of pushing crops that are not meant to be there,” said chef Mary Lawton Johnson.


Does supporting local business build resilient local economies – and a more peaceful world?

judy wicks2Judy Wicks, a board member of the NEI – featured recently on this site – thinks that it does.

Looking around for more information, evidence of a very adventurous and constructive life – including living with the Eskimos and working with the Zapatistas  – was easily found online.

Her unusual slant on localisation was extracted from the 24th Schumacher Lecture which she gave in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

She argues that supporting local business is more than a strategy for building resilient local economies:

“Perhaps the greatest benefit of the local-living-economy movement is that by creating self-reliance we are creating the foundations for world peace. If all communities had food security, water security, and energy security, if they appreciated diversity of culture rather than a monoculture, that would be the foundation for world peace. Schumacher said, ‘People who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.’

Judy started buying from local farmers in 1986 for her restaurant White Dog Café, which she started on the first floor of her house in 1983. Realizing that helping other restaurants connect with local farmers would strengthen the regional food system, she founded the Fair Food Project in 2000.

The following year she co-founded the nationwide Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), now a network of over 20,000 local independent businesses in the U.S. and Canada, and founded the local affiliate Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, currently with 500 members.



Good news: Groceries adjudicator will have power to impose fines

Minister: “We have heard the views of the stakeholders”

Also at http://fairdealfooduk.com/?p=4212

The ‘groceries adjudicator’, to be appointed next year, will be able to fine the country’s top supermarket chains if they use their dominant position to treat farmers and other suppliers unfairly. The maximum fine will be set on the recommendation of the first adjudicator, within six months of new legislation being passed.

It was proposed that, initially, the adjudicator would only have the power to name and shame supermarkets should they breach Groceries Code, but farmers, NGOs and other suppliers successfully pressed for the adjudicator to be allowed to impose financial penalties on firms as soon as the post is established.

The British Retail Consortium’s reaction is telling:

British Retail Consortium comment: this flies in the face of common sense

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: “We’ve long maintained that the power to impose fines is unnecessary and heavy-handed and should be kept in reserve. This flies in the face of common sense and is yet another piece of disproportionate legislation aimed at food retailers.

Competition Minister Jo Swinson said financial penalties were expected to be applied only in cases of serious breach, with naming and shaming used in most cases.

The power to impose fines sends a strong message to retailers that compliance with the code is not optional

‘Where supermarkets are breaking the rules with suppliers and treating them unfairly, the adjudicator will make sure that they are held to account. We have heard the views of the stakeholders who were keen to give the adjudicator a power to fine, and recognise that this change would give the adjudicator more teeth to enforce the Groceries Code. We expect fines to be used as a last resort, but the fact that the adjudicator has the power to impose them will send a strong message to retailers that compliance with the code is not optional.

‘I am confident that these changes will mean that the adjudicator is able to ensure fair play in the food supply chain and keep the industry growing.’

Well done to Friends of the Earth campaigners and many others for their work on this.

To download the official documents go to http://news.bis.gov.uk/Press-Releases/Groceries-Adjudicator-to-have-new-power-to-fine-supermarkets-68464.aspx

One of many news sources: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/9722048/Supermarkets-face-fines-for-unfair-practice-under-new-regulator.html

Reflections on fair trade for Cumbrian producers

This is a belated report back on an excellent conference I attended last week – “Cumbria Local and Fair” on trade justice both for overseas farmers and for those in the UK.

It was a long way to travel for a day event, but we have long promoted the notion of “UK fair trade“, in recognition that whilst the severity of human impact will be less than that on many farmers in developing countries, UK farming livelihoods and diversity face equally ruinous  pressures from the below-production-cost prices paid by supermarkets and other buyers. This conference was the first opportunity to participate in discussion of this with farmers, fair trade activists and support agencies – thanks to the inspiration and commitment of Cumbrian fair trade and local food activists.

There were six particularly striking outcomes:

1) a simple Powerpoint slide showing the comparative stability of fairly traded and unfairly traded commodity prices.  If we could achieve anything like that stability for UK farmers there would be immense potential benefits to farming livelihoods and to farmers’ ability to invest in their businesses and in sustainable practices.

2) Harriet Lamb of the Fairtrade Foundation told us that when the idea of a UK fair trade mark was put to fairtrade farmers from developing countries, their response was “when they stop receiving subsidies from the EU they can have a fair trade mark.” A reasonable and understandable response, but perceptions don’t quite match reality on this. In many cases the subsidies essentially go to the buyers – such as supermarkets – who refuse to pay a fair price for produce. They go through the farm business itself like a dose of salts.  In the UK the subsidy is typically often about the same as the loss that UK agriculture makes, so without a subsidy farmers in the UK would not exist, with all the social and economic and environmental consequesces that would entail.

Harriet also said that as times have changed, it will be useful to revisit the idea of a UK fair trade mark – something we may have to follow up.

From the Cumbria Fairtrade Network website

3) The story goes that Cadbury started to consider paying fair trade prices because its buyers noticed that the average age of a Ghanaian cocoa farmer had increased to 54 as young people were leaving the sector in desperation. Similar issues affect the UK and are regularly reported on the Fair Deal for UK Farmers website.

4) Some buyer commitments to action made at the conference that should be celebrated – and pursued! Northern supermarket chain Booths – well known for local sourcing – along with the Co-op Retail Group and Penrith Co-operative Society all committed to investigating and perhaps trialling  ‘local and fair price’ labelling in their shops. Watch this space…

5) Rory Stewart MP announced that he would be holding a parliamentary event in February 2012 on fair pricing and Grocery Code Adjudicator. We will help to promote this and to ensure the right people attend.  Another local MP Tim Farron also made a commitment to lobby the government to include the power to fine supermarkets in the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s powers.  I’m sure local people will hold their MPs to account on these promises.

6) and finally – a conversation with the Booths representative reflecting on some people’s exclusive focus on ‘farm shops and farmers’ markets’ was food for thought. The Booths rep said that to achieve any real change we had to get supermarket sourcing and paying to improve, because this is where most people do and will always shop. I agree in every way, except for the small point that keeping high streets alive, maintaining retail and supply chain diversity and localising profit is essential. But yes, there is a simple list of actions needed to make supermarkets sustainable:

– break up the biggest multiples

– co-operatise their structures

– regionalise their distribution networks

– integrate them into high streets and close the out-of-towns

– regulate them for fair pricing.

So there’s a little project for next week.

Karen Leach

A Clitheroe dairy farmer reacts to planning proposals


Kathleen Calvert is a campaigner for fair trade for British food producers, citizen journalist and localiser, whose family farm uses local suppliers where possible even if it is not the cheapest option.

More important, they believe, is value for money and a level and quality of service essential to the smooth running of a business operating 365 days a year in all weathers.

Dugdale Nutrition, one of the local suppliers, adds:”locally based businesses circulate profits within the communities they serve. In turn they are reliant on viable, widespread and profitable farm businesses adding immense value to local economies”. 

Kathleen urges that planners: 

“Let communities decide what is best for their area, not the developers and large corporates who are:

  • plundering our green belt
  • taking valuable farming land
  • offering the council sweeteners to build the wrong type of houses, in the wrong places
  • cloning our towns
  • killing off our local communities
  • and small businesses
  • and placing a Tesco Express within the same distance that we used to have our local post offices! 

“Never a day goes by when someone doesn’t refer to Tesco for some reason or other, and if we go anywhere they are all over the place. It’s scary.”
She recommends a ‘send-up’: Tesco invades Denmark  here: http://youtu.be/0PSyiRXIEyc

Kathleen, a member of Gisburn WI in Lancashire, adds that she was inspired to write this following reading the blog of Ruth Bond, NFWI president: 

“At the beginning of this week, the WI has called on the Government to rethink the new planning regulations they wish to impose in The Daily Telegraph. The call is to allow communities to get involved in the issue, to talk together, and to make their voices and opinions heard.” Mrs Bond said her advice to members was to “write to your MP, newspaper, where someone will listen, where it might make a difference, never give up”.