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Community-led food providers bring calm in times of panic

Article originally published by Ethical Consumer

The news has concentrated on stories of selfish stockpiling and fights over toilet paper but amidst the distress and panic-buying, there have been pockets of incredible community cooperation.

Kate Ford and Natasha Soares from Better Food Traders describe the collaboration they’ve been seeing within their network and why it is so important.

Community cooperation and support

As a network of ethical retailers who supply sustainably grown fruit and vegetables to their local areas, we have seen our communities step up in this time of extreme strain on the food sector.

An overwhelming number of customers have voluntarily come forward to help as demand for local food skyrockets. Instead of racing to stockpile, they are sharing the food supplies equally, as is the normal format of the schemes, where members share the produce available each week. Because members feel a sense of belonging, they trust that everyone will get their bag of food and have a sense of responsibility to their neighbours on the scheme.

Since we began, we have been cutting our carbon footprint by creating accessible spaces where customers can pick up their vegetables on foot, and now with COVID-19 members that can still make it are supporting those that cannot.

Customers, who would like to help the businesses and those affected by COVID-19, have come forward to collect and deliver weekly orders on a voluntary basis to people who can not make it to a collection point.

A survey run by Veg Box People, a Manchester-based Better Food Trader, also showed that if their collection point closed and the scheme couldn’t find a way to get them their vegetables, 20% of subscribers would be willing to pay anyway to support this community-led local business and 50% of subscribers offered to donate their veg to a food bank. Customers of another Better Food Trader, Local Greens, have donated over £330 worth of food to their local food bank in one week alone.

Committed to better food

In this incredibly difficult time, when everything is stripped away, it is the community we fall back on. But it’s not just in times of struggle that these ethical businesses are there for us.

The local fruit and vegetable sellers in our network are committed to principles of distributing food in a low-carbon, low-impact way, trading fairly, championing ecological food production and striving to change the big picture. They have always been dedicated to their local people, providing local jobs and work experience for the long-term unemployed or for those with disabilities, giving to food banks, paying local farmers what they deserve and providing nutrition training and resources. Now, loyal customers are appreciating them and giving back.

In a crisis like this, we can see how important local food initiatives are because they provide more than just fresh, low-carbon produce. They encourage local supply and production and healthier eating, make better quality food more affordable, and bring people together.

Changing our food system

The coronavirus has reminded us all of what really matters. It has exposed deep structural weaknesses in the current UK food system, dominated by supermarkets whose business model is based not on seasonality, locality or nutrition, but on the profit-driven choices of large food corporations. This structure damages our communities, our planet and our farming, and now the fragility of the system is exposed.

The food system is currently heavily dependent on fossil fuels, for example in its use of petrochemical-based pesticides and fertilisers, and responsible for at least 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is also one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss, soil degradation and deforestation and a major driver of many diseases.

Estimates also suggest that total UK food and drink waste after the produce leaves the farm stands at around 9.5 million tonnes per year and that 70% of that waste is avoidable. We can’t continue producing food like this if we are going to tackle the climate crisis and feed our communities.

At the Better Food Trader network, we believe we can create a sustainable, resilient food system that feeds us well if we work together. Most of the degradation of our environment and communities is embedded in the systems that provide the basis of our society – the infrastructure, processes and worldviews that dictate our energy, transport, food system, industry and housing. The Better Food Traders network has set about creating a viable alternative to the food system (albeit on a small scale) that could aggregate and focus individual choices towards the systemic changes we are all seeking.

By signing up to a waiting list for a veg box from a Better Food Trader you are not only reducing your personal impact and becoming part of a caring food community, but you are also helping create an alternative system that is better for people and the planet.

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