Building an alternative food system in Scotland

Posted: 21 July 2022, in News

At Locavore we were delighted to win Social Enterprise of the Year at the Scottish and then the UK Social Enterprise awards in 2021.

We’ve been growing and selling local organic food to build a sustainable food system since 2012 and it felt like a real validation of the work we do and its value to society, the environment and the local and wider economy. It was also a validation of our place in the social enterprise sphere in Scotland.

Now in 2022 Locavore operates across much of the central belt with shops in Edinburgh and Kirkintilloch as well as our three branches in Glasgow. We have organic market gardens around Glasgow and in West Lothian and we deliver our veg boxes from Ayr to Edinburgh and beyond. We employ 130 people who are paid at Least the Real Living Wage and have a disproportionately large economic impact due to our local, sustainable sourcing.

We’re building an alternative food system because the one we have is broken. Supermarkets control the food system and run it for the profits of shareholders rather than the benefit of people, planet and communities. Meanwhile governments aren’t strong enough to properly regulate business and ensure that they work for the benefit of society. As such we have one of the most unhealthy, and unsustainable, food systems in the world.

We’re trying to build an alternative to this, and prove to government that it’s realistic, achievable and desirable to make the food we all eat work for the benefit of us all so that they take the policy measures they need to in order to make models like our the norm. We want to do our bit to make society better for everyone, the environment better for everyone and the economy better for everyone. We’re aware this is an unusual social enterprise business model as unlike most in the sector we don’t have particular service users or community of locale…. and this sometime makes us feel like others think we’re imposters, flogging food that not everyone can (yet) afford.

The truth is almost everyone in the sector is stuck within the social enterprise dilemma. We all do great work but we only do it because someone else (usually the government or a corporation) has failed. We are disaster capitalism in action… mopping up the mess left by corporate neglect and failed governance in exchange for scraps of funding here and there.

As things get tougher and tougher with the cost of living crisis all of us in the sector need to keep working to relieve those immediate needs, but we also to step up and challenge the establishment by calling out anti-social business and poor governance.

Rueben at Locavore’s Govanhill Shop

I believe wholeheartedly we all need to step up and compete with business as usual, let’s try our darnedest to get out of our corners and fight beyond the sludge of day-to-day. For us, that means giving supermarkets a hard time, giving them a kick where we can, and telling governments and local authorities they must try harder to make food delivery climate change, community wealth build and health outcomes.

Within the sector we also need to protect out models from dilution and giving away our glow by association. To me Social Enterprise means The Code and anything short of this such as ‘business for good’ or ‘social business’ is just a distraction, a new way to whitewash things and create great confusion to people on the street.

We need to stick to our values and own them. This means calling out corporations who try to put up an umbrella above us. That’s why when presented with Social Enterprise of the Year award from the sponsor Natwest I told them they needed to get their own house in order, I’m not their corporate social responsibility project and they remain completely unfit to sponsor this award; or own the SE100.

Natwest – if you love social enterprise so much then why don’t you become one?

UK Government – if you love social enterprise, and own 51% of Natwest, then why don’t we turn it into a social enterprise? Put our money where your mouth is.

We need big high level actions like this to transform our economy but we also all need to step up and do the little we can to play our part, build alternatives, and demand more and better.

It’s hard work… So keep on keeping on and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Reuben Chesters, Founder and Managing Director, Locavore CIC

Follow Locavore on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Visit their website for more information.

Applications for the 2022 Social Enterprise Awards Scotland are open and there are six categories to enter! Apply before 9am on Monday 25th July. Visit the Awards Website for more information and to start your application.