Cooperation Town & Greens for Good: Beyond Food Banks & Building on Pantries

At a time when many churches are beginning to question their reliance on Food Bank models of responding to food poverty, a new network of more sustainable membership-based food cooperatives is developing – Cooperation Town  – which some see as a longer term solution to the problem than short term surplus food redistribution schemes like Food Banks and Local Pantries.

Cooperation Town is a new network of community-led food co-ops. They provide both free surplus food as in the Trussell Trust Food Bank model / as well as affordable food bought wholesale in bulk to keep prices down for co-op members. Building on the Church Action on Poverty Your Local Pantry membership model, Cooperation Town co-ops are owned and run by their members, who democratically decide how to organise the project. They show how anyone can start a co-op on their own street, block, estate or church.

They emphasise that you don’t have to be an experienced community organiser or particularly business-minded to start a food co-op. A lot of us already organise in our communities, without thinking of what we do as ‘organising’ – we help at the local school, share childcare with our neighbours or we are part of a church, a trade union or a tenants association.

Unlike the top-down franchise offers from the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty, Cooperation Town overcome the daunting prospect of starting a new project from scratch by offering for free their Cooperation Town Starter Pack to make the process as easy and accessible as possible, enabling local people to create their own sustainable solution to food poverty from the bottom up.

This pack shows the different stages of establishing a co-op, explains the various sources of food and how to get them and offers ideas for how to organise meetings, find new members and manage the group’s finances. It also has a troubleshooting section and resources that any new co-op can use and adapt. It can be accessed for free at here.

Some churches are also looking at how they can grow their own food, not just to supplement the free surplus food at the Food Bank, but also as a commercial proposition in its own right, providing food co-ops like Cooperation Town with their own affordable fresh food supplies. ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ Incredible Edible amongst others, are working with churches to develop ‘Community Growing’ projects on church land of all sorts, with the ultimate aim being to develop church ‘clusters’ of Food Producing Community Businesses providing local food coops with sustainable supplies of fresh food.

Other churches are looking at the use of their buildings to support action to combat and overcome food poverty, not only by providing accommodation for Food Banks and Pantries, but also for food co-op-like bulk buy packaging-free initiatives like Naked Larder.

Some are even looking at their own buildings as potential Urban Farms in their own right – a church crypt and even the main body of the church itself as space for hydroponic and aquaponic food production for local food co-ops and wider local food markets. Greens for Good use cutting-edge hydroponic technologies to grow their greens in space-saving vertical towers in the basement of a listed warehouse in the heart of Liverpool. They claim the same could easily be done in a converted church crypt or the church building itself whilst retaining space for worship and other public events – a church in an urban farm in a church!

Greens for Good go beyond the Food Bank and build on the Pantry by not only nourishing the people of Liverpool with the freshest, local affordable greens but also by supporting donations of their hydroponically grown fresh, nutritious food to vulnerable members of the community.

Every box of their greens bought supports the donation of greens to someone in the local area. Or the scheme can go like for like and give the gift of greens to someone in need, helping others to get a daily dose of green goodness while everyone else enjoys theirs too.

They also have an Edible Wall offer for local Businesses – which again could be applied to the context of a church and its buildings. They invite local businesses to make a statement with a stunning and sustainable edible wall: bring their space to life with healthy green goodness that oxygenates the air.

So Cooperation Town, Incredible Edible, Naked Larder and Greens for Good, each in their different way and potentially acting together can all provide a flexible and widely adaptable template for going beyond Food Banks and building on Pantries to provide a commercially and environmentally sustainable church and community-based democratic approach to successfully overcoming food poverty.

For consultancy, help, advice and support in applying any or all of these initiatives to your own local church and community context contact HeartEdge - and Dave Nicholson at David.Nicholson@smitf.org