Since it started in the early 1980s as a group of teachers wanting to show children how to grow things and a cluster of community gardeners, CERES has grown to be a wonderland of urban agriculture. Whenever you walk through the nursery, market, cafe, restaurant, gardens, crops, beehives as well as education centres and hubs for community groups, you can only be amazed by the successful concept of CERES.
Chris Ennis manages CERES Fair Food, part of the thriving not-for-profit environmental education centre in the heart of Melbourne. CERES Fair Food is an online organic grocer and carbon neutral food delivery service that is helping to create healthier, happier and more secure local food systems.
Chris himself is a walking example of the need to connect with nature. While he had no great interest in soil whenever he was younger, he is passionate about organic farming and permaculture now. His stories are truly fascinating and his passion and commitment to produce and consume affordable and sustainably grown food is inspiring. Here a glimpse of his stories!
Do good wherever you can, in each possible interaction. Do as much good or as least harm as possible. For instance, we resource our boxes with a small company that is owned locally and works with other local businesses instead of buying such boxes from bigger companies that dominate the market. Those kind of decisions. It’s about thinking about each thing that you do. There are compromises all the way but it’s about trying to do the best you can in each interaction. That’s my overwriting value.
People in the community sector don’t like to talk about things that don’t work, about things that fail or have to be shut down. But in businesses or start-ups, it’s celebrated. Fail. Fail fast and fail big. Get it out of the way. You have to fail in order to succeed. That’s something I’ve learned from seeing. You’re going to make big mistakes. You’ll have projects that crash. But you have to talk about it and share it as much as possible with other people. Things that didn’t work and why. That’s very helpful. Because otherwise, if you’re scared to fail, you won’t even start. You have to be relaxed about it. Even if it fails. It’s OK. It could be timing or luck. You need some good luck.
They have to face a lot of challenges and be incredibly resourceful to get out of their country and get here (...) If you have to live in a refugee camp for years before you’re accepted into another country, your acceptance and tolerance for what life throws at you is incredibly high. Sometimes small things can worry people but if you’ve lived in a refugee camp where 20.000 people share four toilets, small things don’t worry you. They’ve come to a country where food, shelter and other basic things that they have struggled for are not an issue (...) There is a real tolerance and acceptance of other people that work here. They have so many resources. They were carpenters or electricians or worked in administrative jobs in the countries where they come from. They have high level skills, much higher skills than those needed to work on a packing line or in a warehouse, and they bring all kinds of ideas and skills on managing people and processes. They really add value to this business. Some people see giving asylum seekers a job as charity but it’s actually the other way around. It’s a bonus to this business. They give more than what we give them.
You cannot wait until everything is right and perfect. Just do it. Just start. You’ll make it better along the way. There are always people that are going to forgive you for your mistakes because you’re trying.
We don’t take ourselves too serious. We take a completely different approach to marketing. We make fun of ourselves. We talk about things that seem unrelated but it’s education through conversation. It’s not like a hammer “You must. You must. Buy local food. Change. You’re a bad person.” It’s an ongoing and open conversation. There’s no judgement. Our newsletter is an outlet for being creative and sharing. People are involved and engaged. It would be rather tiring if every newsletter would be about emergencies. You cannot be on emergency every minute of your life. Your adrenaline would kill you (...) In many families or friendship groups, there is that one person who waves its finger at you and says “You have to do this or you have to do that” and everyone is rolling their eyes at them. I know recycling or going organic or buying a particular kind of meat is a good thing but because they’re saying it to me in this kind of finger waving way, I’m not going to buy such food and I’m not going to recycle (…) Do good but don’t take it so serious that you alienate.
When you get to a scale where you have central buyers, you start losing your relationship with the farmer. when you are further away from the farmer, you stop caring about them because you don’t see them each week. “We need to drive prices down by 10 percent.” You become what you’re fighting against.
I have ongoing relationships with some of the farmers for 15 years. We buy their products, put it in the shelves, hear their stories, see them and share each other’s lives. We see them grow and become a sort of a business. It’s a very interesting story. It’s more than a buyer-seller relationship. It becomes a friendship. It’s really important and very supportive in both ways. You look after each other when things are tuff. You can also share that information with customers. We know that person’s life. I can tell you that people or families have been producing peaches since generations or just started or where they got their inspiration. It’s good to get beyond the product. They’re a person or a family. They’re maybe having a crisis or someone is sick. Or there was an accident on the farm or something is going deeply wrong for them. Or they’re flooded out. The human stuff. Or they’re extremely frustrated by something. Or there has been a flood or bugs have come and eaten their products. Or they just celebrated a new baby. People can share that journey with them. You share a life. “These people make my eggs.” You get to know the life behind a product and the struggles and the everything.
Needless to repeat CERES Fair Food is an amazing social enterprise committed to source organic food from local farmers and employ and train hard-working people who haven't always had the easiest time finding a job. It was a true pleasure to meet Chris and learn more about his passion for organic health foods. Check out the website of CERES Fair Food to learn how you too can put your groceries to good work and keep local economies strong!