New roots: how social enterprises are disrupting the food system

Food is at the foundation of all life, yet instead of being nurtured and cherished, it’s impersonally extracted, processed, packaged and traded. People have forgotten the importance of food in creating bonds between each other and our environment. It’s time to rewire every aspect of the food cycle: 1 how we grow, 2 how we distribute, 3 how we eat and 4 how we manage leftovers. Fortunately, an ever-growing number of social enterprises are rising to the task of making the food system more sustainable, ecologically resilient and socially just.

1 Growing
City farms bring farming into the heart of busy communities to encourage people to reconnect with food and show that growing local, affordable food is possible. While they’re not big enough to feed our cities’ large appetites, they demonstrate small-scale alternatives and test ideas.Stepney City Farm, for example, partnered with The Pig Idea campaign and hosted eight pigs fed on food waste to show how this practice can be used to reduce the amount of food we throw away as well as lessening the need to produce so much animal feed.

There’s also Cultivate London, which sees urban farming as a way to tackle unemployment, by working with young people to grow and sell a range of edible plants.

2 Distribution
Our food distribution system is skewed towards huge retailers with immense market power. Supporting local food in such an environment is difficult, but new types of retailers are trying to change these power dynamics. Brighton’s How It Should Be and The People’s Supermarketare prime examples of how supermarkets can act in a responsible way by selling sustainably sourced, local, affordable food. There are also non-store alternatives such as Suffolk-based Growing Places Enterprise, which delivers fruit and vegetable boxes directly to people’s home and provides employment for those who are struggling to find work.

Cutting the middleman out is another way to democratise food distribution.The Food Assembly facilitates community-led pop-up markets where people collect pre-ordered produce directly from local farmers and food producers. Behind the scenes, FoodTrade serves as a “dating site for food businesses”, fostering relationships between small producers and small businesses as an efficient way to compete against the power of supermarkets.

3 Making and eating
The most social aspect of food is how we make and eat it, and many see this as an opportunity to address social injustices. Kent-based, The People’s Food Company, for example, is a catering company providing employment for people who’ve struggled to find jobs, and the Bath Soup Company hires homeless people to help make and sell soups. Restaurants with social missions include The Clink, which is focued on reducing re-offending rates by training inmates in prison-based restaurants and helping them to find employment upon their release.

Other socially-driven food driven enterprises focus on specific demographics, like MazΓ­ Mas, which offers opportunities for women from migrant communities by helping them to open pop-up restaurants to share the very best of their home-cooking.

4 Dealing with waste
We waste 15 million tonnes of food in the UK every year. But, food waste is only waste if we choose to perceive it as such and a plethora of enterprises are grasping the opportunity to creatively use what would otherwise be thrown away. There are those that transform surplus fresh produce into all manner of products, such as Rubies in the Rubble who make chutneys, Rejuce who make juices, and my venture Snact which makes fruit jerky. Others, such as the Leeds-based Pay As You Feel CafΓ©and Foodcycle use food that would otherwise be discarded to serve food to people in need. Food can also simply be sold at a discount for those less able to afford it, a model recently adopted by Community Shop.


This article was originally written for the Guardian Social Enterprise Hub.

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3 thoughts on “New roots: how social enterprises are disrupting the food system

  1. You know what would be great, a kind of crowd-sourced Google Map upon which all these groups and efforts were plotted…. There are more and more people, working to envision a new food system, and a new vision of food….

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