Co-operative enterprises raise a glass to sustainable food production

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Co-operative enterprises raised a glass to sustainable food production at a seminar in Birmingham.

Cider pressed at a co-operatively-run orchard in Worcester was the toast of the seminar, where ethical coffee production was also celebrated.

And the seminar heard how shoppers at Co-operative supermarkets could find more local produce on their shelves in the future.

The seminar heard from Nick Comley, of Community First, who guaranteed himself a warm reception by arriving at the seminar with a barrel of cider produced by the Worcestershire Roots Co-operative.

He told delegates how the co-operative had created a 60-plot allotment and community orchard on a council-owned field occupied by two donkeys, called George and Osborne.

With the help of the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, a community benefit society was formed, which negotiated a peppercorn rent from Worcester City Council.

In its first year the co-operative has managed the clearing of a brook to alleviate flooding, planted 35 new trees – 25 of which will provide crops of the county’s famous cider apples – and slashed the number of residents on the council’s allotment waiting list from 100 to 40.

They also used the apples from last autumn’s bumper crop to press a sweet, strong – 7.5 percent – cider, the first glass of which was poured at the seminar.

While Worcestershire Roots Co-operative is helping gardeners in the cathedral city to grow their own food, Wolverhampton-based Revolver coffee is ensuring a fair deal for producers in Africa and South America, and has launched a new product to be sold in cathedral coffee shops up and down the country.

Richard Bickle told delegates how Revolver – which is also just over a year old – had recently signed a deal with the Lichfield diocese, in Staffordshire, to supply its coffee shop with Cathedral Coffee.

A penny from every cup of coffee sold at the cathedral’s Chapters coffee shop will donated to the cathedral’s sister diocese of Matlosane in South Africa, where a project is helping local people affected by HIV and AIDS.

Additionally 50p from the sale of each £3.50 8oz bag of coffee beans will also be donated to the project.

“Christians have been at the forefront of fair trading,” Richard told the seminar, “and there’s no reason why this couldn’t be rolled out to every cathedral in the country.”

And delegates heard from Duncan Bowdler and Stuart Wooding from the Co-operative Retail Trading Group – the buying group for The Co-operative’s food outlets – who explained how supermarket customers could see more local produce on shelves in the future.

While CRTG ensures competitive prices for customers through its bulk-buying power, a new arrangement means that local managers will be able to stock local produce, to a maximum of five percent of the store’s turnover, without having to run it past the purchasing managers in Manchester.

The seminar, held at the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston, followed the annual general meeting of Co-operatives West Midlands, the representative body of co-operative enterprises in the region.

CWM committee member Tamy Matanky told members that there were now over 500 co-operative enterprises across the West Midlands, and that 13 new co-operatives had been created in the region in the first six months of 2012.

Chairman Nick Matthews commented: “The thing about co-operatives is once you’ve started co-operating it’s difficult to stop.”

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