Back when Maggie Boyle and Tessa Houghton-Budd started talking about bringing local wholesome food to Folkestone, a scene like that at Folkestone Quarterhouse last Tuesday would have been a dream. That’s how it felt to be walking into a buzzing, celebratory atmosphere and to see so many people excited about their local economy. There was excitement in the air. Something new had arrived in town, or more significantly, this was uncovering and manifesting what was always there but had never been brought into one place at one time.
What is the Food Assembly? This is a wonderful concept of people being able to pre-browse and pre-order and pay for local produce online and then come to the Food Assembly collection point to meet some of the producers and to collect their purchase. Our Folkestone one came about when a group of people got together wishing to have one place where you could buy organic produce and wholefoods. They tested the water last Xmas, with a small shop on the Old High Street, selling a range of Xmas gifts and using the opportunity to chat to people about their interest in buying locally-produced organic food. During the Summer, they ran Mannafesto, a Saturday pop up shop on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm, selling organic fruit and vegetables. This was where they met Bean and Beth and started to discuss the more sustainable concept of the Food Assembly.
Bringing together local producers and community
Not until you go to collect your produce do you realise that this isn’t just about the producers and local food. It’s about creating a sense of belonging and identity. From the moment that you are greeted and pick up your order ticket, to the moment you leave with your bag of purchases, you feel part of an event. You, and everyone else who is there, has made a commitment and, as such, you have a connection to one another and a shared experience which is completely different to walking around any other market or retail outlet. The producers can relax as they know, upfront, that you’ve shown an interest in them. The interaction becomes immediately about meeting them face to face and chatting to them about other products or, simply, how they are doing. People were smiling at one another because you’re not busy thinking about what to buy, what you’ll do with it, and whether or not it’s good value. You’ve done that when you purchased online.
When all the producers are there, it is quite a challenge to navigate your way around the stalls and to try and remember who you bought from whom. This was part of the appeal for the party mode of the first Food Assembly in town and will, of course, become simpler when you simply collect your purchases and there are only one or two of the producers there for that particular week. However, the bustle and opportunity to chat to other people is also part of the conviviality and buzz. The Food Assembly is like a Farmers’ Market, but one where you are happy to meet look the producer in the eye and find out more about what’s on offer. There is no pressure to make that immediate purchase. You’ve either committed to buy from them or you can decide to do so in future weeks.
Prices are great. You’re buying quality, freshness, seasonal and local. All the suppliers have been visited by Maggie, Bean or Beth, who have found out about soil quality, animal welfare, employment practices etc on your behalf.
New Year Resolution – I’m going to buy local! Buying local food is one of those things that you know is good for your community and it’s now got easier. Extrapolating out from this first Folkestone Food Assembly takings, if it were to continue at the same rate, then, over a year over £75,000 will have remained within the local economy. This, from a bunch of people getting together and making a decision to build community, choice and health from the grassroots up. Let’s see if we can make that impressive £75,000 seem like small change and make this the start of a growing trend in how we shop, eat and live.
Stephanie Karpetas works with communities, businesses and public sector organisations,
helping shape and deliver programmes that make sustainable development feasible
and fun. Stephanie has recently set up Sustainability Connections
and is working on low carbon projects in Kent and Europe. She is a Co-founder
and Director of Action
Women! Community CIC