As we set up our intercepted food warehouse, we have been looking at well-established projects elsewhere with similar aims, so that we can avoid reinventing the wheel and learn from the hard experience of others. In August, we drove over to Sheffield to meet René Meijer at Food Works, an organisation that redistributes surplus food. Rene had a lot of practical suggestions for Eggcup and he was very generous in sharing the lessons he had learned.   It was inspiring to see the project in action and to feel the sense of solidarity of people in another part of the country working towards common goals.

Food Works has been running for four years (as part of the Real Junk Food Project until recently). They collect food from various local businesses, and have several different kinds of outlets:

  • two of their own cafés using surplus food
  • a catering service, using the skilled staff from the cafes
  • a shop at the warehouse, where people pay £1 for a tray, and then selected choices from items in limited supply for a donation
  • a ‘green box’ scheme, where people pay a subscription and pick up a tray of food at the warehouse on a weekly basis
  • and a project in twelve local schools, providing food and training for them to set up shops as an educational exercise.

Food Works has a very large warehouse space, with offices above.  They have a large space for fruit and veg, shelving for ambient items and a cold store that is replacing a more motley collection of domestic sized freezers.  There are instructional signs and systems that have clearly been designed and refined to get the system running like clockwork.  It looks simple, but undoubtedly much effort and experience has gone into making it look this way.  Food Works has three vans of different sizes. René is a fan of the smaller electric car-van for local collections and deliveries.  The car-van is leased and they have a charging point in the warehouse.  Food Works have paid site directors and chefs, and also attract a number of volunteers.

We watched a delivery come in from a nearby food delivery warehouse, and then saw the staff sorting the food to send out to the various uses. They were also opening up their shop, and people were coming by to choose items for their trays. And we talked to one of the green box customers, who liked the challenge of getting an interesting box of fruit and veg, with some surprises each week.

René had many good suggestions about setting up the warehouse, using the vans, and making the business work. The different elements of the business generate different revenue streams and it is essential to have a stable bedrock of income to ensure that the activity is secure.   Perhaps what was most inspiring was his vision of why such a project is needed. ‘Underlying all waste is the fact that someone didn’t value it enough’. So he focuses on interactions that treat the food as valued – not just getting a lot because, hey, it’s all going to waste, but choosing food, thinking what one can do with it, getting help from staff. He wants to promote a sense of respect. A nice touch is the ‘swop area’; when subscribers pick up their green boxes, they can take something out that they won’t use, and pick up something someone else has left – because it is no good saving the food from going to waste at a supermarket, and then having it go to waste at someone’s home. His ultimate aim is to get people to move from being food consumers to food citizens, people who think about where the food comes from and where it goes to. ‘If you don’t know where it comes from, you don’t respect it’.

We benefited a great deal from our visit to Food Works and we hope to be working more with Rene in the future.

For more about Foodworks:

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