People in Hackney are flocking to buy their shopping from the farm through Food Assembly
12:08 19 October 2016
In 2014 the Food Assembly launched its first UK group in Hackney Wick. Two years later, 5,500 people in the area have signed up to buy their shopping direct from producers. We found out more about the sensation.
"It’s taking off here because people are open and creative. East London is always the place it starts "
Thousands of shoppers in Hackney are ditching supermarkets and filling their fridges with produce straight from the farm.
Food Assembly – an innovative way of buying your weekly shop – has become a sensation since the first UK branch opened in Hackney Wick two years ago.
There are now branches in Haggerston, Stoke Newington, Old Street and Hackney Downs supplying more than 5,500 customers.
The premise is simple enough: Food Assembly signs up producers from across the region to list their products online, then customers place their orders and collect them two days later. What’s more, the producers of the food pocket at least 80 per cent of the takings.
Sara Colohan started out as a producer selling her London Maker chocolate, before becoming a customer and then the organiser for the Haggerston branch, which operates out of TripSpace Projects in Acton Mews.
She said: “We have about 40 producers. We get about 40 different products from a farm in Kent and we have some really unusual stuff for anyone who wants to get experimental in the kitchen.
“Things like nettle tips,
dandelion leaves and rainbow carrots. I have to look at the
packaging sometimes to check what it is!”
There are more than 1,000 people signed up in Haggerston alone, and that number is growing at pace.
“The quality of the produce is the number one reason,” said Sara. “And we have stuff you would never see on a shelf.
“There’s a bit of a stigma that you need lots of money to do it but that’s not true. It’s taking off here because people are open and creative. East London is always the place it starts.”
Another organiser, Deborah Fowler, was in The Prince pub in Stoke Newington 18 months ago when the food collection started happening around her, and from then she was hooked.
“I was like: ‘What’s this?’” she said. “I started ordering and my food bill came way down. The quality is so much better that I was finding I could order stuff and keep it for two weeks.
“It’s expanding a lot now in terms of the range of products. At first it was primarily meat and veg but now you can get everything.
“It’s also a social thing and I really liked that, not being from London. It’s nice to sit and chat with people and once a month producers will come and do demonstrations or tastings. That’s one of the main things about it – it brings people together, without being wanky.”
There are now 1,100 people signed up in Stoke Newington. Deborah reckons the knowledge you are giving something back to your community plays a big part.
There’s a whole host of food and drink start-ups from Hackney who use the platform. Shoppers can buy Dalston’s Toast Ale, made from discarded bread, SNACT fruit jerkys made from food waste and bread courtesy of Dusty Knuckle.
“It’s good for the local producers,” added Deborah. “They can use it as a platform to grow, like Lydia Davidson, who used to sell her vegan cream cheese made with cashews called Gozo. That’s now stocked in Whole Foods.
“It’s nice knowing the farmers are getting a fair price for their products too.”
Marie Neuville is one of the people ordering from Deborah, after being won over by some cheese.
“My daughter was doing it and I tried some cheddar she bought,” she said. “It was delicious.
“I do it every week now and buy all my shopping. The meat is amazing. I used to go to Waitrose and unless I really have to I don’t go anywhere else now. I feed two for a week on about £65.
“It must be very good for the small farms – it’s hard enough for them so to be able to help is good.”