LOCATION: East Anglia
AIM: To build a fair, ecological and cooperative food system, providing a source of sustainable livelihoods and business viability for small local organic producers in response to a decline in rural farm employment and competition from international markets.
The specific objectives are: (1) to supply consumers of all incomes high quality seasonal produce; (2) to encourage cooperative working among its members and between the coop and consumers; (3) transparency about food supply chains; (4) to source all produce from UK and European regions from socially responsible producers and co-ops promoting direct local marketing, and from fair-trade producers outside of Europe; (5) to favour local seasonal produce and supplement (not replace) with imports; to minimise packaging, waste and food transport; (6) to offer educational farm visits to raise awareness of the environmental and social aspects of local organic production (Seyfang, 2006).
BACKGROUND: Eostre Organics was borne out of a Norfolk-based NGO called ‘Farmer’s Link’ which was inspired by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to improve the sustainability of farming in developed countries and make solidarity links between UK farmers. In 1997, they established East Anglia Food Link (EAFL) to promote conversion to organic production in the region, building direct links between farmers and consumers to create more sustainable food supply chains and benefit local economies and communities. Eostre was established in 2003 with a Defra Rural Enterprise Scheme grant, supplying organic produce from local farmers, but having scope to meet year round product demand by sourcing seasonal organic produce from organic cooperatives in Europe.
The structure of the Eostre Organics is very different to mainstream markets; it is based on fair trade, cooperative principles and inspiring loyalty among customers with shared principles. The average farm size of Eostre members is 117.3ha, with many much smaller than this, which poses problems for farmers seeking to enter local markets as stability of supply cannot be assured. Collective organisation through Eostre enables members to achieve the scale required to penetrate these markets, for example at market stalls or through box schemes. Some progress has been made in supplying to local public sector organisations, such as schools and hospitals, but this is hindered by the policy infrastructure around public procurement.
Eostre Organics adopts an educative, outreach role to inform and motivate consumers, through farm visits, newsletters etc. Misleading price signals in the mainstream market (as a result of externalised social and environmental costs and benefits, and perverse subsidies) render Eostre’s products more expensive such that they rely on informed consumers to choose their produce over cheaper mainstream alternatives.
A challenge emerged early on in Eostre’s development in deciding whether to stay local or stay organic in terms of the range of products supplied by Eostre; whilst some customers expressed a preference for less imported produce, the value of importing from organic, socially responsible producers in Europe lies in being able to guarantee a wide range of produce all year round, thereby meeting the demands of local markets for produce that may be out of season in the UK.
By 2006, Eostre was supplying to 13 box schemes, 15 market stalls, nine cafes, pubs or restaurants, and 12 shops. Progress has also been made in supplying public sector catering, through local schools, hospitals and prisons, but a key lesson to emerge from their experience is the need to review public sector procurement approaches if such local food networks are to be able to successfully penetrate these markets.
Seyfang, G. (2006) ‘Ecological citizenship and sustainable consumption: Examining local organic food networks’ Journal of Rural Studies 22: 383-395