Locavore: the one-stop revolution shop
The List, By Erica Goodey
The man behind Glasgow food and cookery hub Locavore aims to kickstart a social transformation in sustainable, local food.
Peer into Locavore and you’ll find a treasure trove of organic, sustainable things. There’s the blackboard explaining the origins of the locally sourced vegetables (‘Derek brings us lovely produce from his farm near Perth’), the fridge with a small selection of prime quality meat, the shelves of organic coconut oil and eco-friendly washing up liquid. Among them all there’s also Reuben Chesters, a man with some big ideas about our modern food chain and how to mend it.
‘On the grand scale I see Locavore as a way to fix a system that’s quite broken,’ says Chesters. ‘What we do is about big issues: it’s about inequality and it’s about trying to start to build a system that adds as much social value as possible.’
Locavore is a social enterprise, which means that it sits somewhere on the economic spectrum between a company and a charity. The organisation is made up of the shop, some ‘nano gardens’ in Queen’s Park which are tended to by hand-picked under-employed locals (they’re nano in commercial gardening terms – in fact they measure 50 square feet) and a larger garden space in Neilston. Chesters would like local Neilston people to grow on a larger scale and make a living wage from their crops, while also supplying his shop and veg bag scheme with fresh vegetables.
‘Everything we do always looks at how we can make whatever it is work the hardest for society,’ he says, explaining that he personally visits as many of his suppliers as he can, regularly takes on volunteers to give them valuable work and life experiences, and always makes sure that his business has a positive environmental impact. He estimates that about about ten times more money gets fed back into the local economy from Locavore than it would from a supermarket.
The organisation made headlines in late 2014 when Chesters decided to use a small piece of land in Queens Park to keep two pigs. By reacquainting city dwellers with the animals that their bacon sarnies are made out of, he hoped it would start them thinking about the mass-market factory-farms that most supermarket meat comes from.
However, some hard-line vegans and a few locals who had grown close to the pigs started a campaign to save the pigs from slaughter. Chesters even received pleading emails from people as far away as Rio de Janeiro, begging him to not kill the pigs. ‘It was great to see so many people become involved in the debate,’ he says, though he wishes that the more negative protesters could have focused their attention towards the organisations responsible for the 10 million other pigs that are factory farmed in the UK. On the other side he was met with ‘overwhelming positivity’. He even had to start a waiting list for the meat, with so many people keen to taste hand-reared local pork.
The experience hasn’t deterred him from stocking ethically reared meat in his shop, or for making plans to grow the social enterprise. In the short term he’s looking at investing in more land and is buying a flock of chickens to stock the shop with free range eggs. In the future he may like to scale up the business to become a social enterprise supermarket, with the benefits trickling down into the local community rather than flowing up to rich shareholders.
‘If we could do that then we could have a massive impact and if we could pull it off once then we might have a replicable model,’ he says hopefully. It’s an ambitious plan, but with Chester’s ambition and economic savvy, he might just be the man to pull it off.