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Edinburgh's new Food Assembly launches in Leith

Written by
Alison Rose

Buy from local farmers and food makers and ditch the supermarkets with the creation of Scotland's first Food Assembly in Leith. The online marketplace brings together shoppers with nearby food producers and allows you to buy local and pay online using the platform and then collect your supplies on a Monday evening at Jeremiah's Taproom. 

Food Assembly started in 2011 in France and now there are over 700 spread throughout Europe with the UK’s first one opening last year. Currently the Leith branch has nine suppliers covering farmers, bakers, jam makers and seaweed producers and is still growing. I popped down to the collection point on Monday and met a few of them and tried some of their samples. There were tasters from The Bearded Baker and his delicious doughnuts and bagels, Supernature who produce tasty cold pressed rapeseed oils and Mara Seaweed and their healthy Scottish shake-on seaweeds.

I also met Stuart, one of the lovely hosts of the Food Assembly, and had a good chat about it and how it works.

Could you tell us a little about the Leith Food Assembly and what inspired you to get it started?

‘The Leith Food Assembly is the first Scottish version of an idea that started in France about four years ago. The idea is to use modern thinking to help people get involved in a very old-fashioned way of buying food. So it uses an online marketplace of local food businesses that customers can buy from (the modern bit), and then pick their goods up in a face-to-face meet up with farmers and food producers (the old-fashioned bit).

So our customers get a genuinely personalised service, access to fantastically fresh food, and a meaningful connection with the land that surrounds them and the people it supports.

We were inspired to start it while studying for the MSc Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University. While doing some coursework on the balance of power in food systems, Stuart and Will came upon the Hackney Wick Food Assembly, and presented to the class on what a great thing it would be if Edinburgh had a Food Assembly. In doing so we thought, wait, wouldn’t it be a great thing if Edinburgh actually had a Food Assembly, so we started the process of talking to producers and venues about setting one up. Leith was an early, obvious choice of location as the Food Assembly is really about creating communities around food, and Leith has such an immense sense of community already, but nowhere to buy food that’s produced nearby.’

Could you tell us about the producers?
'We currently have nine producers, who range from grassroots heroes like Whitmuir Farm in West Linton; through pioneering producers who make the best of what Scotland has to offer, like Mara seaweed and Supernature oils; to truly inspiring social enterprises like Breadshare, who use the traditional practice of baking to help vulnerable people establish routine in life (and bake amazing bread in the process); or Plan Bee, who support small-scale beehives, raising awareness on the plight of our pollinators and making mind-blowingly good honey too.'

Leith Food Assembly

How do you select your producers?
'The golden rule is that they have to be either growing or using central ingredients from less than 150 miles away, though in reality they're generally much closer. It’s not a hard and fast rule though, as there will be ingredients from further afield - the jam, for instance, isn’t made from Scottish sugar, but it is made by Tiphereth community, who support adults with learning disabilities. So we select producers on mostly on their attitudes and approaches to food, and it’s important to us that we meet them, visit them and try to understand a little bit about what they do.'

Do you plan on increasing the number of producers you already have?
'We’re always on the lookout for suitably amazing producers. We’re in discussion at the moment with a fishmonger, a coffee importer, and a social enterprise producing some really quite inspiring ready meals, so yes, watch this space.'

Why do you think people should shop local?
'People should buy local if they want to get fresher, tastier and more seasonally appropriate food. People should also buy local if they want to avoid big business and foster smaller scale economies. People should maybe buy local if they want to promote Scottish producers and Scottish food culture. People should buy local for sure if they want to reduce food miles and minimise packaging waste. People should definitely buy local if they want to connect with their surroundings, and be part of a supportive community. And, most importantly people should buy local if they want to know more about what it is they’re eating and feeding their families.'

Leith Food Assembly, collect from Jeremiah's Taproom Mondays 6-8pm, free subscription.

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