Dispatches from Glasgow City
Back on the road on Monday 21st Feb, my first stop was Glasgow City (south) to visit Locavore Govanhill (where I met Dorothea “Doro” Warlich), Manswewood High Park Allotments (where I met the Chair of Manswewood High Park Allotments Iain Sutherland, Judy Wilkinson; Jenny Reeves of Glasgow Allotments Forum and Charlotte Keeley from the Glasgow City Food Network). Across both visits, and a wonderful lunch at Locavore Govanhill, I learnt about grassroots food growing across Glasgow (in allotments, community gardens, market gardens), the barriers faced (especially with access to land and the lack of a coordinated, centralised allotment waiting list system) and the passion, creativity and business acumen required from the expanding team at Locavore (and all its various activities – growing, veg boxes, wholesaling, retailing) to drive forward the development and expansion of Locavore within and beyond Glasgow.
Interestingly, whilst there were some differences across the sites, the following set of common themes emerged:
1. Access to land
Both organisations are passionate about growing locally but a key constraint is access to, and use of, land (including public land). Whilst the Community Empowerment Act and associated local food growing strategies prioritised access to land on paper, little change has happened on ground in Glasgow City. There is continued and even increasing bureaucracy associated with the strategic prioritisation of land for growing and the subsequent development of new, or expansion of existing, food growing spaces.
2. Network of Small Growers (and route to market if required)
The importance of community networks was evident with both organisations recognising the vital role played by informal and formal networks in supporting the development, and sharing of, skills, seeds, growing techniques and produce (where appropriate), reducing social isolation, driving greater ethic and cultural integration, supporting community engagement and providing access to urban green space.
3. Short Supply Chains (cutting out the middlemen!)
The really interesting part of Locavore’s original and growing business model is how they have, and continue to, work out ways of shortening, and integrating (both vertical and horizontal), their supply chains. Having recently acquired a wholesaling business (and moving it north to Glasgow), they are now able to deal directly with some overseas suppliers (especially for tomatoes; legumes, olives and olive oil) and are developing their own brand range organic canned goods (started with tinned tomatoes and expanding to other canned products). This has allowed them to become more independent in their sourcing and supply of key products for their retail business but also has provided the platform for the development and growth of their wholesale operation which is now supplying other independent retailers (as well as their own 5 stores) and was recently awarded the dry goods tender for East Ayrshire School Food.
In addition to their wholesaler operation (vertical integration), Locavore are also working actively to acquire, and develop, more growing land to support their stores and to partner with farmers (and guaranteeing a route to market) interested in, or who have completed, organic conversion. This multipronged approach is allow them to grow sustainably as a business, to build their network of growing spaces and growers/supplier and to support more and more local/regional farmers with their conversion to lower input sustainable and/or organic production.
4. Bureaucratic barriers (impenetrable for many)
Both organisations talked about the bureaucratic challenges faced in dealing with the Local Authority and/or in applying for funding support and/or in getting access to land. For many, especially those in the allotment community, the level and type of bureaucracy acts as a real barrier of entry and engagement.