A passionate group of growers and producers are hoping to start a food revolution in a Devon market town but need the help of customers to do it.
Shop in Okehampton’s Red Lion Yard, which has been run by local organic growers Martin Godfrey, 49, and Sara Melendru, 44, for the last 2 years, is becoming a not for profit workers co-op with five other members – the Harvest Workers’ Co-op.
The group are looking to raise £15,000 to create bespoke shelving for the display and storage of their organic goodies, to remove a wall and create more space inside, to display produce outside, to have an outdoor seating area, for big community display boards, to cover the added insurance costs and to buy new fridges and freezers.
Devon Live reporter Joe Bulmer went to meet the team behind the idea. Sara explained how two and half years ago she and her husband took over the shop and how it all got started: “We are local growers and were doing farmers markets and were already supplying the shop with eggs and veg. The owners told us they were closing down and did we want to take it over.
“We knew the shop would be lots of work and we would have to staff it. We’ve always been interested in the co-operative model and we thought a co-op would give us a great opportunity to sell organic food.”
The shop and soon to be co-op sells items customers might not have come across in their local supermarket including, raw goats milk and cheese, fresh turmeric root, edible flowers, chestnut flour, wild greens like foraged nettles, Sea Buckthorn juice, goose eggs and organic meat from local producers.
While Joe was visiting the co-op he bumped into regular customer and architect Tom Foster, 49, who was delighted to see his favourite farm shop turning into a cooperative, he said: “It’s fantastic it’s the model of the future, it seems to be the only viable alternative to the exploitative capitalist system.
“Okehampton is quite an interesting place there’s a real go-ahead spark here. This could be a groundbreaking project which other market towns could learn from.”
As well as selling all manner of organic vegetables, fruit, meat and ingredients the cooperative is keen to run educational workshops and courses as well as getting involved with local schools and interacting with community events.
Members are keen to put together workshops and events on, where food comes from, the ongoing seed crisis, bread making, apple pressing, seasonal events, gardening tips, cookery classes, social gatherings, film screenings, guest speakers and much more.
Henry Allison and his partner Olivia James are members of the co-op and have their own farm in Winkleigh. Henry is keen to create a movement locally to encourage people to think more about their food, he said: “It’s our first season this year and at the moment we are harvesting salad and chard for the co-op and Winkleigh Farmers Market.
“We joined the co-op to have somewhere to sell our produce and become part of the food and produce community locally. The countryside can be a very isolating unless you get out and meet people.”
Within half a mile of the Harvest Workers’ Co-op there are two supermarkets competing for business but Sara is confident the co-op can offer shoppers a completely different experience and a much more nutritious product, she said: “We’ve got a lot of good local, fresh food with the highest nutrition without chemicals, it’s win, win, win. It’s a great way for local producers to get a better deal.
“There are a lot less food miles too. I believe part of the reason our customers keep coming back is that we really care about the produce and can give cooking and gardening tips for example.
“We sell produce you will never find in a supermarket and you can buy the amount you want which saves on waste.”