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Main image: The friendly and helpful team at Village Greens
With an increasingly growing number of people turning to a more sustainable way of living, I headed down to my local community-owned coop to find out more about the business and the produce they sold. I was amazed by how much variety and choice they could fit into one small but extremely well seasoned store.
In terms of numbers, the shop is 70% organic, 80% vegan, 99% vegetarian but 100% superb, and well worth every penny.
All of the members of the team (most of them vegetarian or vegan themselves) knew every inch of that floor – from the bath salts to the dairy-free fridge. One thing that I personally loved in the fridge was the oak milk from Oato. At just £1.25 per bottle, they sell over 60 a week. With a 30p deposit on each bottle, you receive fresher than fresh oat milk in a glass bottle. When you have done with it, you bring it back and the bottle gets sent straight back to the factory, where it’s washed and used again just like they used to do! Zero waste, 100% recycling!
I spoke to Chris, the store manager, to gain a little more insight into the business and how we can all be more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Drew: How do you achieve zero waste, or get as close to zero waste as you can?
Chris: Here in the store, we don’t give anyone any plastic as such. If they use the hoppers, it’s all paper bags and reusable containers the customers bring in. However some of the products are pre-packed and whenever we can – and when the option becomes available – we replace the product, rather than keeping the product side-by-side with its zero waste counterpart.
For instance, you won’t see any bagged fusilli as we serve it in the hoppers. Our plastic cellophane bags are totally compostable and there’s always paper bags available too.
Of course, we encourage people to bring their own reusable containers, but you know how it is – sometimes people forget or don’t have them yet so we do have those alternatives.
How can people achieve zero waste at home, or at least get as close to it as you folks?
Zero waste is of course impossible. There’s always big bags of everything that in the end you have to throw out. Probably the first way you should try and achieve less waste is in the bathroom and the kitchen.
Look at your products – shampoos, gels and laundry detergent – that you can refill. That’s a great start!
Then you can look at all the goods you buy in packages like toilet roll, as that’s the sort of plastics you want to avoid as they can’t be recycled.
Starting one room at a time is the best bet. There’s a big saying that we are better off with the whole of the population trying to do zero waste badly than a couple of individuals being absolute zero waste warriors! So start where you can and move up from that point.
Once you start getting into it, it starts to get quite addictive. We have a lot of customers here who come in with as much as they go out with, as it’s all jars and tubs.
You are definitely better off starting in your bathroom, I’d say. Generally, the products you can refill tend to be the better ones for the environment like EcoLeaf, Ecover and many other great brands that are a lot less toxic.
What’s the most creative use or reuse for everyday items that you’ve come up with?
Well, we did a whole Christmas which was called ‘Have A Rubbish Christmas’. It was a couple of years ago now.
We are still reusing some of the stuff we did – beer cans chopped up into mobile wind chime-type things, a Christmas tree made out of fruit boxes, and things like that – so that was a good one for the shop.
At home, we make our own Bees Wax wraps, which aren’t strictly vegan of course! We also tend to reuse a lot of packaging, jars and bottles.
My partner did the most amazing thing one winter when it snowed heavily. We didn’t have a sled for my daughter, so I made one with bits of wood and pallets we had hanging around. But in the meantime, my partner had sewed a full snow suit out of an Ikea bag. I got absolutely upstaged and it looked amazing with the yellow Ikea straps!
How long has the business been running and how did it begin?
I wasn’t here right at the start, but there were some very committed individuals that basically started with little market stalls and tried to raise awareness of what we needed in this community.
They went round fundraising, and gaining membership at £100 per ticket to be a member. Some people were excited and invested far more than that, as they were entitled to do as they wished, which is really the coop spirit.
It took a good year or two of that before the shop was born and that was nearly seven years ago now, as we are coming up to our seventh birthday in June!
We’re looking to expand now as within the past three years our trade has doubled. Our first commitment is to Prestwich, so that’s where we will stay.
The reason why we were born is that people said that they needed a facility like Unicorn here in the north where they had nothing. Prestwich has grown around that as well as we have lots more independent businesses which have sprung up in the past few years.
It’s really boosted the town and the community, as well as ourselves. It’s encouraged others to think outside the box and come up with ways to have more great things here.
I’ve got my tools at the ready to put in a take-out coffee window in the store soon, so that will hopefully be ready early-mid March!
How has corona impacted the business?
It’s put a lot of stress and pressure on us. During the early stages we were the only place some people could go to, see and talk to, so we had a lot of customers offloading their worries and concerns on us. But from a financial point of view it had an immediate positive effect and throughout various lockdowns we haven’t seen any dip from that peak, so maybe it’s made people realise shopping local and investing in your community is a good thing!
And also, they’ve discovered we might not be as busy or intimidating as the bigger supermarkets, so that’s a nicer way to shop.
You get a friendly atmosphere here – we’re all about chatting and being a bit more personal to improve the experience.
How can people change the way they live today to change the environment?
As far as their personal choices, really, be mindful of what you’re doing – like flying, for example. I know it’s not a problem at the moment but when you do, try to offset the journey by investing in a charity that helps with carbon.
Often sustainability is also an economical choice. Look after your heating and lighting by making it more efficient. You’re not only having a nice, snug environment, you’re also cutting down on the waste too!
You can make the choice to go organic, too, its a great way of farming which is done correctly. It basically ensures good land management has gone into the production of your crops. That sort of move back to land husbandry, rather than just taking from the land – they are all key principles.
What are your favourite products you sell and why?
My fave ones are the beers! 98% of our beer is from Manchester and the surrounding North West, so that’s local and small production. You’re supporting the local economy as well as reducing food mileage.
On the total opposite scale to that, we do a refill olive oil from Greece. Someone approached us from Greece and they are selling it directly to us, and its the most exceptional olive oil, which you can get very economically at only £4 for half a litre. Trust me, its really good stuff!
I also love the Otto-men products we sell at the deli. They are Mancunian caterers, and they did fairs and markets and now we sell their food which tastes great!
Are there any hidden gems that people come back again and again for?
Totally the bread, the oil, the Otto-men products. Generally, all the refills too – especially the refill wine we do; it’s got its own cult following!
The fruit and veg are, of course, the jewel in our crown – we constantly do shop comparison too. As far as a full basket goes, it’s nearly always cheaper than the supermarket for organic vs organic and kilo vs kilo.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
As part of the expansion when all goes to plan, we’re putting forward a Community Fridge and also a Tool Library. Of course, these are both on hold due to Covid issues, but with help from Rob Grant who started a business group, we are hoping to get things back up and running soon.
What I bought and for how much
After my chat with Chris, I had already planned on making a few purchases with my second-hand mason jars. What I didn’t realise was that there was too much I wanted and I only had four jars to fill. After a few suggestions and recommendations, I settled on:
Organic Orzo Wheat Pasta from Italy – £3.50 per kg
Dried Mango – £1.60 per 100g
Vanoffee Raisins – £1.65 per 100g
Chocolate Favas – £1.65 per 100g
I can safely say that the jars of Vanoffee Raisins and Chocolate Favas are already half empty, so I will surely be having a visit back to Village Greens very soon with many more reusable tubs and jars!
Handy hint: If you aren’t around the Manchester area to visit Village Greens, Google search ‘zero waste shops near me’ to start your new eco-journey.
Right in the heart of Prestwich, the store is open seven days a week.
Mon: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Tue: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Wed: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Thu: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Fri: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Sat: 10:00am – 5:00pm
Sun: 11:00am – 5:00pm
Written by Drew Wilby.
Photos by Drew Wilby.