‘Eat organic.’ ‘Buy local.’ ‘Grow our own.’ Directives tossed from one green-thumbed hand to another. But to actually grab hold of one and plant it in solid ground, to tend and nurture it until it grows, takes perseverance and dedication. Grahame Hughes has shown these qualities by producing local and organic produce for the past 30 years. On the tenth of October 2008, he spoke at the Greenhouse to ask his audience to actively support local organic food production.
32 guests and 11 volunteers gathered in The Greenhouse Café for Trading Fairly: Going Local, the first in a series of events funded by the National Lottery through Awards for All, designed to promote fair and sustainable trade. The group shared a locally sourced, organic, three-course meal before hearing Hughes' perspective on sustainable local trade. After butternut squash soup swirled with soya cream and a veggie Shepherd's Pie bursting with roasted carrots, parsnips, beetroot and tomatoes, drizzled with gravy and served with sweetcorn, Hughes drew on his deep roots in the organic movement to rally a call for inclusive participation in local food production.
It had been a turbulent week for the speaker. He was the central figure behind Eostre Organics, a co-operative of local organic farmers. After six years of promoting a fair, local and co-operative food system, Eostre’s members voted to disband the organisation the day before Grahame was due to speak. Eostre’s last act was to supply the mouth-watering ingredients for the meal. In the current economic climate, small organisations are most at risk, and the end of Eostre demonstrates the urgent need to support local organic food production, before the opportunity to do so disappears.
Hughes founded Eostre Organics six years ago in response to the need for a co-operative that would link existing single producers across East Anglia, as well as giving new producers ready-made marketing schemes, trade routes, and networking platforms. These small producers may otherwise have lacked the start-up capital to break into the trade. But an established market gave new producers existing consumers to buy their produce.
Eostre sought to offer a wide selection of fruit and vegetables, and to maintain a supply all year round, so they cultivated a relationship with a co-operative in Northern Italy. By working exclusively with one supplier, Eostre developed a reciprocally beneficial trading relationship, offering the Italian co-operative a trading outlet whilst expanding their own portfolio of produce.
But an explosion of interest in local, organic food did not create a sustained appetite for buying it. Even as Eostre grew and carved out more clients, existing trade contracts would lose faith. The constant treadmill exhausted their resources. In a year when Tesco reported record profits, Eostre voted to disband on an economic basis. The shadow of cheap, imported, intensively produced food looms large over the possibility of a sustainable food system.