A New Way to Shop: The Food Assembly

The Food Assembly held weekly at Telford's Warehouse. Pic:The Food Assembly

The Food Assembly held weekly at Telford’s Warehouse. Pic:The Food Assembly

On Christmas day many of us would argue that there is nothing better than to wake up, create mayhem with the paper from the presents and then get stuck into the roast potatoes, fresh from Poland, or carrots from abroad and, of course, turkey shipped in from Holland. Unfortunately this will be the situation for hundreds of us across Chester this Christmas.

We have become accustomed to our produce coming from all corners of the globe, and we find the taste is adequate. But why settle for adequate when greatness is on our doorstep? There are options contrary to the dreary plod to the supermarkets. There is a great little fruit and veg shop on Northgate Street that provides a lot of quality British produce, but I want something even more close to home, something that can give me more than my spuds and carrots, and I’ve found it.

Telford’s Warehouse on the canal plays host to a unique night on the food calendar every Monday. People sit at the bar with big boxes of vegetables, while others peruse the baked goods and slabs of meat. This is not your average night down the pub. This is The Food Assembly’s doing.

The Food Assembly is a new initiative that aims to make Cheshire produce easily accessible for everyone in and around Chester. Using the wizardry of the internet, customers can place their order online until the early hours of the morning on Saturday (2am), then pop along to the weekly gathering at Telford’s Warehouse on Monday evenings to pick up their homegrown goodies.

Trudging up and down the sterile aisles of the supermarket to do the weekly shop has made us all synonymous with how Bill Murray must have felt in the classic 80’s movie, Groundhog Day. The humdrum of the ‘perfectly shaped’, ‘pristine vegetables’ wrapped in cellophane and the constant game of dodgems with the trolleys provides an anaesthetic to our conscience, allowing us as a society to throw things into the basket without even caring where they came from.

But not any more. Katie Lyttle, who is the organiser for Chester’s branch of The Food Assembly, explained why we should all give this unique idea a go: “We all want to support producers from our area and gain access to the amazing food being produced in and around Chester, but it isn’t always easy to seek it out as we are all so busy, The Food Assembly aims to solve this issue.”

Of course, supermarkets are not the demonic entities that I have portrayed so far, they do offer the organic option to customers who are ethically minded, and they are an integral part of our city, providing a host of jobs for people in the area. However, there are other jobs out there, even if you do have to get out of the city centre, but it might mean getting your hands dirty and I, along with many of you am not so keen on that idea.

The key people involved in The Food Assembly are the producers. We as a society may not be partial to getting mud under our nails in search of our food these days, but thankfully there are people who delve into the dirt to give us some of the finest food that this wonderful area of ours has to offer – people like Lisa Payne.

Lisa is the manager of Oakcroft Organic Market Garden near Whitchurch, and is one of the many producers who is a part of The Food Assembly. Back in 2013, Lisa was living on the tenth floor of a notorious tower block in East London. Fast forward to present day and she is running a 50 year old market garden with next to no previous experience. She is an inspiration for those of us who are looking to make sustainable living a viable lifestyle option. In an enthralling interview, Lisa explained to me why she believes in sustainable living and being part of The Food Assembly.

“I believe that the current food model, based on supermarkets and large scale agriculture, is damaging to the environment, our health and our communities. Only by bringing back small scale agricultural practices like  the traditional methods that we use in the market gardens, and connecting people with how their food is grown, can we begin to reverse the damage done.”

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There are 10 other producers, besides Lisa, that are involved in the scheme including a beekeeper, a butcher, a baker and a jam maker. So, if you are like me and only eat your greens to get to the desert, then The Food Assembly still has all the answers.

Obviously, many of us have busy lives and time simply won’t allow us the freedom of growing our own food, but as Lisa puts it: “buying from your sustainable producer is the next best thing.” The atmosphere on a Monday evening is great – you can go for a drink and a chat at pub then pick up your fresh food. It feels like a small community, everyone is happy to be there, and why not? The venture manages to combine the easiness of internet shopping and the friendly interaction that you would normally get at a farmers market.

So if you don’t have much time on your hands for self-produced veggies, or you have been reading this and think that organic food is only for the pretentious and well-to-do people of society, then do what I do and remember this statement by Lisa Payne: “The one great leveller for all people is our need to eat food to survive.”

For more information on The Food Assembly click here.

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