Food assemblies (part of an online European food movement) giving an alternative retail stream to small, local food producers is launching in Guildford and Woking. The set up is all managed via a website managed by the founders in France currently operating 900 active assemblies in Europe. I met with Jane Crisp-Daly who is initiating Guildford and Woking to find out more.
Food Assemblies are for people who have a real interest in buying from small producers. You order online for each pick up date and you have complete control over what and how much you buy. It also means that producers only have to bring what has been ordered and paid for which in itself reduces food waste. To be part of this movement all you have to do is join the assembly of your choice online. There is no commitment to buy every week or at all if you discover it’s not for you. Once you have signed up you’ll get an email each week when the online shop opens and a deadline for your order. Then its up to you to pick up your shopping from the weekly pick up venue, which for Guildford is the Electric Theatre Bar. Each assembly is different depending on what is grown or produced locally. For example we don’t really grow a lot of potatoes in Surrey and those that are grown tend to go to wholesale markets. So you are unlikely to find super local producers for everything. We do however have a lot of livestock and small free-range meat producers whose products are superior to anything you’ll get in a supermarket. For example for Guildford FA Jane has recruited White Lodge Farm and Wakeling’s Butcher. White Lodge bacon, ham and related products have won many awards so although they have a small farm shop on their own farm they sell mostly via farmers markets. The appeal for them to join food assemblies is that the products are pre-ordered and that the pick up points are inside. Market traders know the perils of our English climate all too well!
Firstly if you are a producer you have to apply to be part of a food assembly. The guidelines for those who run them are to make sure there is a balance of products such as meat, fish (difficult as we are inland), dairy, vegetables, fruit and groceries. Some producer members can be retailers such as farm shops or delicatessens and sell products that other people have made but they can only make up a small percentage. You also have to have all the right paperwork in place such as registration with you local environmental health officer, be registered as a food business and provide paperwork such as your unique tax reference number. All of which is easy to organise and set up. Your orders will be made via your shop space on the website for your assembly. You will as a producer member, be given login details to upload images and prices for the goods you sell. Then it’s your responsibility to get your orders ready to deliver to your pick up venue. So instead of consumers buying from a faceless retail outlet and using an automated check out they get to meet you instead. In return you will receive a higher price for your products because you don’t have to pay a stall fee, plus you know that what you take with you has been purchased. The Food Assembly takes the money and pays the local organiser a modest amount for their organisation around 8% of sales. They keep around the same for themselves which is spent on the upkeep and hosting of the website and the remainder goes to the producer. It’s rare for producers to get this sort of return making this a fair and profitable way to run a small food business. They have to factor in their own costs for production, delivery and time attending the groups but its proven to be a successful model. This it would seem is the perfect testing ground for a new start up who may (if they ever start looking for their own shop space) be horrified by rents and rates for even a modest unit.
If you are a consumer joining a FA all you have to do is visit the website (details below) and sign up. There is no joining fee and no commitment to buy at all. Once you have signed up you will get emails from your group letting you know when the online shops opens and closes you pay for your goods online too. Shopping online you will have a chance to check all the producers and pick and choose your goods. When you pick up (Guildford is 4-6pm) you will get a chance to meet your producers and check out other products. It’s common for there to be samples to try and displays of products. You can also buy on the evening, which is helpful while you are getting to know the producers in your group. Jane was keen to point out that food assemblies are also a great place to meet other like-minded people who share an interest and love of good food at a fair price to the producer. With this in mind she sees a social aspect to this group to with a pop up Barbecues, wine tasting, cheese sampling and more added to the mix over time.
This all sounds very altruistic but is there a catch? Sceptical I went back and took another look at the FA website I found the following founding principles;
- All the food must be produced within 150 miles from where you live
- Producers set their own price; meaning that they are paid fairly for their work
- The Food Assembly doesn’t act as a middleman, but as a service provider
Now local means different things to different people so 150 miles might seem like a long way but if you want fish, living inland its a tough one unless you are happy to eat nothing but trout hence the mileage allowance. However most food assembly’s products come from an average distance of 26 miles from where they are sold. This seems like a fair system where the organiser and the producers get paid fairly for their input.
Signed up so far are Greener Greens who will be selling their bio-dynamically (organic) grown fruit and vegetables (they are based in Reigate). Fantastic quality produce, you may have seen them at the GLive food festival recently. White Lodge Farm (also at Guildford Farmers Market) are selling their award winning bacon and ham. An English flower grower (seasonal) and Noels Farm Shop from Sutton Green who will be selling a range of products from his shop and providing a range of meat from Wakeling’s Butchers. Heidi from Beehaven flowers will be selling her beautiful homegrown flowers from her plot.
There are still gaps to fill however so if you are a small producer who would like to get involved Jane would love to hear from you!
To join Woking or Guildford Food Assembly simply go the www.thefoodassembly.com put in your postcode and tick the box for the assembly you wish to join.
If you are a new / local producer that would like to sell via the assembly or have a question you can contact Jane Crisp-Daly on 07876337029 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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