Food for thought: The Hearty Squirrel Co-op

The Hearty Squirrel is a student ran, not-for-profit food cooperative at the University of Edinburgh. They strive to provide local, organic and affordable food to students and staff, as well as educating on food sustainability.

Though for some Thursday are known as the day you must muddle through before finally getting to Friday, Thursdays are the favourite days of squirrels across the university. No, not the bushy-tailed ones eating your food in George Square Gardens. These are the more humankind that sells vegetables, eggs and bread in the Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative.

A student-run cooperative, the Hearty Squirrel has existed for many years and is still thriving. We are a social enterprise group at the university, and we want to make it easier to buy affordable, organic food as students or low-salaried people in Edinburgh. The vegetables and eggs we sell every Thursday in the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre are fresh from Whitmuir Farm near the Pentlands, our bread from a vegan bakery in Leith, and our dried goods from a cooperative wholesaler in Glasgow. This way we know that we are supporting local business and making a sustainable life-style accessible to students who usually must make do with the cheapest supermarket option.

Some of the bread The Heart Squirrel offer.

In this time of ecological thinking, the Hearty Squirrel’s small part in the larger issue of food security and sustainability must of course not be forgotten. The food we eat in Scotland and the Western world in general is increasingly imported, wrapped in plastic and complex international trade-deals and transportation networks. This is dangerous for the planet and its people. We need to buy local and seasonal food, both to support organic farms and to ensure that food is equally distributed across the globe.

But the Hearty Squirrel is much more than a cheap and ethical supermarket. Being a cooperative, our model is based on a flat hierarchy where everyone, no matter how long you have been involved or what you study, gets the same say. This a great way to learn how to listen, make valuable contributions to something larger than yourself, and gain practical skills like making sure the budget isn’t in the red – but, perhaps much more importantly, this also ongoingly leads to the creation of a vibrant and supportive community.

Together, we learn, together, we explore, and together, we have fun: volunteering at the stall on Thursdays, visiting Whitmuir Farm, or co-creating self-published zines on food politics are just some of the ways through which we do this. It’s a great feeling to be a part of a group of inspiring people who want to do the best for the earth and each other!

Some of the veg from the cooperative.

Getting involved with the Hearty Squirrel – or other Green societies on campus, be it People & Planet, the Sustainable Development Association, or Dirty Weekenders – will teach anyone applied critical thinking and a new understanding of how business models and hierarchies need to be radically altered for our world to truly be sustainable.

To recap: the Hearty Squirrel is many things. An affordable and ethical supermarket, a model solution for issues of food security and sustainability, a passionate community, and a way to learn. So why not try it out? Curious? Visit our website and Facebook page or join the group.

Craving some veg? Order your produce for next Thursday by visiting the website!

Interested in joining? Come along to our open bi-weekly meeting (details on the website) or sign up to volunteer on Thursday – no experience necessary (weekly sign-up on the Facebook page / in the newsletter).