Carol Longbottom from the Halifax Food Assembly kindly gave us a talk at the AGM.
It emerges that a Food Assembly is not what you’d usually think of as an assembly; it’s a sort of cross between an on-line shop and a farmers’ market.
Customers order online. The website closes on a Monday at midnight. The producers then collate and typically make the produce on a Tuesday, and bring it on a Wednesday to a church hall, where the customers come in to collect it directly from the producers. So they can talk about where the food comes from, how it’s made, and provide suggestions and feedback.
The Food Assembly idea comes from France (hence, perhaps, the name). There are now more than 1,000 across Europe, with 1m members and 8.5k producers. The UK currently has 66, with 41k customers and 575 producers.
The Halifax Food Assembly was created in July 2015, and is still the only one in West Yorkshire. It currently has 500 members and 14 producers – from an average of just 6 miles away – supplying cheese, bread, fruit and veg, smoked fish, beef, lamb and pork products.
The producers can charge what they like (this is not about cheap food – prices equate to a typical farmers’ market) and they get 85% of the sale price, with The Food Assembly HQ taking 8.35% for running the website etc, and the local Assembly taking the rest for hire of the hall etc. (This is a business, but it doesn’t yet pay for all the hours worked). HQ provide a starter pack, and assist with things like food safety issues and general support.
The major advantage over a conventional farmers’ market is that locality can be more strictly controlled, and there should be no waste because producers only bring what has been sold (bringing extra to sell on the day is discouraged lest it lead to an arms race). There’s a lot of fruitful collaboration between producers who seem to like the scheme, even though it is perhaps an add-on to their businesses, not a major money spinner.
You can listen to Carol Longbottom’s presentation and the Q and A session here: