Keep your friends close, and your farmers closer

Date: 
Tue, 05/30/2017
Kindling's family of enterprises

Helen, one of Kindling’s founders, sets out the story behind the family of Kindling enterprises.

“The personal motivation for many of us at Kindling has been to make organic food more accessible, and ecological growing a less perilous and under-paid existence! After many years campaigning for environmental justice ourselves, it seemed clear that those farmers going the extra mile to build biodiversity and soil health should be celebrated and properly compensated. It’s frustrating beyond words that because environmental impacts aren’t factored into the cost of food, organic producers simply aren’t competing on a level playing field.

Fast forward a bit, and we’ve been working with small-scale organic growers in the North West for nearly a decade. We came to realise early on that the co-operative model offered the perfect way to challenge the status quo (already being proven by local institutions like Unicorn Grocery and 8th Day) so we’ve supported the establishment of two enterprises that depend on equitable relationships and trust.

Despite (or we’d like to think, because of!) their idealistic roots, both have established themselves as commercial as well as ideological successes. They’re part of a modern wave of co-operative businesses delivering fantastic produce and an alternative model for our food system”.

Manchester Veg People - Co-operative Wholesaler

"MVP is a key part of delivering Kindling’s vision for change in our food system. We link producers with consumers, based on a mutual interest in fantastic, affordable produce that has minimal environmental impact!"

MVP’s ownership structure encompasses everyone involved in the food’s journey, from planting to plate. And with his sound knowledge of the market, passion, and buckets of determination, co-op member David Joseph is one of its key driving forces.

What is MVP, what does it offer?

“MVP is a wholesale route to market for gorgeous locally-produced fresh produce. We’re the lynchpin between committed organic growers and conscientious buyers, creating a meaningful and sustainable relationship between the two. It’s a relationship of collaboration, one that works within the seasonal limits of nature and respects the commitment of organic growers.

We focus on the quality and freshness of our produce, which is something all of the farmers we work with are passionate about, they know that their produce tastes great and we help other people to get their hands on it. We provide them with a fair and stable market, as well as encouraging others to become growers through Kindling's FarmStart programme”. 

What is happening at the moment? And what’s next?! 

“Over the past year MVP has consolidated its unique position, working with restauranteurs, commercial venues and public sector bodies that are excited by local, organic food. For example, we now supply two Manchester’s largest universities – Manchester Metropolitan and the University of Manchester. Our relationship with our customers goes beyond the food we supply, for example we’re co-hosting a Spring Supper with Hispi’s in Didsbury where diners will get to meet one of the growers.

We are always looking to expand our reach across Greater Manchester and get people eat more fresh, local and organic produce, which is happening with the help of all of our wonderful customers. We’re looking ahead to an exceptional season”.

Veg Box People

VBP delivers weekly seasonal veg bags to workplaces and other community hubs.

Supplied by MVP, the two co-ops have a close relationship, but VBP is structured so that its four current workers (and the many others we hope will join us as we grow!) are equal owners of the business. Luke Dickens is one of them…

What brought you to VBP?

I’ve been volunteering for Kindling for years, so it was amazing to officially join the family of Kindling enterprises. VBP brings together my experience in co-operative business (Luke was a member of Coffee Cranks Co-op) with a love of veg and a passion for mixing up our food system.

You joined VBP eight months ago, what’s changed since then?

Back then we just had three collection points, and in that time we’ve expanded to ten! Ancoats Coffee is our newest, and we’re looking at two imminent launches in Hulme. We still have the capacity to take on a few more, so folk should get in touch if they’d like their workplace to be a collection hub.

What do you like about being part of VBP?

The worker co-op aspect is really important to me, it means it’s a more equal place to work, you have more say in what happens. It’s as if you’re running your own organisation but you get to share out the responsibility. Everyone who works here feels like we are driving the organisation forward. We all feel part of something.

Tell us about your relationship with Kindling’s other projects?

Kindling’s projects are designed to be symbiotic; VBP benefits from this incredibly local supply of produce from MVP and we support the trainee FarmStart growers because we want to increase the amount of local veg. And on the other side, FarmStart benefits from having us as a reliable, supportive buyer.

For customers it’s unique. Lots come out to help on Kindling’s Land Army days, so they get to see where their produce is coming from and who’s growing it – they might help plant out beans that they’ll be eating a few months later. For people who want to get that bit more involved in where their food comes from, that’s pretty special.

What are you particularly proud of about VBP?

Keeping our customers delighted! When I’m not on the stalls I’m busy ordering the best, freshest veg possible. At times, the weather and the seasons can make it really challenging to vary the bag’s contents and keep it interesting but our customer feedback indicates we’re hitting the mark – it’s a good feeling when you know you’ve helped make it happen.

Any last words to your customers?

Thanks for being amazing, excited about what we do, and spreading the word about us! We could never have grown so fast without your support. Oh, and remember to bring back your re-useable bags!! ;)

 

The Kindling Trust is a not for profit social enterprise with charitable aims (Company number: 6136029).
Kindling Trust Ltd - Bridge 5 Mill, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 7HR