Working as part of a community is invaluable to our enterprises in the 21st century. Many have realised that the challenges we face in our communities are bigger than any single person, bigger than any single business/organisation, and bigger than any single government. We have also realised that cooperation and collaboration are equally as valuable as competition when it comes to getting things done.
The process that led to Kent Food Hubs started in conversations between the Wye Farmers Market, the Kent Farmers Market Association (KFMA), local food producers (especially Edible Kingdom), and community mobilisers (especially Collaborative Community). When the KFMA was unable to secure funding for Food Hub developments the Wye Farmers Market (led by Beckie Alves) and Philipp Grunewald (Collaborative Community and Edible Kingdom) started to foster a community of producers that were interested in the idea of a Food Hub (in Wye or Ashford).
Very quickly the network expanded and people from L.E.A.F. Folkestone got involved. They had experience in running a hub and were looking at incorporating their activities (setting up an institution). We quickly realised that this is an opportunity to share costs like insurance, incorporation, legal advice, web hosting, and so. We could reduce overheads for the new hub in Ashford and the existing hub in Folkestone by working together. Through exploring a cooperation between Ashford and Folkestone we realised that there might be many more people out there keen to set up a hub but not keen to set up a new organisation. This led to us setting up as KENT food hubs.
Benefits of KENT food hubs
The benefits of running Kent Food Hubs are expansive. Some are practical, some abstract. Some immediately relevant, some for down the line. Some are relevant to traders and other relevant to shoppers. Most are important for the resilience of Kent’s local food sector.
As KENT food hubs we can, for example:
- Share costs like insurance, bookkeeping, incorporation costs, and so on. For example, we have secured an agreement with the Open Food Network that allows us to run various hubs through the same account. This saves us fees that we would have to pay if we were to run hubs in Kent as seperate enterprises. This directly reduces the costs for the consumer because we can sell at lower prices. It makes local food more affordable.
- Share resources like, for example, delivery vans. A van could be used for deliveries in Maidstone on one day and for deliveries in Dover the next (serving the respective local hubs). This saves money and makes local food more affordable.
- Save money due to economies of scale. For example, when we purchase products from outside Kent, like bananas, we can submit a single (bigger) order to the producers or merchants and get discounts. This makes the products more affordable.
- Build resilience in the Kent food sector: setting up a new marketplace takes time, shoppers need to find out about it and start spending their money there. Sometimes particular markets can go through a quiet period and turn over less money. Instead of these things threatening an individual market’s existence they can be supported by the other food hubs that are part of KFHs while they get going or until they get into better periods again. All hubs pay their surpluses into a single pot and that pot is governed by all; solidarity is built in.
- Help traders learn from each other by, for example, facilitating meetings between the veg growers. They can discuss great ideas about how to produce more veg in better ways that are particularly relevant to Kent and valued by the consumers that buy through the food hubs in Kent.
- Help markets (and market coordinators) learn from each other by, for example, developing training materials and mentorship schemes that can help people start new food hubs in Kent. Building a community of market coordinators also enables them to support each other through the daily struggles of the role; it can be a very isolating experience otherwise because each market/hub only has generally only one coordinator (but also a local hub circle).
- Have a louder voice to push for changes in policy. For example, when market coordinators or traders come together to discuss their work they will realise what barriers there are to making food system transformation happen in Kent. More people on board means we have a stronger voice in pushing for the necessary changes in policy (in Kent and beyond).
- Have more resources to help Kent’s food culture to become aligned with 21st century needs: we are all aware that our current food culture in Kent makes it easy for established supermarkets to succeed (have a lot of market share) and difficult for farmers markets, farm shops, and local food hubs to succeed. Without changing that culture there will always be a low hanging glass ceiling for local producers that want to do right by their communities and the environment. Only together can we smash that ceiling and shift the food culture in Kent.
- and so on…
There are many more important benefits and opportunities; too many to outline them all…