I’ve blogged about the fact that I’m a recent convert to online grocery shopping and home delivery before and in the midst of my research I came across a particularly interesting concept – Fair Food.

Fair Food is a CERES project aimed a providing reasonably priced organic food boxes to our community where its most needed.  They have some nifty sustainable twists which make them fairly unique – i.e.
  • they work with and support local Victorian farmers who practise regenerative farming
  • they employ recent migrants and give them a ‘fair go’ – a chance to get to grips with the Aussie work place in supportive environment
  • their delivery system saves on food miles (its a bit like a co-op in that members pick up their boxes from volunteers houses)
  • all profits go towards the educational work that CERES does.

This week’s HOT Chat is with Doron Francis, the manager of Fair Food. Thanks Doron!

Doron, tell me a bit more about your background?

I immigrated to Australia a couple of years ago from the UK.  On the way I was lucky enough to spend some time in South America, particularly the Peruvian Amazon where I spent a few months living with indigenous people, getting to know their health care system and reconnecting with nature and the land.  I guess you could say I had an epiphany and decided that I didn’t want to continue my career working in advertising, instead I wanted to work within the organic food industry – however I really had no idea in what capacity.

I then spent some time WOOFing on organic farms in NZ then eventually ended up in Melbourne where I worked for an organic wholesaler.  During this time I volunteered at CERES so I could develop some practical gardening skills. Someone told me about a job managing the food Co-ops here, which I got and we then applied for and won a grant to set-up Fair Food (end of 2009).

What’s the story behind Fair Food?

Fair Food was set-up in order to give our community, local farmers and our environment a better deal. We already had a number of farmers we were buying from directly and were providing food to over 50 families through our Co-op system.  Most of our Co-ops were happy to transfer to Fair Food as it meant that they could shop and pay online, so reducing the work burden on their members.

We officially launched in July 2010 and I am pleased to say that we have grown steadily and right now have over 1200 members, 40 pick-up points and we deliver over 450 boxes a week.  We have spent a lot of time developing a great website and online store which makes shopping online a bit more pleasurable.  We provide our members with information about the farmers we work with and overall our members tell us they are really happy with the service.

What makes Fair Food different from other organic grocery delivery companies in Australia?

We are different in a number of ways:

First and foremost we are social enterprise, so any profit derived from Fair Food is used to support CERES (well loved NFP Environmental Park and Education Centre in East Brunswick).

Our distribution model has elements of CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) and Co-ops.  We use a system whereby member’s pick-up their food boxes from volunteers houses (which we call Food Hosts) instead of door-to-door delivery, the point here is to reduce food miles and encourage members to meet likeminded folk in their neighbourhood.

Our main objective is to reconnect members to where their food comes from, so we work almost exclusively with Victorian farmers and tell their story via our website, facebook and newsletters, as well as coordinating farm visits, so our members can actually meet the people who grow their food.

Finally, most of our floor staff are hired through AMES (Adult Migrant Education Service) and so we provide a supportive workplace where recent migrants who may not have English as a first language can develop skills and meet community.

The idea with Fair Food is to provide an alternative, ethical food system which is almost the antithesis of supermarket shopping!

Where do you source your produce from and what criteria does the produce have to meet to be part of Fair Food?

At the moment our farmers to need to be certified organic or in the conversion process.  The organic certificate is a bench mark that people understand, however we have recently employed a Farmer Liaison Manager and part of their job will be working with Farmers and Growers to ensure their sustainability credentials beyond just the organic certificate – so looking at how they transport food and their workers welfare.

What has been the most challenging issue you’ve faced managing Fair Food?

There’s been a few and I would say that the toughest challenge has been the recent floods and the knock on effect with supply, quality and price increases.

What are your next plans for Fair Food?

We are opening up all over Melbroune.  We also want to organise more farm visits and events where we can help educate our members about where their food comes from and introduce them to some of the personalities behind their food.  We really think we have the foundations right and this year is about building on that.

Finally, where are your tips for HOT foodie places you like in Melbourne?

It’s difficult for me to get past the Merri Table and Bar which is just opened onsite here at CERES and is another social enterprise supporting CERES.  Head chef Raymond shares the same ethos as Fair Food and sources all of his produce fresh from local producers.  His cooking has an emphasis on fresh, Mediterranean flavours served tapas style.

Other than that, my girlfriend recently took me for a fantastic meal at Easy Tiger, a modern take on Thai Food in Smith Street.