The Bearwood Pantry is an informal food cooperative serving a small community within Smethwick, in the West Midlands. The Pantry sources and supplies wholesome, ethical food direct from local producers and distributes it from a weekly pick-up at a local library. ‘We aim to provide what the supermarkets can’t – reasonably priced, organic, ethically sourced, seasonal food, low on miles but high on nutrition, within a friendly, welcoming setting.‘ I’m one of the founding members, along with my four friends and colleagues Kate, Jo, Mel and Erin. For this post I’ve asked a different question of each of us.
What is your motivation? Why are you involved with Bearwood Pantry?
Kate: When I was 15 my father died suddenly of a haemorrhagic stroke. He was just 47. This was during the 80’s recession and I didn’t realise at the time but it was a very stressful time for him, having to provide for his family and source enough work to keep his few employees paid. We always ate well as a family, due to an abundant vegetable patch that was my father’s pride and joy, having a small amount of livestock and my mother being able to knock up healthy meals. However my father used to relax from the stresses of his business by joining his friends at the pub most evenings where he would smoke his pipe and get drunk. In the end his relaxation technique along with his stressful work attributed to his death.
Since becoming a mother myself and not far off the age of my father when he died, I have become more aware of the choices we make in life that can affect good health, i.e. the types of food that we eat and the amount of exercise that we take amongst other things. Because of this I am keen to instil good health awareness for myself and my family because I would like to reach a ripe old age where I can hopefully see my children’s children grow up.
I’ve always tried to include organic produce into our diet where possible because I’m well aware of the pesticides, hormones and antibiotics used in producing conventional foods and the effects these can have on our bodies. One day I met up with some other mums from the local school. We discussed a number of things, one of those being the importance of organic produce, the fact that we had to travel to buy this produce as it wasn’t readily available on our high street and how we would like to offer this to our friends and neighbours within the community. The Bearwood pantry was born.
How much time do you spend on the group’s activities in an average week? How much of this involves online/digital communications and how important is this to your project?
Jen: Our main activity takes place on Thursday evenings. We arrive at the local library at 6pm to set up tables and meet Simon, the farmer who provides and delivers our fresh food every week. Doors open at 7pm and customers then have an hour to collect and pay for their food.
The rest of the week involves sending out the weekly email (Sunday), ordering fresh fruit and veg from our organic wholesaler (Monday), coordinating the bread orders (Tuesday) and collecting the loaves from our baker (Thursday). Throughout the week we also answer email queries, keep up a presence on our social media channels and blog too, if we have time. We use Mailchimp for the weekly emails, have a Gmail account for the group, use WordPress to host our website/blog and we’re on Twitter and Facebook. By sharing the work we all probably spend between 3 and 4 hours a week each on Pantry stuff.
We rely on digital communications. The website is usually first port of call for people joining up. After they become a subscriber they receive a weekly email which tells them the latest news and how to order. We have in excess of 300 people registered but only about 25% open the email and about 30 people order regularly. We are keen to encourage offline customers though and don’t want lack of technology to prevent people from being part of the group. We have a few older members who aren’t online and we order on their behalf using the old fashioned method. They knock on our door and tell us what they want!
What are the long-term plans for the Pantry ?
Jo: For me the Pantry is an opportunity to work on a project that has a direct impact upon the world. Arguably a relatively small impact, the Pantry challenges and presents a political alternative for food distribution. My practice as a visual artist has always been concerned with cultural connections between food and art. My ambition for the pantry is to fore-mostly maintain its existence, highlight and tell its story and inspire other alternative cultural platforms for food/art/culture that fundamentally make the world better.
What are the personal rewards of being involved in this initiative?
Mel: I am glad to be part of the Bearwood Pantry because it connects me to the community around me. Being part of such an initiative opens your eyes to the wider community and its needs and I have become so much more aware of what is needed in the neighbourhood since starting with the Pantry almost 4 years ago. I have always wanted to live in an area which has lots going on, I guess this is because I grew up in a German village where we had a community event almost every weekend. I missed this village vibe when I lived in cities before moving to Bearwood. As for the Bearwood Pantry, I enjoy being part of something that is – as high and mighty as it may sound – for the greater good, since we are not doing it for personal profit – we don’t make money – but I gain so much: a great set of friends, access to wonderful food, much laughter and a sense of accomplishment and belonging that is so often missing in today’s society.
Can you describe a Creative Citizen?
A Creative Citizen wants more than the status quo.
A Creative Citizen wants to add colour and sounds and movement.
A Creative Citizen wants to tell stories.
A Creative Citizen wants to get involved.
A Creative Citizen sees what is lacking and finds a way to Bring It.
A Creative Citizen does not wait for someone else to do the job.
A Creative Citizen does not ask permission.
A Creative Citizen is sometimes subversive.
A Creative Citizen walks a road less travelled.
A Creative Citizen usually paves her own road.
A Creative Citizen wants to help.
A Creative Citizen wants us all to have fun.
A Creative Citizen is me.
A Creative Citizen is you.
A Creative Citizen sometimes answers questions with a poem?