Chris is from a family of grocers and farmers and is a serial social entrepreneur. In his 15 years at CERES Chris has worked with people living with disabilities, long-term unemployed and asylum seekers across a raft of farming, food and education projects including CERES Fair Food, CERES Market Joe’s Market Garden, The Seven Stars Catering, OM Mushrooms, The Urban Orchard Produce Swap, CERES Microgreens, The Complete Urban Farmer course and Crowdsourcing Day. A colleague once described his work at CERES as, “Just thinking fun things up and finding people to do them.”
Tell me a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Fair Food began in 2005, on a picnic table outside the CERES farm office. Known as The CERES Staff Fruit and Veg Co-op it was an affordable and social way to buy organic produce. Word spread into the surrounding neighbourhoods and before long The Co-op was feeding over 200 households each week. Seeing online shopping beginning to grow and CERES needing to become more financially self-sufficient we secured some funding, leased a warehouse, built a website, employed 13 people and became CERES Fair Food. Almost six years later CERES Fair Food is the largest independent online organic grocery business in Melbourne; delivering 1100 orders a week to a network of over 70 volunteer pick-up points and employing a permanent staff of 40 people (about a third of them asylum seekers or new migrants). In 2015 and 2016 CERES Fair Food was selected as a finalist in the 2016 Australian Social Enterprise Awards.
Please explain your business model
CERES Fair Food is an online organic grocery.
With a mission is to do good at every stage in the food chain.
- We buy food from local farmers and grocery producers.
- We employ asylum seekers and newly arrived migrants.
- We build a community of customers with 70 volunteer pick-up points
- All our profits support CERES’ environmental education programs
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
Scaling up our Microgreens enterprise, revamping our website, beginning to deliver 5 days a week, running Crowdsaucing Day 2017 and maybe growing some edible insects….
Tell me how you make your ideas happen?
I think often the best way to make something happen is treating ideas like falling in love.
Rather than planning and planning and planning you have to jump in and give it a go and get a feel for what it is. By this stage, you’re fully committed and have to keep going even though you can see how crazy this all is. Eventually, though you make it work and can’t believe you got through all the madness which you’d have never gone into if you’d done a whole lot of initial thinking about it.
I try to match ideas with the right person or people – there are some people who play a similar role to acacias in a forest system – they’re made for getting in first and starting things. Dan O’Farrell who came to CERES Fair Food as an intern and started CERES Microgreens is one of these people. Emily Connors who started the farm gate stall at Joe’s Market Garden is another. It’s almost like they can’t help themselves from getting things happening.
What role have mentors played in your business life?
Market gardener, Joe Garita, helped me in so many ways more than just growing vegetables; from stopping me from overthinking things to being able to let the small stuff slide to being thankful for what we have here today.
What does your typical day look like?
A 4-year old’s collage…
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing an organisation in Australia?
All the usual ones:
- finding scale-up capital
- not being able to implement changes quickly enough
- having to settle for solutions that aren’t always my first choice
- wanting to be able to reward employees better
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
That the ideas part is the easy bit, ideas are everywhere. It’s the doing and the sticking around long enough that’s the secret.
What people do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Bruce Pascoe – Dark Emu author.
Milkwood Permaculture – Food and farming educators.
YourGrocer – Local food delivery innovators.
What about internationally?
Ernst Gotsch – Agro-forestry Brazil.
Jean-Martin Fortier – A small scale Canadian farming legend.
Aarstiderne – A Danish farm-based grocery delivery service for 55,000 customers per week.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
A huge role – imagine if instead of systematically stealing wages and intimidating its mostly new migrant or overseas student workforce that 7-Eleven valued its workers, treating them with respect and providing properly paid, secure employment.
Imagine what sort of a lasting influence that would have on thousands of people new to our country and the knock-on effect it would have on their families, neighbours and the people they may employ in the future. Speaking of affecting social change, Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
We’re always looking for new growers, grocery makers and of course funding,
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Moroccan Deli-cacy, Brunswick, VIC.