Words by Margaret Chingos
When was the last time you truly felt connected to the food you buy? I will be the first to admit that when I walk into Tesco for my weekly veg, being confronted by a wall of uniform, plastic-wrapped produce makes me feel profoundly disconnected from the food systems that sustain me. It is nearly impossible to remember that these vegetables once came from the earth, and it forces me to wonder: is this produce or a product?
But how did we come to this? The production and consumption of produce used to be deeply rooted (pun intended) in community and culture. When agriculture took place within small communities, people were deeply conscious of the connection between the food, the land, and the health of their community. But now, with the mechanization of agriculture, connection between producer and consumer of food has been cut.
This separation is prevalent in the St. Andrews food network. While supermarkets like Tesco and Morrisons are convenient, they have stripped us of the process of growth that is so foundational to our relationship with food.
We need a reminder that our food systems are deeply entrenched in ideas of community. Our relationship with food significantly impacts the environmental, economic, and social aspects of our lives. Additionally, this relationship has the unique potential to be powerfully helpful or harmful to these dimensions depending on how it is implemented.
For this reminder we need not look further than our very own student-run sustainable food cooperative: The Tree.
The Tree strengthens the St. Andrews community by providing students with ethical food options sourced from local organic farms. At first glance, The Tree is just a farmstand, but its impact on the community spans far beyond its customers. By promoting conscious consumption within our food network, The Tree has positive ripple effects on the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of St. Andrews.
One way the Tree supports the St. Andrews community is by playing a crucial role in implementing the sustainability goals set forth by the town. The Tree exists under the larger umbrella of the St. Andrews Transition Team, the organization that drives environmental action across town. As a function of the Transition Team’s mission statement, The Tree helps, “create a more climate resilient St. Andrews and support people in their journeys to low carbon living.”
The Tree takes this mission and puts it into action by incorporating low carbon practices in all aspects of their business. One of the fundamental values of the Tree is buying from local businesses. Partnerships with Pittomie Fruit Farm, Bellfield Organic Nursery and Wildhearth Bakery allow the Tree to source all their goods from within a 100-kilometer radius of St. Andrews. The primary benefit of such local partners is the reduction of carbon footprint due to the shortened transportation process. Additionally, the Tree does all local deliveries using cargo bikes, further reducing CO2 emissions.
The Tree recognizes that sustainability does not end with the environment. The choice to partner with local businesses also contributes to the economic sustainability of the St. Andrews community.
For students, local food sources benefit them with lower costs of goods. Local produce saves money in the reduced transportation of goods to the market, and with the absence of storage costs. The stark difference can be seen in the prices, where 1 kg of organic carrots costs £3.75 at Tesco and only £1.52 at the Tree. In a time where the cost of living is so high, it is vital to the community that healthy food remains accessible for all.
For businesses, the Tree provides an opportunity to tap into the large market of students within the town. Resilient markets like the St. Andrews community gives small businesses the stability to invest and grow. As organic businesses such Pittomie, Bellfield and Wildhearth grow, we all benefit from the more environmentally just and ethical economy they create.
The final way the Tree strengthens community is by bringing people together. The Tree provides a space for people to reconnect with the cultural aspects of food, whether it be through posting recipes made with Tree ingredients on social media, or hosting potluck events where people share their favorite dishes.
In a recent event, an autumnal potluck, members of the Tree community came together for a shared meal made from Tree ingredients. One friend of the Tree, Max Gleason reflected that, “The sense of community as soon as you walked in the door was immediately apparent. Everyone was so excited to see each other and seemed really happy to share the dishes they brought. The Tree is phenomenal in its ability not only to support local produce, but also to inspire the students of St. Andrews to cook healthy meals for themselves and promote the importance of shopping locally.” Tree member Maya Gomez adds that, “It’s one of the most special things, to bring food that you made, mostly with our local produce, and share that with others. It was a joyous event. I loved that we could bring friends together, provide a space to make new connections and eat great food.”
These ways of engaging the community prompt people to reflect upon their relationship with food and its connection to sustainability, fostering a collective consciousness that has potential to create real change.
Organizations like the Tree are created and sustained by community. It is groups like this that give me inspiration for a better future, one in which businesses realize that the community is its greatest asset and invest in sustaining its health across all dimensions. But until then, we can all do our part to support businesses like the Tree for the health of our community.
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