Our feature on independent retailers continues with a look at Harrogate Food Assembly, which brings together local producers and local shoppers in an online Farmers’ Market. We caught up with busy owner Emma Povey.
The Harrogate Food Assembly (HFA) came into existence after Emma started looking for a way to return to her first love, food, having left her “perfect job” as a food innovation manager to raise her young family. She came across the assembly business idea and for her, it ticked all the boxes; food, work flexibility, supporting local producers and contributing to the local community. “I knew immediately it was what I was looking for, it gave me the chance to work with food again and still be there for my family,” enthuses Emma.
Using her many years of food retail experience, she launched the HFA in September 2017 and since then, business has grown steadily with 14 local food and drink producers offering over 250 mostly local products each week.
The idea is reassuringly simple. Local people in Harrogate join Harrogate Food Assembly for free through the website and every Thursday they receive an email telling them what’s on sale in the market for the next five days. Emma says: “There is no obligation to order when people join, you shop as often as you wish and for what you wish; some regular members just buy a few bits from us every week and others do a full shop.”
They place their orders and once the market closes at midnight the following Tuesday, the orders go off to the producers who then deliver them on a Thursday to the HFA which is based at Harrogate Cricket Club. Members can then drop in anytime between 5.30 – 7pm to collect their orders and meet the producers.
For Emma, the assembly is all about supporting local producers and the huge sense of community it fosters. “I love meeting the small local producers and hearing their stories. We have a good number of customers and it’s growing. It’s the community element that I really want to develop,” she says, adding that 80p of every £1 spent with the HFA goes straight back to those producers.
But even after less than a year, Emma has seen that HFA is not only about people, it’s also about helping the environment, especially with the huge awareness among the public of the threat to our countryside, rivers, coasts and natural wildlife from plastic objects.
She cites the impressive statistic the average journey distance for the food and drink from producer to HFA is just nine miles. “There’s less food miles and no wastage for producers who know exactly how much is being bought and paid for,” she says. And tellingly she adds: “The food comes in a lot less plastic and packaging than what you would find in a large supermarket.”
What’s on offer at Harrogate Food Assembly?
The spread of foodstuffs is wide and features some famous Harrogate names. With its renowned range of seafoods, Ramus is among the producers who sell through the HFA.
Harrogate’s Secret Bakery offers a wide selection of breads, Goosemoor from Cowthorpe sells organic fruit, vegetables and herbs, la Bella Bottega offers pastas and sauces and there’s organic poultry, beef, lamb and port from Swillington Organic Farm. The list goes on: Wild Bee Flower Farm, Just Mylk, Messy Buns, the Rural Food Company, sweet treats from Ruthy’s Tablet, Wharfe Valley Farm and My Home from Burley in Wharfedale.
And there’s experts on hand to advise when the produce is from further afield so Harrogate’s The Cheeseboard offers local and British cheeses. A recent arrival is Jarful who sell organic dried goods. Shoppers bring their own jars and containers or are given a reusable paper sack for their purchases.
Emma’s ideal customers are those local people who are passionate about great food and supporting local businesses as well as being environmentally conscious and wanting less packaging for their purchases.
She enjoys the community feel Harrogate has and how supportive and helpful the local small business community is in spreading the word and supporting each other. So it comes as no surprise when Emma heaps praise on her own favourite indie retailer Tilly Peppers in Cold Bath Road. “Warm, welcoming, funny and nothing is ever too much even when they’re super busy they take the time to chat and catch up,” she says.