(Matt Austin is a photographer based in the South West of England, For more photos visit his page at http://mattaustinimages.wordpress.com.)
Real Food Store is a community owned shop and cafe located in the centre of Exeter’s busy town.
Walking through the door into it’s unassuming space full of fresh food and organic produce offered a quiet break from the pace and energy of the main high street. Unfortunately by the time i got there they where fresh out of bread, with only a few rolls left. However we picked some local smoked cheddar, brought the last of the rolls and with a few vintage ciders thrown in felt very happy with our impromptu dinner. With the food in a brown paper bag and our cider stuff into my rucksack we headed for the riverside to enjoy our finds in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
The concept for the store was initiated in 2009 by Transition Exeter at a public meeting about local food. After several years of planning and securing funding Real Food Store open its doors for trading in March 2011. Unusually for stores of this size it consists of over 300 members who also have the role of deciding on the board of directors. This community owned initiative has successfully provided fresh locally grown food at affordable prices, a welcome alternative to the dominating supermarkets. The space represents the ability for such projects to exist and bring benefits to the local community. Through this they are supporting local farmers, providing a social space and giving a healthier option. I wish there where more shops like this on our high streets, unfortunately not every initiative is lucky to have such strong support from the local community.
Stores like this represent the shift in thinking and growing demand for good affordable food that hasn’t been through the murky waters of the global food industry. A key part of this project is to close the gap between the producer and the consumer, something that has become so distant that this connection is seen as a luxury. The global food industry has dominated for so long that it’s become the norm and we as consumers have become complacent. This distortion of our food chain is part of a much larger problem that is far beyond our control. We are losing our identity in towns, and as a country. We are losing local traditions, connections and patterns of life and slowy merging into faceless societies. It should not be considered a luxury to know that the food you are getting has been produced in this country and has been grown as naturally as possible. Unfortunately it is, and this needs to change.