Top Tips For Food Sustainability With The Cambridge Food Hub
As part of our sustainable living series, we are spending time speaking to local initiatives and schemes that challenge the way we currently view the world we live in and offer unique, interesting and insightful ways to live more sustainably.
Today we’re speaking to The Cambridge Organic Food Company (COFCO) and Cambridge Food Hub, a local Cambridge based independent vegetable food company who are placing power back in the hands of the people and striving towards creating a future for accessible, healthy and sustainable food for everyone.
We caught up with Duncan from COFCO to discuss a little more about what COFCO do, but also to give some insight into the kinds of things that you can be doing right now to help improve your own sustainability and environmental impact when it comes to food.
“So the Cambridge organic food company has been going for 23 years now. We buy veg predominantly from organic farmers local to Cambridge, we put that product into reused or recycled wooden or cardboard boxes and deliver them to people’s homes.
We try to do that in as much of an environmentally friendly and sustainable way as possible. We’re very minded towards circularity within food supply chains, for example we operate a fleet of electric vans, which charge from photovoltaic panels on the top of our building and we reuse packaging so will pick up boxes that we deliver, bring them back to base and reuse them again and again.
The food that we’re putting into the boxes is inherently sustainable, so we feel the operations of the business need to reflect the environmental rating of the food that we’re putting into the boxes!”
When it does come to food sustainability, it seems that every day the line seems to change and for many people, it can be confusing as to what you (the consumer) can actually do when wanting to reduce your impact on the environment. Duncan goes on to explain some of these myths and misconceptions and offer an easily actionable alternative.
“The food industry is one of the biggest culprits of climate change but when people talk about it, their mind immediately goes to air miles or plastics. But the way in which food is produced is actually something to consider. Unlike some types of agriculture, organic culture is a system of food production that has been designed to work in harmony with nature and be sustainable. There are a lot of grey areas within food, for example you can ask: “Is it better to buy organic tomatoes from Spain or non-organic tomatoes from the next village? Of course locally grown organic tomatoes would be the best, but we don’t live in a black and white world. There’s no real right or wrong answer here, but it’s important for consumers of food to have a deeper appreciation of all of the issues that surround the food industry and to make informed choices about their diet or eating habits.
Something that we who work in the sustainable food industry are acutely aware of is the whole idea that organic food has been gentrified and only caters for the well-off. That’s something that we are really trying to address as an industry.
For us, we do feel like profit within the food industry is a counterproductive objective to have so stand with the belief that the primary motivation should be feeding people with healthy and sustainably produced food. Of course if profit becomes a greater objective than those objectives that’s where things go wrong, that then leads to unsustainable food production.
In terms of things that people can be doing to improve their environmental impact of their diet. One of the easiest differences you can make is to just slightly reduce meat consumption. I’m definitely not going to say entirely cutting it out because that is definitely not right for a lot of people, but certainly reducing the amount of meat and dairy, it’s those items that often are at the dearer end of the price. By doing that, people are able to choose to spend less money on better quality on things like meat and dairy or perhaps money saved on meats can go towards a better source of organic vegetable or plant-based produce.”
We love the work that COFCO are doing within Cambridge to deliver organic food to people’s doorsteps, however that is just one small part of their big plans for the future! Their overall goal is to completely reshape the way in which people view the food industry. As such they have been working to create a ‘food hub’ as a way to interact with local businesses and create a more sustainable food ecosystem. Duncan explained one such initiative they are already running to offer some insight to what a sustainable ecosystem might look like!
“We’re currently running a system called the green coffee shop scheme. Where we are delivering products to local coffee shops, most notably a barista style of oat milk. But when we’re making that delivery, we also take away their used coffee grounds and take those grounds to a recycling plant near Huntingdon called Bio-Bean who make them into ‘coffee logs’ which is a solid fuel that you can burn instead of wood. We then come back to Cambridge with a number of coffee logs that we can then supply people with locally – so you can see how it’s all connected!
With a fully connected eco-system, you’re not only being efficient with your vehicles, the van leaves in the morning with oat milk, swap that for coffee grounds, which are then swapped for coffee logs. But more crucially, you’ve enabled a recyclable resource to actually be recycled. Because those grounds are totally valueless, it wouldn’t ever be economically viable to end a van around and collect those, but because we’re tying that in with commercial activity are able to sell the logs, then it does become sensible to easily recycle those resources. Before the pandemic, we were collecting around a tonne of coffee beans a week and this was enough for us to start dividing the haul in two different places. Half went to Bio-bean, the other half went to an organic farm who used them for composting and oyster mushrooms. Of course when the van goes out there, it comes back with lots of organic veg, so hopefully now you can see how it’s all interlinked and the limitless potential there is to explore!
It might not be coffee grounds, it might be reusable packaging or surplus food that manages to make it’s way to a community fridge. We’ve called this concept the local food eco-system.”
Of course this is only just scratching the surface of entirely new food eco-system and to explain more, Duncan has actually written a book called Local food ecosystems: How food hubs can help create a more sustainable food system. That is due to be published within the next few months.
This isn’t the usual kind of content that we put out, however when we came across The Cambridge Organic Food Company’s incredible initiative, we knew it was something we had to shout about! Do you know about any sustainable, amazing local initiatives near you who are redefining the world of sustainability? We’d love to speak to them! Get in touch on social media or use the #ForTheOutdoors to feature on our social media channels!