Break the chain: food producers and
Break the chain: food producers meet shoppers at Number 90 in Hackney Wick

I recently went to Hackney Wick and ate handfuls of flowers from Sussex, buttery cheese made in Tottenham and a delicious lamb stew cooked by people who didn’t know what ingredients they had to work with until hours earlier.

A Dutch fruit farmer from an orchard in Sussex was walking around stuffing nasturtiums into people’s mouths. There was music, there were dogs, there were kids. There was art on the walls and people sipping drinks out by the water.

In short, it was glorious. But where was I? It was the massively over-subscribed and hugely successful launch of Hackney Wick Food Assembly, and I can’t wait to go back.

What is a Food Assembly? First launched in France, there are now chapters all around the world. Members simply browse through a list of local produce online, pre-order and pay for what they want. Then they come along to the assembly every other week to pick up their groceries and have a chat.

The idea behind Food Assemblies is to re-connect people with food and the people that produce it, as well as their own communities. It’s about giving a fairer deal to farmers, bee keepers, fish mongers and bakers.

It’s about realising Sainsbury’s and Tesco don’t get to control the way we shop.

The emphasis is on local, seasonal food with none of the produce allowed to travel more than 150 miles. The idea is that as more local assemblies start flourishing, we won’t need to keep schlepping food around the world in lorries and boats and planes.

It’s a great example of e-commerce technology being leveraged to boost local economies and help loosen the chokehold big supermarket chains have on the food we eat.

The first to go live in the UK, Hackney Wick assembly is based at Number 90, and producers include the Better Health Bakery in Haggerston, Lockie’s Shellfish in Greenwich, Wilde’s Cheese, Dalston Cola, Brambletye Fruit Farm, Marsh Produce, Brockman’s Farm Produce and the London Jam Factory.

Massimo Zepetelli, Hackney Wick’s assembly leader, says the idea is to give not just food producers a spotlight, but also local artists. Every week there will be a different guest chef in the kitchen, different DJs on the desks and work from artists on the walls.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated 500-plus people to walk through the doors on a Tuesday evening, but this all shows a clear demand for locally sourced food in Hackney Wick and this is the biggest aim of the Food Assembly.”

It’s surely a telling sign that even as all the last crumbs of taster foods were eaten the place was still buzzing with chatter and people were still spilling out on to the deck. This isn’t just about re-connecting with local producers, it’s about re-connecting with our communities.

This is just one of three assemblies opening in London this summer and I’ll raise a toast to many more following in their wake.

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