Crowdfunding for new projects is quite the thing these days and it makes a lot of sense to raise money from the very customers you want to buy your product because those customers already have some kind of emotional investment. Look at the success of crowdfunding the Pebble, for example. Raising capital this way has until very recently been confined to the tech sector, which by definition is full of early adopters searching for the next must-have product. So it’s interesting to see non-tech projects elsewhere start to use crowdfunding to support their ventures.
Last week, the Kindling Trust invited me to take a closer look at one of the projects they are backing. Manchester Veg People is a small collective of small organic growers in and around Manchester who are pooling resources to share facilities and widen their customer base. In these austere times, farmers everywhere are finding it difficult and small producers, organic or not, can find themselves particularly squeezed because they don’t have scale. Joining forces seems logical. Manchester Veg People don’t sell veg boxes to retail customers, which may be just as well because I and a fair few other people I know have stopped buying them for reasons of cost and food miles (because when times are tough, such companies tend to centralise operations to save money).
What they do provide is fresh produce to around a dozen restaurants, bars and canteens around Manchester. Their client base includes the University of Manchester, John Rylands Library and the prestigious fine dining restaurant Aumbry. For the past 18 months the growers, who are all within a 50-mile radius of Manchester, have collectively sold assorted vegetables, shared transportation and borrowed storage.
Now they are crowdfunding their expansion, so they can buy a van and a cold store. Raising £16,000 in 6 weeks will be no mean achievement. Manchester’s impressive foodie scene contains many bloggers who write about eating out – even if only a few of them put their money where their mouth is, excuse the pun, that sum could be easily raised (and yes, I’m going to pledge too).
To raise awareness, the Veg People asked me and others to lunch at Common in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, which is one of their customers. All the produce had been plucked from the soil only the day before, so it was superfresh, and then bicycled into town from nearby Sale in a little trailer and dropped off at a few places before arriving at Common. We had a bit of a wait for lunch because it had to be cooked, but the time was easily filled with beer and conversation, plus a chance to learn more about the project. And the food, when it arrived, was superb.
The tempura of cavolo nero with salad leaves and chilli was light, crispy and with a good depth of flavour, although the accompanying wasabi mayo could have had more fire in its belly. Despite the chef describing it as a side dish it was filling and I slightly regretted ordering two dishes.
However, the huevos rancheros were also really delicious. It’s too early in the season for local tomatoes but the free range, organic egg came from the collective, as did the chillis and salad leaves, and the dish was accompanied with a decent dollop of sour cream and some flatbreads.
There was no room for the potato soup although I tried half a spoonful. Its rounded, nutty flavour was very pleasing to my palate. My stomach, however, was already full to bursting from the other two dishes.
I also had huge satisfaction from knowing the ingredients were really fresh and local, because I’m a bit of a stickler for avoiding unnecessary food miles. You won’t find me buying Chilean strawberries for Christmas. So the Veg People get a massive thumbs up from me, as well as from the eateries they supply to.
*Disclosure: I was a guest of Manchester Veg People and the Kindling Trust.
UPDATE: (18 July 2013) I’m really delighted to announce that Manchester Veg People passed their £16,000 target yesterday, with just under 2 days to spare. There was some serious tweeting going on the couple of days before that, which clearly had a beneficial effect. As I write, there’s still just over 24 hours to go before the deadline and the total is *still* rising! Well done, all round.