In 2014 the Co-operative Group sold its ‘strong and successful’16,000ha farms (£7m profit during the last year) for a mere £249m to the Wellcome Trust.
Danny Truell, chief investment officer of the trust said, “The trust’s philosophy is to provide long-term investment for the businesses and property we hold in good times and in bad. We will take this approach to running Farmcare Trading Ltd as a going concern, giving a business that is already strong and successful the support and resources it needs to grow, to the benefit of employees, tenants, partners and local communities”.
Could co-operative retailers sell good quality food produced on their former farms as MEP Molly Scott Cato advocated two years before the sale?
With foreboding in 2012, she saw the depressing comments from the Co-operative Group that the Co-operative Farms are a ‘non-core’ part of the business, and that attachment to them is sentimental, as indicating that the current generation of co-operative managers shared a short-sightedness about their role in providing customers with access to a reliable source of ‘good food’.
In 2010, Molly co-wrote a paper called ‘The co-operative path to food security‘. In it, she pointed to the increasing volatility of global food prices as speculators moved their gambling activities from financial products to commodities markets, saying, “It never was enough for me that the food I bought in my local Co-op was ethical and fairly-traded; as a green economist I also wanted it to be as local as possible”. She continued:
Supermarkets that sell the same corporate products as the rest have lost all but the merest token of a co-operative identity
“The Co-operative shops have not been as successful in this regard as I would like because of their centralised distribution system, but my own Midcounties Co-op has been building up its Local Harvest offer in recent years and I’m surely not the only customer who looks to see whether the vegetables on the shelves have been grown on the Co-operative Farms”.
Now that is no longer an option, the writer wonders if an agreement could be made with local Wellcome (former Co-op) farms to provide local food in Co-op stores – and offer some organic options for those who want to avoid food with pesticide residues?