FOOD SYSTEMS 2
The Story of SCOOP
Situated between the south coast of England, close to the French coastline lies Jersey — the largest of the Channel Islands, a self-governing dependency that is part of the United Kingdom but still uniquely independent. It is well known for its beaches, hiking, the German occupation during WW2 but probably most famous as a tax haven to which Britain’s wealthy can successfully go to avoid taxation. A traditional, private and tight-knit community of approximately 108,000 with a GDP of $6billion, the island has more recently played host to the experiment of an incredibly bright and compassionate systems thinker who set out to find a way to change the fortunes of a marginalised group in Jersey’s food system.
Set up in October 2018, SCOOP — the Sustainable Cooperative, is the brainchild of India Hamilton and Kaspar Wimberley. Their goal was to create a sustainable food supply system, in the shadow of the existing traditional food system, by leveraging the values of the stakeholders within the system and designing a response that maximised positive impact on the whole system.
Launched as a consumer cooperative, today SCOOP has nearly 350 fee paying members, sells more than 700 unpackaged products, turns over just over £750k per annum and employees 7 people on a living wage. Close to 3 years later, SCOOP’s voyagehas been an evolutionary learning journey which has combined a number of different approaches. India’s inspiration’s include service design specialists Prof. Francesco Mazzarella and Dr Laura Santamaria as well as leading thinkers in the regenerative development movement such as Daniel Christian Wahl.
Before she returned to her family home on the island, India had already gleaned a lot of experience developing cooperative interventions to build food community in Hyderabad, India. There she sought a way to experiment with an approach that circumvented the strong dominating food system narratives that nutritional food access depends on what you can afford. Instead she looked at the idea that people assign very different values to food and will spend very different amounts on food nutrition as a basis for systemic innovation. Using the emerging trend for healthy juicing in the more affluent middle classes, she found that creating high quality, high value juices from waste in the fruit farming system such as leaves, stems, rind — all of which contain high nutrient value and taste — you could keep the whole fruit to sell at next to nothing to poorer families to improve their nutritional intake. An experiment that was to prove foundational in SCOOP.
Back to Jersey. The very different pathways into SCOOP for India and Kaspar have also contributed to its success. India’s systemic understanding developed both academically and in the field, added to Kaspar’s local cultural insights, created a combined zone of genius that found the right recipe for change (pardon the pun) at SCOOP. “If you consider that economic, systemic and structural challenges are manifestations of culture, you need to deeply understand culture to design a systemic change project,” explains India. “The arts can act as a catalyst for social movements, culture shifts and emancipatory processes so we wanted from the outset to include creativity and art as well as the economics of social justice, in our project. The capacity to listen deeply and with humility and curiosity to understanding our communities — other people’s deep interests, skills and personal journeys alongside trying to understand why things are the way they are — has been critical to our work.”
Whilst Kaspar set about testing the boundaries for cultural change in the community through at art led project The Morning Boat, India carried out a stakeholder inquiry to look for systemic opportunities and barriers to change based on a service design approach. Both service design and regenerative development seek to provide a process for working successfully with complexity. One is problem oriented, the other potential focused but both are systemic.
To create a sustainable food supply system which included both production and consumption, the team wanted to focus on ecologically-focused farming which in Jersey meant organic. At the time of beginning the research, despite the growing popularity of organic food across Europe, organic farming had dropped in Jersey by 80% by 2014. The organic farmers weren’t able to create a supply model that suited the increasing dominance of supermarket chains that were popping up as the main source of food supply on the island. There were only 6 organic farmers who used just 50% of their land. Help for them from the local government has filtered away, and labelled them as uncommercial and bad at marketing their produce to the supermarket system. They were isolated from the main food system and in a precarious position in terms of livelihood, cultural heritage, social equality and their efforts to be good stewards of the land.
India’s inquiry took in policy, social, environment, and business contexts looking for insights from four main questions:-
- what is your current practice?
- what has worked, what has not?
- how do you project yourself into the future?
- what are the challenges and barriers you see?
This kind of approach is reflected in many emergent processes that are increasingly popular in change fields. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U includes an ‘exploratory’ phase looking at the field gathering knowledge and insight from the system. Regenerative Development looks at The Story of Place which covers biological, cultural, ecological patterns throughout history to inform what the next evolution of people and place might be. No matter the process used, the quality and character of the practitioner to build empathetic relationships and activate a deep sense of caring about the community the project serves, is always key to success.
The research painted a complex picture of barriers and opportunities.
After four months of exhaustive investigation, the SCOOP team not only had a clear, holistic view of the system and how it operated on Jersey, they had also started the slow process of building friends and trust in their work. The main questions to work on emerged as:
- clear evidence of marginalisation of the organic community; how to find a way to bring them into the system successfully
- how do we differentiate between local markets that will build local capacity and decisions that drive the race to the bottom?
- how do we define principles for ways of working and at the same time prevent divisiveness
- how do we overcome historical inbuilt cultural trauma that is a legacy of previous bad decisions
- the structure in Jersey supports importing; what new infrastructure do we need?
- what simple policy, education and investment options do we need?
- how can we shift technical lock-ins?
Since its birth in 2018 SCOOP as always taken a multi-faceted approach to change with key pillars of its work being disrupting thinking through art and cultural initiatives, looking for systemic acupuncture points where change could have the most impact, and increasing the opportunities for marginalised changemakers in food and agriclture. In regenerative development we often use frameworks to help us in our work. Here is SCOOP’s work mapped against a tetrad.
GROUND: A linear food system dependent on imports and supermarkets; gradual disintegration of local organic agriculture; marginalised few organic farmers with no routes to market; cultural entropy for change.
GOAL: Build a food cooperative with a successful economic model to demonstrate that alternative approaches can be commercial, disproving one of the foundational belief against change.
– Disrupt the cultural entropy through art-inspired projects and connective conversation
– Respond to the developing environment with interventions that build knowledge about different approaches to food and allow a physical experience of that difference
– Build developmental capacity in the team
– Consistently challenge marginalisation and lack of diversity/biodiversity in the system
– Always seek actions that demonstrate the positive potential of systemic change
– Non-confrontational proof that alternative systems deliver sustainable inclusion
SCOOP could be said to have 4 core pillars that have contributed to its success to date.
1) An economic model that works
The SCOOP system is designed on structural barriers, systemic problems to resolve in order to give a level playing field for a particular type of farmer — a marginalised small organic producer. The SCOOP economic model is a consumer cooperative with a quorum for the board, a very collective approach to decision-making, and a strong system of trust and commitment.
At the outset the team worked out that it would need a minimum of 150 members who could pay between £15–35 per person subscription (£5 for those on income support) with a member discount on purchases of 25%. This could cover costs, deliver a potential turnover of £300k in the first year. “We knew the average food spend on Jersey was around £4k per annum so that felt achievable,” India explains. “We asked for 1–3 months up front and any extra donations people wanted to make, with which we purchased £18k of stock, built our first shop with a volunteer workforce up cycling equipment wherever we could, and set a transparent and consistent pricing system — marking up everything at 50%.” It worked. They hit the estimated turnover in the first year, showing a small profit and being able to pay a small staff a living wage too. Today that turnover is £750k.
2) Art & Culture as Provocations for Change
As with many island or small communities anywhere, its strengths are often its weaknesses. A close knit community with a strong power structure can resist change and be very defensive towards anyone who tries to undermine the status quo. In Jersey this is encapsulated in the popular local phrase “if you don’t like it, there’s a boat in the morning”. One of SCOOP’s first initiatives in 2018 was The Morning Boat Agricultural Art Project, a creative way to lift up and begin to create a space for discussion about a different kind of future.
A second successful project was Rewild My Plate. This programme highlighted the wide variety of potential ingredients that could be found the island which could extend diversity of food used and eaten. The team listed all the food ingredients grown on Jersey (120) and all those that could be foraged and found wild. (200), put them on boards and invited chefs to make new dishes using a higher percentage of the foraged ingredients to help create a culture of experimentation. “When we designed the shop, we considered biodiversity in everything we did. Standardisation is built into the food system which eliminates a lot of potential for diversity to flourish. For example, if you are a regenerative farmer intent on improving your soil quality, you plant cover crops. But we don’t eat cover crops — they’re not part of the food chain. But they can be if you take an innovative approach.”
The commitment to diversity is embedded in the Production Kitchen — a key pillar of the business — which develops products and services from surplus produce from local farmers. The Production Kitchen is vital in SCOOP’s support for local growers to increase their volume sales, and also to demonstrate how to reduce food waste, by finding creative and delicious uses for surplus or abundant produce. Products include pestos, preserves, ferments, dips, snacks, cakes, bakes and spreads, alongside heartwarming curries and stews for lunchtimes and takeaways. A special emphasis is placed on waste innovation, seasonality and conservation cooking. The Production Kitchen also introduces new ingredients to customers, demonstrating their uses and qualities. All recipes are shared with members.
The Production Kitchen has allowed SCOOP to develop further services including SCOOP Catering, Preserves, Ready Meals, Community Meals, Scoop Deli and community ready meals — all of which encourage experimentation and extend the viability of the alternative food system.
Salsa verde is one of those products. If you google the recipe for salsa verde you will find that almost all of many million examples contain parsley. Yet in fact pesto can contain many different forms of green plant. By educating people through information boards, talks, tastings SCOOP used a lot of farmer cover crops to produce pesto that had some standard ingredients but would have different greenstuff products each batch — not just to provide an income for farmers but also to encourage people to experience diverse taste.
3) Structural Interventions to Demonstrate the Value of Change
As we discussed in the first part of this section of Economy of Place on food, standardisation is at the heart of a global food system. It is a key profit driver. But this means that we have a false sense of choice on supermarket shelves. Whilst there are multiple different brands and products, most processed foods are made of a small list of standardised ingredients. 90% of the ingredients are from the same food sources. If we want to encourage more diversity on farm lands such as in regenerative agriculture, that diversity has to run right through the food system.
That’s challenging to do as the global food system has not only taken control of the shelves, it has also taken control of our senses to an extent. Without diversity on our palettes they become attuned to only a few — fat, sugar, salt. There is a need to re-educate our palettes to enjoy a wider array of taste. Food system hijacking of the senses in children is well documented and studied as part of child obesity. Around the world governments have started to make serious interventions in advertising of food to children. Even colour can be used to manipulate our attraction to food. There is a relationship between red and yellow which stimulates hunger; think Macdonalds. In some studies in the US, the Heinz image stimulates a higher emotional response than an image of children’s grandparents! SCOOP made an early decision to be brand-less — avoiding all the standard notions of organic food brands, although you could say that up cycling simplicity is a form of branding in itself. But the intent is a pure one.
Another of the food systems key pillars is labelling. Labelling can be there for our safety, information and for guidance on healthy eating but it can also be part of the system of reducing recipe and diversity in food if you have to always aim for consistency in taste. SCOOP worked on a new form of labelling with Digital Jersey and Environmental Health which they call ‘consistent inconsistency’ — a colour based system where some ingredients remain the same but others change based on seasonality and availability.
“When we identify a barrier, we’ll connect with the community, look at literature and research, and we’ll create a system to address that problem through the creation of a different process. To manage waste we created Scoop Loop.” Scoop Loop is a circular economy response created through the support of the Rural Initiative Scheme and several other awards. SCOOP was able to build the infrastructure required to valorise or eliminate operational waste streams. These include the SCOOP LOOP Drop-Off, commercial washing facilities and a Production Kitchen.
Each time SCOOP designs a new systemic intervention, the team produce a policy document which details their strategy; in this case to manage disposables, packaging, water, time and food, complete with risk assessments, partnerships, testing procedures, compliance, infrastructural requirements and product innovation. You can read more about ‘SCOOP LOOP; A transition to the circular economy in the paper.
4) A Developmental Culture
I have been lucky enough to support India and Kaspar as mentor and coach occasionally on their journey. In addition to the economic and structural approach to the business, SCOOP has been careful to design an approach to constant evolution into the culture of the operation. There are no job descriptions or contracts, but a sense of open encouragement for everyone to make a contribution and self-manage their responsibilities in a way that encourages personal accountability. Both India and Kaspar’s work — and anyone’s in the team — is defined by the conversations they hold with the community, her own efforts, and a constant review of what succeeds and what fails. It is a culture designed to be highly adaptable to change. Employees and members alike can propose pathways to problems they identify in the system, and if they are deemed relevant to the long term goal, the team will experiment and work on them.
If something doesn’t feel quite right to people on the ground — for example a particular demographic seems missing from the member base or poorly served by the project — the team will take a look at that and see what can be realistically done. A good example was an early decision to eliminate 15 waste streams in the system described above.
There are always hurdles to work on as you develop an open self-organising culture. There is often tension between decentralised decision making and entrepreneurship. You need some sense of freedom to create the kind of culture that feels like an enterprising startup but you also have to have principles that ensure you are working towards the end state you first imagined. Currently the team is experimenting with the idea of 1 and 3 year targets with autonomies over budgets, a very open agenda to ensure that people can be entrepreneurial but still all travelling in a similar direction.
The early grounding in principles and values specifically focused on the biological and cultural uniqueness of Jersey has also enabled the team to be clear about the many opportunities that have come their way as their reputation in the food sector has grown. Recently they were offered a well-funded opportunity to replicate SCOOP in London which they turned down. India clarifies: “London is already incredibly well served with food innovation. Our approach to designing SCOOP itself is designed to address the unique situation of Jersey and wouldn’t necessarily be applicable elsewhere. We would have to start from scratch. Though our approach is certainly replicable — the exact process, projects and results are particular to this island and this place.”
The organisation hasn’t yet joined the British Land Conservation group, an offshoot of Via Campesina, one of the world’s strongest small farmer movements. “We are first a commercial solution to the problem of marginalised farmers that also has a political element in that we need to engage with that system to effect change. But here on Jersey the right approach is a ‘proof-based’ system rather than direct action which would only alienate the culture.”
The future of SCOOP
Since its inception in 2018 SCOOP has achieved a lot. They have developed an education programme with local schools, presented a programme of cultural events, installed a re-use facility for glassware and plastic containers, built a production kitchen and formed a policy think tank that works with government and partner organisations to create and promote more sustainable food systems.
In 2018 the organisation received the Channel Islands Insurance Corporation Conservation Award and were named the Jersey Evening Post Pride of Jersey Environmentalists of the Year.They are signed up to the Chefs Manifesto, a member of Good Market Global and Plastic Free Jersey, part of the eco active business network and registered as a living wage employer. They also actively support other local charities, with fund raising initiatives and donations. The membership has grown to over 360 members.
There have been many challenges along the way. A fairly static culture is never going to welcome a vibrant ‘upstart’ with open arms. Within three months of opening their first shop, they were forced to close and move premises. Conversely the pandemic has seen them double turnover and impact as people reached for a sustainable food supply and had time to think about a different way of life.
Five steps forward, three back is the constant experience of any social and environmental entrepreneur. It requires mental and emotional resilience, a great team and a strong support network. Which is growing apace — along with an increasing source of organic food — in Jersey.
Our next learning journey The Power of Place opens for registration on 21st June 2021 and begins in September running for 12 weeks, in which we will explore how to adapt future strategy for place-based organisations and projects through lifting up an evolutionary role and story. To register or join, find out more here.
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You can find out more about SCOOP on their website.
Written Works by J G Bennett