It started with an idea...
Sometimes it just takes an idea, and the drive to get started, to create something which can benefit a small community in a big way. This is exactly what happened in 2018 when two friends decided to set up ‘Beetbox’, a food-coop sourcing local, organic vegetables that would be available for students, staff and local community on and near their campus at the University of Kent. Beetbox food co-op was born out of a wish to provide a solution to how expensive and challenging it can be to lead a sustainable lifestyle as a student ,and with help from SOS-UK and the Student Eats programme, Beetbox would soon enough become a well-known enterprise on campus.
However, starting up did not come without its challenges. Luckily, the team found support in a couple of staff members who were as excited about the idea of a sustainable food coop as they were! They would help the Beetbox team with operational challenges such as storage, sales point location, and perhaps most importantly, supporting the students in winning the university over to the idea. The two friends wanted to prove to the university that they were serious about their enterprise, and that they were in it for the long run.
Health and Safety was a big concern for the university, so we took this very seriously by completing a lot of risk assessments and even contacted our local council for a check-up to ensure our premises were good to go as we were selling vegetables that were raw and uncooked.
Another worry was whether or not the new enterprise would be seen as a rival by the other shops on campus, but once Beetbox launched, it became clear that the co-op brought more people on to campus and complemented the other shops, rather than being a competitor. The small team worked with great passion to share their vision with university staff and students alike, and strive towards creating a culture where sustainability is put at the heart of their university campus.
“We seek to have a positive impact upon students, by broadening their understanding of sustainability as well as the benefits of organic vegetables. We aim to bring about a culture of sustainability in our volunteers and those who choose to purchase our veg bags. Making fresh, local vegetables more accessible is one of our core tenets.”
Along the way, Kent Union would prove to be a great support to the Beetbox team and helped them devise a new method for sales where students could order a veg box through the Kent Union’s webpage. They also got an account through the university’s finance department which made money handling much safer, and the handover of Beetbox to new student facilitators a lot easier.
WHY A FOOD COOP?
Setting up a foodcoop up can be one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your community through social enterprising. The Beetbox team set up a not-for-profit enterprise to maximise the benefits to their community, and they only trade with certified organic vegetables from a local supplier that drop off the produce on campus to minimise costs. Providing a service which provides students with food that is produced in a way which has caused minimal damage to our environment is important to the Beetobox team.
“We believe that avital way to fight the looming climate crisis is sustainable, organic farming. Reducing the air miles of our food by eating local is another important way we seek to reduce the climate cost of the food that our members eat.”
Veg bags are delivered by order, so students can place their order in for the following week, giving their volunteers and supplier enough time to prepare the fresh produce going into the bags. This way, they eliminate the risk of wasting food by ordering the exact amount needed. Another great thing about Beetbox is that their supplier harvest the vegetables on the day of, or night before delivery, making their veg bags some of the most nutritious around! Accessibility to fresh, organic and tasty food that everyone can enjoy is a priority, and operating with a pick to order strategy works really well for the Beetbox team and their customers.
Beetbox would not have been the success it is today had it not been for the amazing students who volunteer their time working with the enterprise, and the benefits they receive in return for their labour are many. The team has been running a real-life enterprise, giving them the skills and experience to benefit them in future endeavours. Teamwork has also been at the heart of the enterprise’s operations, and this has created a greater appreciation for working together to create positive change in one’s community. Everyone involved with the Beetbox food coop has been able to learn more about sustainable food systems and the impact food production has on our health and our environment.
But it is not all work for the Beetbox team and their volunteers, as they often put on social events where also students outside the enterprise are welcomed to join in the fun. Most popular is their pot-luck events where students can win a prize for bringing the tastiest dish or share anything from poetry to musical entries. These events are essential to maintain a happy and dedicated volunteering group, as well as recruiting new volunteers. They offer a safe, open, encouraging and accepting space where students can connect with each other and develop a greater confidence as part of the enterprise.
“We have all made a lot of friends at these events and my university experience would not be as rich without them. Having events that support your co-ops ethos and bring volunteers together are crucial!”
After the challenges of last year, we are now looking into collaborating with a local food bank to ensure healthy food is available to those who need it most. We look forward to hosting a potluck again and sharing more ideas about the future of Beetbox, perhaps, one day we will run a Beetbox garden where we can grow our very own produce! We hope that future students will become as passionate about the mission of Beetbox as we are, and that the enterprise will continue to expand whilst supporting our community in embracing a more sustainable food future.
Read our ‘social enterprise guide’ to find out more, or if you'd like help to set up an enterprise on your campus we offer a course through the Learning Academy.
Beetbox was part of the SOS-UK Student Eats enterprise programme, which was a member of the Our Bright Future programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. We'd also like to thank Sustain, the Alliance for Better Food and Farming, for their support of the Food Coop enterprises.