Eostre Organics

Eostre's origins lie within Farmer's Link, a Norfolk-based NGO which was inspired by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to improve the sus-tainability of farming in developed countries, and making solidarity links with UK farmers. In 1997, it set up East Anglia Food Link (EAFL) to promote conversion to organic production in the region. EAFL's vision is one of localism - building direct links between farmers and consumers to create more sustainable food supply chains and benefit local economies and communities (EAFL, 2004). EAFL developed links with European organic growers and was inspired by the strength and

1The research was a multi-method study carried out during the spring of 2004, and consisted of site visits to Eostre's headquarters and market stall, interviews with organisers and staff, documentary analysis of their web site and newsletters to ascertain the scope and nature of activities, objectives and values. This was complemented by two self-completed customer surveys: the first survey of market stall customers achieved 65 responses out of 110 distributed over a two-week period (59%); the second surveyed the 252 customers of three weekly box schemes supplied by Eostre (79 responded, giving a response rate of 31%). The surveys asked about motivations for, and experiences with consuming local organic food, and are considered together here (overall response rate 39%) unless specified otherwise. There were both closed- and open-ended questions in order to elicit the respondent's own interpretations and meanings of their actions and the discourses they used to explain them. Qualitative analysis was used to code and analyse these responses, alongside quantitative analysis of other data.

growth of producer cooperatives, and persuaded local organic growers who were already intertrading informally, to adopt a formal cooperative structure to develop new markets and help grow the member businesses. Eostre was established in 2003 with a DEFRA Rural Enterprise Scheme grant, with nine members, seven associate or prospective members including one overseas member: the El Tamiso organic producer cooperative in Padua, Italy, which itself comprises over 50 businesses. Eostre Organics is a food business with a mission: its charter states:

Eostre is an organic producer co-operative supplying fresh and processed organic food direct from our members in the East of England and partner producers and co-operatives from the UK and Europe. Eostre believes that a fair, ecological and co-operative food system is vital for the future of farming, the environment and a healthy society. Direct, open relationships between producers and consumers build bridges between communities in towns, rural areas and other countries, creating a global network of communities, not a globalised food system of isolated individuals (Eostre Organics, 2004).

Its specific aims include: to supply consumers of all incomes high-quality seasonal produce; to encourage cooperative working among its members and between the co-op and consumers; transparency about food supply chains; to source all produce from UK and European regions from socially responsible producers and co-ops promoting direct local marketing, and from fair trade producers outside Europe; to favour local seasonal produce and supplement (not replace) with imports; to minimise packaging, waste and food transport; to offer educational farm visits to raise awareness of the environmental and social aspects of local organic production (Eostre Organics, 2004). From these objectives, it is clear that Eostre is strongly supportive of the New Economics model of sustainable consumption, which favours re-localisation, reducing environmental impacts and ecological footprints, and that there are clear expressions of ecological citizenship values here too. How do these translate into practice?

In the Eastern region of the UK, farm employment has fallen from 66,305 in 1990 to 49,409 in 2003, a drop of 25% (DEFRA, 2003a), and Eostre aims to tackle this decline in rural employment by supporting small growers. Between the nine local members, Eostre accounts for 1055.8 ha of diverse farmland, including 1.6 ha (with a quarter of this under glass) to 48.6 ha of farmland on rich fenland peat, to 445.2 ha of arable farmland and grazing pasture. The average farm size of Eostre members is 117.3 ha, though most are much smaller than this: three are less than 5 ha, and the median is 24.3 ha. In comparison with the agricultural sector in the region where the average holding is 73.9 ha, most of Eostre's farms are very small (DEFRA, ibid.) and they are mostly 100% organic. Normally, this is a problem for growers seeking to supply local markets, as stability of supply cannot be guaranteed. However, through collective organisation, Eostre's members can achieve the scale required to penetrate such markets, for example by supplying market stalls and box schemes. Commercially, Eostre has been a success. The businesses of members grew over the first year or so that Eostre was operational, with an increase in sales of 70% over 12 months. The cooperative now supplies produce to 13 box schemes, 15 market stalls (including the UK's only full-time organic market stall on the general provisions market in Norwich city centre which has recently doubled in size, and weekly stalls in several market towns around Norfolk, plus monthly farmers markets), nine cafes, pubs or restaurants and 12 shops. Inroads have been made into public sector catering, through local schools, hospitals and prisons.

The motivations of Eostre's consumers were surveyed to explore whether and to what extent ecological citizenship values played a part in their decision to purchase food from Eostre. Survey respondents were asked why they chose to purchase from Eostre. The responses fell into four main groups: environmental, economic, social and personal benefits (see Table 5.1). The two most commonly-given reasons were both environmental, namely because respondents thought local organic food was better for the environment (94% of respondents gave this answer) and to cut packaging waste (85%). The next most frequently-given motivations were to cut food miles (another environmental driver, with 84%) and to support local farmers (an economic factor, also 84%). Next, personal motivations of nutrition and safety were given by 80% and 77% of respondents. The most important social factor given was to know more about the origins of food and how it was produced (77%).

Clearly, the range of significant social, economic and environmental objectives expressed maps closely onto the sustainable consumption

Table 5.1 Consumers' motivations for purchasing from Eostre

Ranking % of customers (n=144)

Environmental benefits

Better for the environment To cut packaging waste To cut food miles More diversity of produce varieties

Economic benefits

Supporting local farmers Supporting a cooperative Keeping money in the local economy

Social benefits

To know where food has come from and how it was produced Preserves local traditions and heritage Enjoy face-to-face contact with growers Demonstrates good taste and refinement

Personal benefits

Organic food is more nutritious/

tastes better Organic food is safer

Note: 3 = N third-equal Source: Author's survey of Eostre customers.

goals of the organisation itself. This suggests that customers share the ecological citizenship principles of Eostre in seeking to develop sustainable food supplies through localised channels. And the consumers did seem to back up these principles with action: the average household expenditure on all food and drink of respondents was £71 a week; of this, over half (£37 or 52%) was spent on local or organic or fairly traded products (from all sources, not just Eostre). This represents a very significant use of consumption decision-making as political activity, and is far greater than the marginal expenditure found in other surveys. The Co-operative Bank (2007) found that while household spending on ethical products has doubled between 2002 and 2006, it is still only approximately £13 a week, suggesting that Eostre's customers are not representative of the general population. Rather, they may be described as a highly motivated group of ecological cit

94 85 84

84 70 65

10 12 13

36 25 8

80 77

izens, certainly conversant in discourses of sustainable consumption. They may have been introduced to these issues beforehand, or they may have learned about them as a result of interaction with Eostre, who adopt an educative, outreach role to inform and motivate consumers, through farm visits, newsletters, etc. In this manner, Eostre can be said to be actively nurturing ecological citizenship and simultaneously providing a means - and social context - for its expression.

In the next section Eostre is critically appraised in terms of its ability to deliver sustainable food, using the five sustainable consumption criteria developed in Chapter 3: localisation, reducing ecological footprints, community-building, collective action, and building new infrastructures of provision. The findings are summarised in Table 5.2.

Evaluating Eostre as a tool for sustainable consumption Localisation

The principal aim of Eostre was to support the livelihoods of local organic producers within the region, by enabling them to serve local markets, and this aim has been achieved so far: Eostre saw a 70% increase in sales during the first year of operation, and has expanded its range of retail outlets. Indeed, an index of food relocalisation developed by Ricketts Hein et al. (2006) finds that Norfolk ranks 9th among the 61 counties of England and Wales. Consumers also value local producers highly, and 84% of the survey respondents said they chose Eostre because of a commitment to supporting local farmers. One consumer said: 'I value the fact that some of it is grown in Norfolk by small businesses whose owner and workers obviously care about the land, their customers and their social surroundings', and another stated 'I would like to see a return to seasonal fruit and veg, which we can only hope for is we support the smaller / local farms'. Keeping money circulating in the local economy - by patronising locally-owned businesses - was a motivation for 65% of consumers who responded to the survey, for example 'we like to support local growers and local industry'. The theme of self-reliance was also prominent, and one mentioned 'I like the idea of England being more self-sufficient and using our own good land to feed us all simply', and 36% of respondents wanted to preserve local traditions and heritage through supporting Eostre.

The localism and associated sense of connection between growers and consumers that this affords was important for many. This con nection was facilitated through the personal contact provided by retail staff and the information they provided about the sources of food. For example, one customer explained '[the] source of food is more likely to be trustworthy and produced to a high standard. I like the traceability and accountability, as opposed to most supermarkets which are primarily accountable to their shareholders', and another wrote 'I like to know what I am eating and can trust the supplier that the food is fresh, local and natural'. Furthermore, Eostre organises educational farm visits so that customers can see where their food is grown, and publishes a regular newsletter which highlights sustainable food issues as well as offering recipe ideas and profiles of growers. In other words, there is a sense of community growing around this food network which nourishes its members, and enables them to participate as active members, and Eostre is attempting to promote and nurture the ecological citizenship which can then thrive in this meaningful social context.

Eostre's marketing officer explains that localising food supply chains is absolutely central to Eostre's operations: 'People are becoming very eco-aware, and one of the biggest issues in any ecological awareness has got to be food miles'. Indeed, food miles was a concept high in the minds of Eostre's customers when thinking about the localisation impacts. Eostre's marketing manager explains

Figure 5.2 'Think Global, Shop Local' sign on Eostre's market stall

'People are becoming very eco-aware, and one of the biggest issues in any ecological awareness has got to be food miles', and this is supported by the survey which found that 84% of survey respondents specifically aimed to reduce food miles through buying food from Eostre. Typical explanations included: 'If good, tasty food is available locally, it seems pointless to buy potentially inferior goods from a supermarket which have often been imported from across the globe', 'It cuts out the environmentally-destructive chain of transport from one end of the world to another' and 'It supports the local economy, reduces food miles, and enhances the local countryside'. However, at present consumers sometimes face a trade-off between local and organic attributes of their food, and must choose according to where their priorities lie, between conventionally-produced local food, and imported organic produce. In reference to organic food sold in supermarkets, Eostre's marketing officer claims that 'whatever benefits people gain from it being organic, they lose from the food miles it takes to get it here', which is a sentiment shared by many customers; one customer stated 'I don't believe [imported] organic is worth the food miles'. Yet the same argument can be made about some of Eostre's produce, as much is imported (from the Italian producer cooperative partner, and from other organic and fair trade suppliers around the world) in order to guarantee a wide range of produce all year round. For example, in May 2004 Eostre's market stall was selling organic broccoli from France, onions from Argentina and carrots from Italy, while conventionally grown local produce was available on neighbouring market stalls at considerably lower prices.

Some customers felt that they would prefer to see less imported produce, especially that which could be grown locally, and one stated 'sometimes there seems to be a lack of local produce, and I still think Eostre runs up quite a few food miles... what about stocking e.g. Norfolk asparagus or strawberries?'. This could be addressed by expanding the membership of local organic suppliers to provide a wider range of produce and so reducing reliance upon imported food, but the wider issue of how consumers should make choices between different 'sustainable' food choices is unclear in the absence of a food sustainability indicator which addresses the full range of issues involved - including the impacts of UK-based localisation on developing country producers.

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