The Bello Food Box team explain their business model in simple terms- “We source real food, grown by real farmers, for real people and deliver it to your door, – food that will make you smile and shine on the inside.” Bello Food Box has come a long way since its creation at the North Bank Community Gardens back in 2011. However, current owners Hugh and Steve continue to ensure that Bello Food Box connects farmers with consumers directly. “This results in food that is better for our environment, fresher, tastier and more nourishing than food that is grown and distributed by commercial, mainstream supermarket chains,” says Hugh Crowley. We decided to interview Hugh for our ‘All Things Green’ promotion.
You weren’t one of the original founders Hugh, but can you enlighten us about the motivation behind the creation of Bello Food Box?
The initial motivation was to connect the Bellingen community to more fresh local produce, to support and encourage sustainable organic farming practices and to offer an important alternative to the commercial mainstream model. This remains the motivation to this day.
Do you have many local suppliers?
Yes we have a solid team of about 15 or so local certified organic growers.
How has the business developed since its inception?
We have come a long way since 2011. Our fresh produce offering has expanded significantly. We have recently begun to offer an extensive range organic groceries and eco-friendly household items. We invested in a refrigerated delivery van at the beginning of 2016 and have spent a lot of time and energy on our website, which is now really complete, user friendly and super reliable. The inclusion of ‘Set & Forget’ – a weekly subscription offer for seasonal produce boxes has been a huge hit, helping our customers maintain healthy habits and eat consistently with what nature is providing each week.
At the start of this year we built a new premise including 2 new cool rooms to store our fresh produce, this investment has ensured the quality of our fresh produce has never been better!
How closely do you work with the local suppliers?
It’s an ongoing process that takes a lot of building trust with growers & planning ahead for the seasons. It’s only now after years of hard work that we are really starting to work closely with local growers, working together on planting schedules in advance for the upcoming seasons. Local supply is such an important part of our vision and we’re super excited about getting to this point where we understand our market position, have a strong core of regular customers and have developed close connections with a solid network of local organic growers. We are now for the first time realistically in the position to be able to plan ahead accurately and begin to work with growers from pre-planting right through to harvest. We’re really looking forward to next year when our first harvests of ‘pre-planned’ produce will come out of the ground and go straight onto our customers plates! We can’t wait!
The Bellingen Shire can have a tricky climate for growing organically. Does this mean you have to source some products from further afield?
We wouldn’t say that the Bellingen Shire in particular has a tricky climate for growing organically. Growing commercial quantities organically is tricky anywhere you go, but if you focus on building healthy soils and increasing diversity within your plantings – it’s possible to grow an abundance of organic produce in any climate – it’s only that each climate is suited to particular types of produce. We are actually blessed here with beautiful river flats, plenty of rainfall and moderate annual temperatures.
Bello is perfectly suited to growing a wide range of organic fruit & veg and as our market grows and more people start to eat organically, we think we will see the amount of local organic produce grown in our shire increase in response to this growing demand. The only reason we ever source produce from further afield is when it is not available in the local area. We always prioritise local produce, if we can’t source it here, we start moving further afield. As our market grows, we will start to see bigger volumes of organic produce grown and distributed in our local area – there is certainly a growing demand and holes in the market for more fresh local produce varieties.
Do you get a sense then that Bello Food Box has encouraged more local farmers to grow commercially?
On a small scale yes. However, we have not reached the point yet where we are having a significant effect on the commercial market. But it is early days! As we grow and more people start to get on board and support the alternative model that we are building, we believe more local farmers (both new and existing), will start to see the value both financially and environmentally, in selling their crops to our local market, instead of sending off to Sydney & Brisbane. The more local people that support our kind of small scale, independently owned, locally orientated model, the bigger our market will become. The more nutritious food grown locally, the healthier our community and our environment will be. It’s a consumer driven market – a simple matter of supply & demand – by making the conscious choice to eat more local organic produce, you are helping to build a local market that will have a significant impact on many levels.
An abundance of locally grown organic produce is healthier for all of us. Can you describe any other advantages of this type of business model for the environment and for the local community?
To begin with, all produce is grown 100% organically, which means that no harmful herbicides, pesticides or fungicides are used to grow the food that we provide. This not only means healthy food for us, but of equal importance the maintenance of healthy soils, without which we can not grow healthy food. If we support the mainstream commercial model, we support the degradation of our land and the increase of disease and poor health. By focusing on coordinating local farmers to supply to the local community, we are building a system that is not so heavily reliant on cold storage and long distance transportation, which has a significant environmental impact. Having the knowledge of where your food comes from builds strength in the community – people are more connected to the source of their food, farmers are more accountable for how they grow the food, everyone is more closely connected and working together towards something positive. The food connects us all back to the earth, which is something that has been lost. By reconstructing our food system and helping direct the flow of resources into sustainable farms, we can reconstruct our planet. Ultimately, we all have to eat!!
Have you got any plans for growth? Where to from here?
We plan to keep maintaining our positive momentum until we have secured a market share that will sustain the growers we are working with and us as a business. Once we solidify our place in the market, we have plans in place to work together with other like minded business models around the country and begin to join the dots together. The long term goal is to redesign the food distribution system so that we can create a sustainable model for our future.