Open for business – Food Connect Sydney starts-up
FOOD CONNECT SYDNEY is up and running, providing a new community supported agriculture (CSA) service to the metropolis.
“Food Connect Sydney connects farmers with city folk”, says Enterprise and Produce Coordinator, Julian Lee.
“We believe in food with integrity and care about where your food comes from, who has grown it and the impact on the environment of producing it.
“We source ecologically grown produce from local and regional farmers.”
Julian is assisted by a crew that includes economics graduate and member of Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, Tsung Xu, who is the Warehouse Coordinator. Tsung sees quality food as a potential focal point in local communities and operates a small business supplying organic produce to market stalls and homes around Sydney.
Food Connect Sydney takes its name from Food Connect Brisbane, which developed what has proven a successful model that addresses a number of limitations faced by farmers interesting in supplying the CSA market..
According to a Victorian Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation assessment of CSAs as a market for farm produce, farmers have difficulty in dealing with the marketing, communications and customer service aspects of CSA operation. By providing those services and by distributing farmers’ produce in metropolitan areas, Food Connect makes participation in the CSA model more viable for regional farmers.
In the conventional CSA model, city eaters make contact with a city fringe farmer who produces the vegetables, culinary herbs and, perhaps, fruit that they want. The farmer delivers weekly to a collection point in the city from which the CSA members collect their boxes of food. It may be the farmer who packages orders into individual boxes for collection, or that the farmer delivers the produce to the collection point where it is packaged into individual orders by CSA members.
Members pay an annual, quarterly or monthly fee for the food, depending in the structure chosen. This is why CSAs are sometimes known as ‘subscription farming’ systems.
Food Connect differs in that it sources its produce from a number of farmers rather than a single farm. This provides security of supply as well as the opportunity to source a wider range of farm produce.
2009 brings replication
Replication is a property of any good model because it can be copied and adapted by people elsewhere.
And that is just what happened… when the people with the interest were there in other cities… when the time was right…. the Food Connect Brisbane model started to spread… rapidly. The Brisbane crew had developed a workable system, debugging and refining it, preparing it for replication, adaptation and multiplication.
The year 2009 proved to be the breakout year for Food Connect. Brisbane’s Robert Pekin met with interested people in other cities and the reproduction of the Brisbane model got underway.
The Coffs Harbour region plans its own version of Food Connect (with a different name) in the coming year, and Robert has inspired potential start-ups in Tasmania, Adelaide and Melbourne.
In late November, a group of ten or so people met at Coffs Harbour to develop a means of assisting new enterprises to gestate, based on the Food Connect model. Coming from Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne (from CERES, the sustainability education centre in East Brunswick that already runs a variety of food initiatives), Coffs Harbour and Sydney, the group established the Food Connect Foundation, for which a business plan is now being developed.
The Foundation will:
- assist the start-up of new enterprises based on the Food Connect model and provide a starters kit that includes systems, logo, visual identity, marketing plans, software and so on
- form partnerships to develop farmland trusts
- run campaigns to encourage people to buy from producers and distributors who introduce approaches compatible with sustainability principles.
According to the Foundation’s Robert Pekin, the structure is quite different to the corporate business model which would have set up subsidiaries in other states.
“These Food Connects are regionally autonomous but nationally aligned. They agree to co-develop better systems and to share financial and other important information”.
Food Connect Sydney will be the city’s third attempt at a CSA, however the structure of Food Connect and Julian Lee’s background as an organic smallholder in the Hunter region, and in assisting urban fringe farmers for a south west Sydney council, bring him a comprehensive overview of the industry from growing through distribution to marketing.
Earlier Sydney CSAs failed because, in one case, the source farm was too distant from the city (it was at Berry, almost 200km south) and, in the second attempt, because the farmer, who was based at Mangrove Creek just north of the city, moved interstate.
By taking on the distribution and marketing and by sourcing supply from a number of farms, Food Connect should avoid those earlier difficulties.
A new community food system
“As a Food Connect subscriber, you receive a weekly box of fresh fruit and vegetables that you pick up from your neighbourhood City Cousin”, explained Julian.
Negotiations are presently underway with Sydney people to set up regional collection points where CSA members can collect their food. Julian says that a number of collection points have already been found and asks that anyone willing, and with the covered space such as a garage, to become a City Cousin register on the website.
Visitors to the website will also find a registration form to make an expression of interest in participating in Food Connect. As soon as there are enough in an area and a City Cousin comes forward, Food Connect will start deliveries.
Food Connect Sydney adds a new sophistication to community food systems, combining the best of small business practice with social enterprise. It is another way that people can exercise some level of control over what they eat.
Why not try it for yourself and sign up for a weekly food box? To find out more and sign up for a box: http://sydney.foodconnect.com.au