It’s a cloudless day in sunny Salisbury. The roller doors on the warehouse at 8 Textile Crescent are hanging around the halfway mark. A light breeze rolls in under the awning, teasing the team sitting inside. The position of the door has become a point of contention, with attempts to let the full breeze through blocked due to street noise from the small industrial precinct.
The warehouse staff are winding down from a full packing day. Fresh local farm produce arrives in the early hours, and a packing line of staff assemble it into individual and wholesale orders. Seasonal food from farms in the local area is aggregated, reducing food miles from an average of 1,500km in large supermarkets to just 150km.
“Local food is the way of the future – connecting farmers to consumers in close proximity to reduce the effects of climate change, improve prices for farmers, and provide good quality affordable food for community” says Emma-Kate, co-founder of the three Food Connect organisations.
Emma-Kate is sitting at a long dining room table at the end of the pack line. You can sense her bone tiredness, and it’s not immediately clear if that is from her decade long work in the Fair Food movement, or the current equity crowdfunding campaign she is undertaking aiming to raise an almost audacious $2 million.
Three months ago, Emma-Kate Rose along with her partner in life, Robert Pekin, set up their third organisation: the Food Connect Shed. Their goal?
“To buy our warehouse. We believe that in order to fix our broken food system, the infrastructure needs to be owned by the public.”
And not just the general public: the local community. People that are passionate about the future of our food system. And more specifically: women.
“As women are often the primary shoppers for families, we believe they should have a stake in the production and distribution of the food they are choosing to buy for their families. Sadly women are not as represented in investment decisions. Research shows when one woman benefits, a whole community benefits” says Emma-Kate.
Last year, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced “feminism” was one of the most looked up words online. In a world where feminism is starting to mainstream again, there are still startling statistics around women’s ownership in property, and the rates of funds available on retirement.
Figures published in the latest edition of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) study show rates of home ownership among women have fallen 13 per cent since 2002, with those aged 35-39 responsible for the biggest drop, from 66.8 per cent to 48.2 per cent over the past 16 years.
“We want to provide women an easy opportunity to invest in property. Because I’ve personally rebuilt myself financially after a divorce, and my mother had a similar experience after my father died at a young age, so I know what starting fully again feels like. So far, over 75% of investors in our campaign are women.”
Emma-Kate met Robert in 2007 at a Climate Change conference. A whirlwind romance turned into her coming on board his nascent social enterprise, Food Connect, eventually as his General Manager. In the past thirteen years, Food Connect has won environmental awards, recognised for its ethical governance and trading practices, all while paying ecological farmers a fair price, shortening food miles, paying workers fairly and incubating small food businesses out of their commercial kitchen. All up they’ve contributed over $25 million to their local economy.
Their first lease was effectively crowdfunded from their early customers.
“Our supporters pre-bought veggies, so we could move into our first space. That was the first time we realised the true value of our crowd in the movement we were building” says Robert, Food Connect’s original co-founder.
Robert has been one of the leaders in the Fair Food Movement in Australia, pushing for fairer wages for farmers and more transparency for consumers. This led the Food Connect team to launch Food Connect Foundation, to support their advocacy and research.
“It feels like we’re at the beginning of a new stage of what local means, and how we value people and the planet. There’s still a way to go, but we have to try every intervention we can to solve some of the world’s biggest problems: food, climate change, and social inclusion” says Robert.
One tactic that has proven itself overseas is community owned infrastructure. In Scotland, arguably one of the leaders in the social enterprise movement, community owned infrastructure has become a cornerstone tenet to their democratising of capital. Community Ownership in Scotland is increasing. Currently 2.9% of Scottish land is owned by the community, with aims of 1 million acres being held by the community by 2020. The Community Shares movement is a structure that supports everything from community owned Hydro Electric scheme on the Isle of Mull through to a greengrocer in Edinburgh.
Closer to home, there are a few examples in Australia: Hepburn Wind being the most notable, and the Yackandanda Petrol Station where 16 years ago the local petrol station announced they were closing. A co-operative was set up to buy the station, and now over 600 locals own shares.
Food Connect Shed’s constitution has specified recognition of First Nations governance protocols and is being advised by local elders on appropriate engagement and ways we can work together while valuing different cultural ways of being.
“We saw what has been happening internationally with the local and fair food movements, and we knew we had to do something in Queensland. We believe Food Connect Shed is one tactic we can employ to bring about the food future we want for our children” says Emma-Kate.
“We created the Food Connect Shed because we needed a distinct entity to own the warehouse. We had articles in the existing Food Connect constitution that wouldn’t allow investment, and our foundation wasn’t the right structure either” says Emma-Kate.
The Food Connect Shed was officially formed as a public unlisted company just two days before their equity crowdfunding campaign launched. While the concept had been in the works for longer, it was the first that their community heard about this new Food Connect initiative.
“We had to move fast with the opportunity. Our landlord was willing to sell, and we saw the power in owning this infrastructure both as a community – but also as a group that believes things can be done differently and better” says Emma-Kate.
The company has already raised over $1,2 million from 454 investors. It has two more days to go, and is seeking out investors that want to be part of their mission as well as owning a piece of property in sought after industrial space in Salisbury, on the southside of Brisbane.
“It’s not over til it’s over! We really believe that we can do this, in our community with our community, for our community.”
You can pledge here, and read more about the Food Connect Shed journey to date here: https://www.pledgeme.com.au/investments/2-food-connect-shed-ltd