Citizen Action Monitor

How a UK food co-op is taking on the supermarkets and building community resilience

No 45 Posted by fw, August 21, 2010

Stroudco Food Hub is an example of community action as its very best: it’s a co-op of local food producers and consumers, democratically owned, not-for-profit social enterprise, and jointly controlled by community and producer members.

According to a 7-page Stroudco Case Study:

Stroudco food basket

Stroudco began with a public meeting in Stroud on 31st October 2006 and was driven forward by the vision of two local food activists committed to: changing the food system from the bottom up with the aim of making local food affordable and available to ordinary people; provide a practical and friendly supply chain for small scale and family food enterprises; prepare for ‘peak oil’ and develop a model that enables producers and consumers to work for mutual benefit.

Using experience and learning gained from setting up Stroud Community Agriculture, a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise, in 2009 they were successful in gaining funding from Rural Enterprise Gateway, Awards for All lottery grand and Local Food Funding for the initial development work and set up costs to cover three years. It began its first trade in October 2009.

The founding principles of Stroudco include:

  • Providing affordable, locally-produced food to people in the more socially deprived communities of Stroud;
  • Giving producer members access to a local market at higher than wholesale prices;
  • Building supportive and understanding links between producers and consumers; and,
  • Developing a more sustainable local food culture and resilient community.

Stroudco aims

To provide local people with a new way of linking with local producers to buy good food and drink at fair prices for consumers and producers. Food prices are around 10% less than retail prices.

A key aspect of the Stroudco approach includes the provision of practical experience and learning for members, involving hands on farm experience and involvement in community food events; and enabling people, by working together democratically, to be responsible for and participate in their own local food system.

Stroudco serves as a testbed for the reorganisation of local food and there is an explicit aim within Stroudco to support other groups wishing to replicate the model elsewhere.

Membership

The co-op which makes up Stroudco has 2 kinds of members – producers and consumers. The producer members, based within 15 miles of Stroud, commit to:

  • Supply food for sale at lower than retail prices;
  • Give 8% of what they sell through Stroudco to Stroudco for running costs, the most significant of which is the workers’ wage;
  • Hold an annual event inviting consumer members to help with their work, picking fruit, hay-making, fencing, farm open day, camping, host a bring and share meal, etc; and
  • Provide a service to other producer members such as shared deliveries, loan of equipment, loan of labour, etc;

The Hub aims to have 200 consumer members who will:

  • Pay membership of £24 ($38.07C) per year (£12 concessions). This is £2 ($3.17C) per household per month (£1 for low income households);
  • Build up to buying an average of £24 of food and drink per month through the Hub within 3 years; and
  • Contribute at least 2 hours of voluntary work per year such as food packing, farm labour, administration.

The consumer membership is purposively being generated from a relatively deprived neighbourhood, the majority of whom have not previously had any active involvement in local sustainability initiatives.

Management

The day to day running of the hub is done by an employed administrator. The overall management and direction is controlled by a board elected from the members. The board is made up of 50% producer members and 50% consumer members. They each have one vote. All members elect both types of board member. The board makes decisions by consensus where possible; otherwise each board member has one vote. The paid administrator attends board meetings. The board deals with issues raised by the general membership. Producers and consumers must be willing to stand for election and take some responsibility for managing the hub as well as using it.

Finance

Income is generated from these 2 sources – consumer members pay £2 per month membership, and producers pay a fee of around 8% of gross sales through Stroudco. The board will adjust this rate as necessary to maintain viability, ensuring they make neither a loss, nor an excessive surplus. Profits could be used to buy equipment for members to share, pay a bonus to the worker or support new hubs to set up. Expansion may in the future be through other drop off points, or sister hubs.

How it works

Stroudco uses a web-based ordering system and a school hall as a drop off point and is staffed by volunteers and a part time worker, who is paid from a percentage of the turnover. The web-based system enables the handling of multiple orders and has been designed to minimise the time taken to carry out administrative tasks at all stages of the trade.

Producers enter and update their stock lists online and specify which trading days they will provide for. They do not have to trade every time and occasional traders (e.g. who have a back garden apple tree) are welcome. Consumers order online in advance and can place automatic repeat orders. Consumers pay in advance and the system only accepts an order if the account is in credit. Payment can be made online, in cash through the school, through the local credit union, by cheque or by bank transfer.

Producers receive a single collated order in advance and deliver the order to the school hall on a Saturday morning (there is one trade each month, usually on the first Saturday of the month). Producers are paid on delivery. The paid worker and volunteers sort the orders into boxes for each consumer member to collect in the afternoon. The drop off will be designed to encourage chat and interaction for those that want to hang around by offering tea and cakes and a toy box.

Consumers are required to supply at least 2 hours unpaid labour per year per household. The volunteer labour can be used to help the administrator sort out the produce on the Saturday or for other purposes such as leafleting, taking minutes, cleaning the hall, etc. Other volunteers will be available to make online orders for people who do not have internet access. Membership includes invitations to free events on Stroudco producers’ farms.

Progress to date

The hub, which began trading in October 2009, started with 8 producer members and 20 consumer members for initial trial trades, but hopes to rapidly grow to include 15-20 producers and up to 200 consumer households. In December a part-time administrator was recruited to oversee the recruitment of more producers and consumers.

The drop off operates from a primary School which is located in one of the main resident districts of Stroud. From the outset the school has been very supportive in developing Stroudco by allowing it to put up a freezer shed and allow the school children to play an active role promoting the project.

Planned Activities

Once it is sufficiently established, Stroudco will be arranging community events at least monthly, including many opportunities to meet and work with producers, who must each offer an annual community event. This could be a workday on the farm, camping, a talk at the school, a BBQ, farm walk, fruit picking, etc.

The Hub will also be building up a stock of items for loan to members such as an apple juicer, sausage maker, roasting spit, etc.

RELATED VIDEO & READING

To watch an excellent 10-minute video about Stroudco Food Hub, click on this link: Stroudco – Local Food Distribution

To read more about the community in which Stroudco is located, see the Wikipedia entry, Stroud, Gloucestershire

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2010 by in community building, food gardening and farming.
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