Locavore – Ethical business Tour

In the south of Glasgow sits the grocery store and cafe Locavore which has been farming and supplying local produce for the last six years. I spoke to Kim from the social enterprise about the newly expanded shop and the range of goods they stock to keep packaging low whilst providing great environmentally responsible food and products.

Locavore organically grows much of its food at three sites, just 3 acres in total, within 10 miles of the city. They also run a scheme called Grow the Growers where they help growers gain experience and skills whilst supplying the shop. The founder Reuben started Locavore after working in community gardens around Glasgow and wanted to use a social enterprise to make a bigger difference for sustainable food.

We think at the root of all these big overwhelming global and local problems is the basic model of the big corporations who run the food system. They exist to extract as much money as possible from customers for the benefit of their shareholders. With supermarket chains in the UK holding 97% of the grocery market, it’s not much of a surprise that things are in such a dire state.

The shop stocks a great range of refillable goods including dry foods, spices, household cleaning products and even milk. At the cafe you can enjoy a seasonally grown organic menu with a good range of vegan dishes, salads, a stew, sandwiches and ploughmans. Locals can also enjoy the abundant vegbox scheme. With business in their new larger shop already three times what they expected it looks like the demand for more sustainable options in Glasgow is growing well. I also spotted some hemp tea on the shelves from our friends at Hempen 🙂

Locavore’s principles: Fairness, A healthy environment, Using money to do good, Honesty and Great food

Ethical business tour

Over the next year I’ll be visiting my amazing stockists around the country, to interview them about their businesses, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.

The first stop is Anything But Plastic, an online shop based in Glasgow, which as well as our Fit Pit deodorant also sells soap, laundry soap, toothbrushes, tooth tabs, floss, shampoo, makeup, containers, bags and cleaning products. In the beautiful setting of Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens I interviewed Jenny about her first and very successful year of Anything But Plastic.

ABP is here to help you cut down your plastic consumption. Plastic is the most pervasive man-made material ever, it doesn’t just go away when you throw it in the bin, it’s here to stay. So if you want to help contribute to a world with less plastic, you are in the right place!

nullMy sister Suzanne and I approached a local hotel a few years ago to use their waste jam jars for our business and Jenny told me that she also now reuses hotel jam jars for products. “You guys definitely inspired me and I’m looking for more hotels to get them from too.” When collecting from the hotel Suzanne used to encourage them to stop using single use jars all together. Week after week they would see the jars pile up in the buckets and we would take them away. Until one week they said that they were sorry but they would be stopping using the little disposable jars and were switching to refillable pots on the table. Far from being disappointed we were delighted at the reduction in waste, so it was really exciting for me to hear that Jenny too was influencing her local hotels.

Anything But Plastic has seen a great interest from customers as well as the media and is part of a growing trend of plastic-free businesses. It gives me hope that we can look forward to disposable plastic becoming history.

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Housing for our communities

Do you have that feeling that the housing market isn’t quite working? That developers are making money but communities don’t benefit much? Community land trusts are one way that communities are taking back the power over their housing. I spoke with Charlie from Oxfordshire Community Land Trust about their work and their latest campaign to create affordable housing in Oxford.

A community land trust protects land and property assets and makes them affordable for the community, whether it be for work, housing or leisure.

Their legal structures could be Industrial and Provident Societies for the Benefit of the Community, Community Interest Companies, Charitable Trusts or Companies Limited by Guarantee, but the principles are the same – ensure that assets benefits the community and not outside companies.

In Oxford at the moment Homes for Oxford, another community group is working with the trust to fundraise for their own housing development. You can learn more and donate to the work here.

What are some of the ties that hold us down and prevent us from living a life that we believe in, a life that benefits those around us and makes us feel fulfilled? For many people the answer is simply needing to pay the bills, being caught in a cycle of work to pay the rent. If we can remove the wealth extractors from our housing market we have a chance to create housing that benefits our communities, and helps give people more freedom to do what they think is right.

 

Welcome to La ZAD

The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes.  During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.

Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.

ZAD map

 

The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.

Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”

To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.

I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.

Kindling social change

In Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester I wander in the sun amongst vegetables, families and education projects to meet Helen. Helen was one of the founders of MERCi (see A hive of possibilities) and founders of Kindling. I asked her what had lead her to become so active and to create these groups.

Kindling in Manchester runs practical projects to increase food sustainability and campaign for social change. Their projects include FarmStart which is an incubator farm to help new growers get started and scale up, Forgotten Fields a project about the history of Manchester’s food growing, as well as organising many events and resources to support local growers.

A hive of possibilities in Manchester

b5mNext to a canal in Manchester is a five story building, converted from a mill, where lots of different environmentally minded organisations live. It’s called Bridge 5 Mill, it”s run by MERCi and it’s a hive of possibilities. I’d like to share with you a little of the story of this building and a couple of the groups who use it, from hydrogen fuel to peace campaigns.

Back in 1995 two friends in their twenties dreamed of making a sustainability hub for Manchester.  After 6 months of consultation, gathering a team, and years of searching they succeeded in finding a building and gaining funding, purchasing the building in 1999. The old mill was renovated using trainees and volunteers as part of courses using reclaimed and recycled materials and won an award for it’s energy efficiency. It now has offices, conference space and a garden. Tenants include the International Coalition to ban uranium weapons, Black Environment Network, as well as bee keeping cooperative soap makers Three Bees, and Planet Hydrogen.acfdcd_5d91d7dcaf9743fd8657f26f0d1819d1.jpg_srz_p_435_301_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz I interviewed Tom from Three Bees last year and a year on they are now planning to add soap making courses to their services.

With hydrogen we can store renewable energy by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. When you want electricity they can recombine to form water again. Mike from Planet Hydrogen kindly demonstrated a hydrogen cell in action for me in a transparent container so we could watch the gases form.

Over the years spaces like MERCi provide so many positive groups with the basics they need to function. When a town has such a hub for a long time you can almost forget the importance of it. Once it’s built, everything slows down, it stops being so exciting, the four walls become a new norm. But most towns have no such space where groups can meet, grow and collaborate. It’s hard to imagine all the meetings, all the events, all the projects that have happened in that building so far. To speed up the social change we wish to see, one of the first things we need is to take care of the basics, to shelter these groups and give them a home. Long may MERCi continue to do so.