The cost effective way to buy local produce in Dorset
PUBLISHED: 11:39 26 January 2017
Food Assemblies offer a cost effective way to buy local produce. Sue Quinn explores this tasty antidote to supermarket shopping that has arrived in Dorset and is spreading fast
It all started with a tonne of premium Dorset blueberries. As an ingredients buyer for a large cosmetics company, Lyndsey Fisher-Cooke had just bought this whopping consignment of prized fruit to go into – of all things – facemask. Troubled by the fate of such gorgeous produce, she set out in search of a better way for consumers and suppliers to find each other – and she found it.
Lyndsey took a career break and started the Southbourne Food Assembly, a branch of a booming national scheme aimed at bringing consumers and producers together. An antidote to supermarket shopping, Food Assemblies are a cross between farmer’s markets and box schemes, giving shoppers access to the freshest produce and the opportunity to support the local economy.
The scheme arrived in the UK in 2014 from France and quickly spread to more than 70 locations, last year winning the Best British Food Initiative in the BBC Food and Farming Awards. There are now three Dorset branches – Shaftesbury, Bournemouth, and Southbourne – with a Cranborne Assembly soon to open and more to follow.
Food Assemblies work like this: each one has a leader who signs up local suppliers and advertises their products on the local page of the main Food Assembly website. Shoppers select and pay for their items in advance online, then pick them up from a local collection point, where they can also meet and chat to the producers, and sample products. Collection times are in the late afternoon and early evening, making it convenient for shoppers to pick up their orders after work.
“I created the Food Assembly because I am an advocate for conscious consumerism,” Lyndsey explains. “The Assembly intends to connect consumers who care about what they eat and who want to support local businesses regularly, practically, and affordably.” The Dorset blueberry producer, who now sells through the Southbourne Assembly, is just one example of how the scheme puts consumers in touch with fantastic products they might not otherwise know about. “While using natural ingredients in cosmetics is lovely, I never felt they needed to be the very best blueberries,” Lyndsey says. “The best local produce should be creating the best local diet before it’s considered a tradable surplus.”
More than 370 members have signed up to the Southbourne Assembly, and more than 500 to Bournemouth since they started last July, while Shaftesbury, the newest Dorset assembly, boasts just over 200 members. Products vary between assemblies and change according to the season and availability, but often include fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, biltong, chutneys and preserves, honey, pasta, sauces, cakes, cheese, bread, meat, game and more.
The scheme is a great way for shoppers to reduce their food miles. In Dorset, most produce comes from within a 5 miles radius of the collection point, but generally less than 28 miles. It also helps small producers command a fair price for their amazing produce, especially those who can’t afford to run a shop or regular farmers’ market stall. This means that consumers gain access to products not widely available on the high street, such as fresh raw milk (from Meggie Moo’s at the Bournemouth and Shaftesbury Assemblies) and wild rabbit (from Dorset Game Larder at the Bournemouth and Southbourne Assemblies).
Buying from a Food Assembly also enables consumers to shop ethically and support community projects. Maple Field Milk (available from the Southbourne Assembly) is a community-owned micro dairy based near Fordingbridge that sells non-homogenized milk from tiny local herds. Buying milk this way, rather than from large dairy processors and supermarkets, is one way of supporting the UK’s beleaguered dairy farmers.
The scheme also helps reduce food waste, according to Michael French, coordinator of Grounded Enterprises, a community organisation aimed at reconnecting the community with food production and healthy vegetables. The organisation grows fruit, vegetables and herbs, and trains volunteers, at three community gardens including one on top of a multi-storey car park in Bournemouth. Produce is sold via the Southbourne and Bournemouth Assemblies, with profits ploughed back into the business. “When you do a market stall, you have to pick a lot of produce that you don’t necessarily sell – we’ve tried it and there can be a lot of surplus,” Michael says. “That doesn’t happen with Food Assemblies because you only have to pick what you’ve already sold, which reduces waste. Plus, it’s as fresh as you are going to get it – we pick it on the morning and you collect it in the afternoon.”
Sarah Watson, leader of the Bournemouth Assembly, says the scheme is more than just about buying fresh local food. Her collection point, the Green Hut at the Green House Hotel in Bournemouth, has become a real community hub. “It’s an opportunity to meet producers, talk to them and find out more about what they’re doing,” she says. “It’s a real community thing, it’s fantastic.” There are also plans for supper clubs at the Green House Hotel, which will showcase the produce available at the Assembly.
Lyndsey Fisher-Cooke believes Dorset is the perfect county for Food Assemblies to thrive. “We have the closeness of rural awareness and appreciation when we pass through our beautiful countryside, balanced with enough quirkiness and culture in our towns and variety of residents, to allow alternative concepts room to exist,” she says. And of course we have the amazing produce, like blueberries, that deserve to take pride of place on our tables.
Get involved with your local food assembly
Southbourne Food Assembly
• Order collection: Cliff House Hotel, 13 Belle Vue Road, Bournemouth BH6 3DA,
• When: Mondays 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Bournemouth Food Assembly
• Order collection: The Green Hut at The Green House Hotel, East Overcliff Drive, BH1 3AP
• When: Wednesday 5:30pm – 7pm
Shaftesbury Food Assembly
• Order collection: The Royal Chase Hotel, Belmont Suite, Shaftesbury SP7 8DB
• When: Wednesday 5:30pm – 7pm
Bridport Food Assembly Bridport Market (coming soon)
• The Cattle Market, St Michael’s Estate, DT6 3RR
• When: Expected to be Sunday from 9am - 2pm
For further information about becoming a member or selling your produce via a Food Assembly visit thefoodassembly.com.