This week I had the privilege, the pleasure of spending time with the people of Voedselteams in Belgium. Translated as Food Teams, there are close to 200 teams across Belgium’ s 5 regions, each being served by local farmers, bakers & wine makers. Voedselteams also draw on Fair Trade groceries from Oxfam and some of the farmers use their networks to bring produce from Spain and France to top up the fruit and veg, especially through the winter and spring.
The farmers, makers and Teams use the Voedselteams website to co-ordinate orders. The Teams are similar to our Food Hosts, in that they are based at people’s houses. The difference is that team members do more and take more responsibility for their grocery deliveries, including payments direct to farmers. In an age of convenience where supermarket and online shopping means you can get what you want with minimal effort, I wondered why thousands of people would want to do extra to shop this way for their groceries each week?
I visited Team Flora in the town of Ghent, it was 55 households strong with a waiting list of 20 and had already been split three times to make new teams! Twice a year Team members were required to check and pack orders, while volunteer Team co-ordinators, looked after the weekly team accounts and communication, (typically a couple of hours work).
Team Flora was based in a small alcove in an apartment block. When I arrived members Vicky and Isabella were checking off the bakery dairy, meat and fish orders that had just come in. While we talked a farm van arrived with plastic crates containing veg boxes delivered by a local grower.
When I asked why they put in the extra effort they replied they wanted to support their local farmers and bakers and the Fair Trade producers. They also liked the unique products they could get, the minimal packaging (glass jars could be returned) and lastly there was the social part of it – over the years friendships were made as strangers checked, packed and volunteered together.
And it got me thinking about the price of shopping convenience and how it insulates us, reduces our contact with each other and gives us more time for what – to work more, spend more time figuring out time saving hacks on our new smart phone? And meanwhile here in a tiny concrete space with its communal fridges and salvaged shelves, was an “inconvenient” antidote that used food to bring a neighbourhood to life and make a food system stronger.