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How the Halifax Food Assembly is revolutionising the market place

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:40 04 April 2017

Aine Douglas of Incredible Aquagarden  and Mandy Wilson of Dolcie Biscotti get ready for the tasting

Aine Douglas of Incredible Aquagarden and Mandy Wilson of Dolcie Biscotti get ready for the tasting

Guzelian

Artisan producers in Halifax join forces for an innovative click-and-collect food market

Kirstie Crossley (left) and Lynnette Miller of Oat Cuisine with Carol Longbottom (centre) get ready to welcome customers to the tastingKirstie Crossley (left) and Lynnette Miller of Oat Cuisine with Carol Longbottom (centre) get ready to welcome customers to the tasting

All Saints Parish Hall in Skircoat Green is a hive of activity. It’s buzzing with local food producers selling their wares. Tables are laden with cool mint halloumi, labneh, rarebreed sausages, raw milk, duck eggs, spelt bread, focaccia, oak-smoked chicken, kiln-roasted salmon and all manner of other delicious delicacies.

Unfortunately, despite all the buzzing in the hive, no one is selling honey. But, surely, that can only be a matter of time?

‘I’d love it if we could get a honey producer on board,’ said Carol Longbottom, who set up Halifax Food Assembly last summer. ‘Yogurt would be great as well. And Ice cream. I’d really, really like someone to come in with ice cream.’

The aim of the assembly is to give members, who can join for free, the chance to fill their online shopping basket with local produce and then pick it all up at the same time – 4.15-6.15pm every Wednesday at the parish hall.

It’s convenient, because they don’t have to trail round the producers individually or wait for the monthly farmers’ market; it’s good for the environment, because the food is travelling, on average, less than six miles and is collectable from a single, accessible hub; it’s budget-friendly, because there’s no middle-man to pay or fancy shop to fund; and it’s good for producers, because they get guaranteed sales and can pocket more than 80 per cent of the listed price.

Rachel Berry of Rachals Kitchen with chocolate brownies prepared for the Halifax Food Assembly food tasting held at  All Saints Parish Hall, Halifax Photo: Lorne Campbell / GuzelianRachel Berry of Rachals Kitchen with chocolate brownies prepared for the Halifax Food Assembly food tasting held at All Saints Parish Hall, Halifax Photo: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian

‘The concept is very simple and everyone’s a winner,’ said Carol. ‘Members can shop online for their weekly food groceries, choosing from a wide range of fresh and seasonal local produce, such as fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, meat and so on.

‘It doesn’t cost anything to become a member and it’s up to you how much you buy and how often. As a member all you have to do is shop in the comfort of your own home and pop along to your weekly collection. Easy.’

Halifax Food Assembly now has around 600 members (a number that’s steadily increasing by one or two every day) and 15 food producers, including Yorkshire Dama Cheese, Your Secret Gourmet, Pextenement Cheese, Porcus, Lovebread, Chapelbank Smokehouse, KLS Farm Meats and Heritage House.

Each producer lists the products they have available at thefoodassembly.com (on the Halifax page), customers can order up to midnight on Monday and their shopping is delivered to the parish hall, next to Calderdale Royal Hospital, on Wednesday.

‘It combines the convenience of internet shopping with the satisfaction of meeting the people who actually produce the food,’ said Carol, a freelance journalist and food enthusiast who was inspired to set up the assembly while researching food security issues for her PhD.

‘This is the 21st century solution to sourcing the very best local food, grown or bred sustainably, by people in this area. And it’s also a great opportunity for people who are keen to chat to our producers about their products; the meat they’ve farmed, the cheese they’ve made, the milk from their cows only three miles down the road.

‘Our producers are really local, travelling on average just 5.2 miles to reach the venue. Derek from Heritage Kitchen travels the furthest – and that’s only 14 miles.’

All credit must go to Carol for the success and smooth-running of the food assembly. She gets 8.35 per cent commission on each sale, but this is hardly a king’s ransom when you consider the hours she puts in every week, the emails she answers, the queries she sorts out, the paperwork she organises, the social media buzz she generates and the publicity she garners to keep the producers and the customers coming. Oh, and she also has to pay for the parish hall.

A further 8.35 per cent goes to the UK Food Assembly HQ in London, where the scheme was launched in July 2014 with the aim of ‘enabling the general public to purchase high quality food while supporting small-scale producers, who create jobs and foster social wellbeing’.

There are now 82 food assemblies fully open or under construction across the country. In Yorkshire, Halifax is currently the only operational group, but two others are on their way in York and Sheffield.

Internationally, there are around 1,200 food assemblies, the vast majority of which are in France where, like so many great foodie ideas, it all began.

The French call their version of the scheme ‘La Ruche qui dit Oui!’, which translates rather marvellously as ‘The hive that says yes!’.

Every food assembly, whether in France, Italy, Denmark or Halifax, is an independent, local project, but each remains rooted in the national and international collective.

It feels like a simple solution to the foodie conundrum of how to shop locally without spending too much precious time and money. So, why doesn’t every town have its own food assembly?

‘You need someone willing to take it on,’ said Carol. ‘You can’t run these things by committee because nothing would ever get done, so you need someone passionate and committed at the helm. It’s not easy but, honestly, I absolutely love it. I get a real buzz out of it.’

To find out more about Halifax Food Assembly, and for details of how to set up your own, visit thefoodassembly.com

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