By Chris Parsons.
Bristol Pound helped shine the spotlight on the importance of our food networks at this year’s inaugural Bristol Food Connections.
The huge event, held over eleven days at the start of May across the whole of Bristol, attracted over 175,000 visitors and included celebrity chef demonstrations, BBC programme recordings and local shop promotions.
Bristol Pound featured at many participating stallholders and businesses but there were also a couple of more unique nods to our local currency too.
No Bristol Pound, no food!
Kristin Sponsler, Director of several local sustainability organisations such as Sims Hill Shared Harvest and Bristol Food Network, undertook a festival-long challenge to buy and consume only food bought using her Bristol Pound account.
“I grew up on an Iowa farm and my father lived through the Dust Bowl and the Depression so I always had an understanding of the importance of conservation and local food networks,” says Kristin, explaining her motivation.
That drive for a local connection to food made this particular challenge ideal given Bristol Pound’s Farmlink initiative, which helps primary producers find commercial outlets for their produce within the city.
The challenge proved a stiff test, highlighting the need for even better infrastructure to link local producers to local consumers, but Kristin made it through with only one small diversion. You can read all about the journey in her blog, compiled as one of Bristol’s Good Food Diaries.
Time for a Real Economy
Bristol Pound also had a stake in one of the big launches of the Food Connections festival – the unveiling of Real Economy, a scheme designed to address exactly the problem Kristin noted.
As Bea Oliver, Real Economy’s Co-ordinator explains, the scheme aims to “help provide access to fresh, local food. Especially in areas where that access may seem currently limited.”
At Food Connections, this generated pop-up markets in Knowle West, Barton Hill, Hengrove and Easton giving independent local producers a platform for their business and offering each community alternative food and drink choices at direct prices.
Whilst the successful and popular markets are likely to be repeated across the city in future months, since the festival the focus of Real Economy has switched to its other core function: buying groups.
Bringing people and producers together
“The idea is to introduce groups of consumers within a local area to nearby producers from whom they can order their food as a collective,” says Bea.
Real Economy provides ordering tools for the group to use and then they simply arrange a mutually convenient time and location for delivery. “As well as providing easier access to good food and receptive consumers, we think there are lots of other potential benefits like improving health, building communities and reducing food miles,” says Bea.
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Buying groups will also be introduced to Bristol Pound too, with accounts and special incentives set up for them. These “jam jar accounts,” as Bea calls them, help individuals separate out money specifically for buying food and also allow them to transfer money between members easily using the Bristol Pound’s simple electronic transfer service.
If you’re interested in finding out about joining or starting a buying group near you, regardless of where you live, then drop Bea a line at [email protected] or call 0117 9298642.