Sophie Bond is an Ōtautahi-based freelance editor exploring what food security looks like in her neighbourhood. She shares how Oxford Baptist Church is helping with local food security in partnership with Foodtogether.

We’ve all noticed it: the weekly shopping is getting more expensive and fresh produce is one of the culprits. The monthly Food Price Index released last month (Feb 2023) showed a 16% increase in the cost of fruit and vegetables around Aotearoa compared with January 2022.

The impact of a very wet summer will likely see prices rise further, so how can communities respond to the need for affordable food? Social enterprise Foodtogether is one solution; the organisation helps groups provide their neighbourhoods with affordable, seasonal produce by taking the hard work out of running a cooperative.

For Canterbury’s Oxford Baptist Church the weekly Foodtogether produce co-op has become part of a larger missional outreach which is focused on connections and care. When I talk to coordinator Barbara Griffiths on a Tuesday afternoon, she’s checking her produce list and waiting for the delivery truck to bring the week’s orders. The church has been running Foodtogether for several years, and Barbara says community buy-in is steady. “We all know that families are suffering with the food price increases. Here, people are amazed at what they can get in their weekly bag in comparison to what they can get in the supermarket.”

On a Wednesday morning Barbara is joined in the church hall by volunteers who pack the fresh fruit and vegetables into bags for collection. Meanwhile on the same site, other volunteers are running The Revival Store - a free op-shop -, while still others prepare and host a substantial, free morning tea.

In her coordinator role Barbara says there are a couple of hours work each week to put through the orders, organize volunteers and set things up, as well as an hour of packing on pick-up day. Most people pre-order online, but some come to peruse the sale table, and there is always an extra bag which is gifted to someone in need.

Barbara knows people appreciate the cheaper produce but says building relationships is the main driver for Oxford Baptist. “Foodtogether is not just coming and collecting some fruit and vegetables and off you go. It’s a place of connection too. By having our people available on a Wednesday, we get to know about the needs that we may be able to follow through on.”

“It’s not always easy for people to go out and connect with each other; there’s a lot of isolation in our society. At our morning tea we make sure people are being met and having fellowship.”                                           

The church is mid-building project, and eventually there’ll be a large foyer which will be used for the Wednesday morning activities. Barbara is looking forward to a bigger kitchen too, which she says will allow them to start a community lunch on Wednesdays and run their outreach for the whole day. “It’s a real fellowship time. We get people coming who are new to the area, mums who use the childcare will come for morning tea, and homeschooling families too. My emphasis is on people connecting with others and knowing that there are people who care.”

Oxford Baptist currently sells about 40 Foodtogether bags a week, and they dedicate a small table to seconds and extras as single people often just want a few items. The team at Foodtogether takes care of the sourcing, compliance, logistics and much of the ordering process. The Oxford Baptist team organise volunteers, provide the packing location, and spread the word. 

Foodtogether is a social enterprise that facilitates community produce collectives in over 15 New Zealand locations. If you’re interested in learning more, please email [email protected]

Photo: Supplied by Barbara Griffiths

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