Want to spread the love? Join the charity jam set
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There’s an abundance of joy to be found in pots of golden honey and freshly popped jars of jewel-coloured preserves. They’re the heart of the festive cheese board and the soul of the breakfast table. And it makes sense that a gift traditionally given to others as a gesture of goodwill and love should become the focus of a new recipe for doing good.
From Malta, where award-winning Gee’s Jams (the passion project of River Cottage-trained cook Gerald Strickland) is partnered with the Foodbank Lifeline Foundation; to Paris, where ultra-chic Confiture Parisienne has been raising funds for breast cancer with a jar that’s as delicious as the raspberry and macaron jam inside; to New Zealand, where luxury honey brand Tahi invests in biodiversity and education – there’s a huge preservation society out there.
Martin Zuch is founder of Mama Buci, an award-winning, cold-filtered raw-honey company that operates a community-building co-operative in Zambia. Established in 2009 by ex-trader Zuch and missionary John Enright, with the support of Bear Grylls and artist Charlie Mackesy (author of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse), the for-profit enterprise has built more than 100,000 easy-to-harvest “treetop hives” for wild bees in the Miombo forests, helping to contribute to the incomes of more than 7,000 families and helping to support the school Zuch built in the region. Teams from Malawi have, at Mama Buci’s invitation, conducted field trips to learn about the model in order to replicate its benefits in their own communities.
Pump up the jams
It is now one of the biggest single-source honey producers in Africa but, with new shareholders launching the brand in earnest around Europe and into the US in January, “it feels like we’re just getting started”, says Zuch, who wants to see 400,000 more hives in the next decade. From this month, 10 per cent of the profits from jars of Summer Harvest (light, aniseed notes) and Winter Harvest (dark and treacly) honeys will also go back to local schools (givehopeafrica.org).
There’s a reason people in this business make such natural philanthropists, says Elspeth Biltoft, founder in 1989 of Yorkshire’s multi-award-winning Rosebud Preserves, which today makes a 60-strong orchestra of jams, marmalades, chutneys, jellies and honey. “We understand a system of dependence. So much work goes into this, and with the constantly changing conditions in weather and climate and all kinds of variables, if you didn’t roll up your sleeves, you’d have no livelihood.
“Our main thing is bumblebee conservation,” she continues. “It went a bit hit-and-miss during Covid, because naturally our thoughts turned to how to survive as a business. But in the long term, there’s no bigger factor than the bees themselves.” The company gives donations from every jar of red-tomato and chilli, blackberry and sloe gin, and Midsummer jams – whose ingredients rely heavily on bumblebees for pollination – sold via its website to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. And it recently hosted its own “Bee Friday”, where 10 per cent of all proceeds went to the cause.
Other campaigning producers are focused on food waste. “For anyone in the food business, the idea of waste at any stage in the food chain or of anyone going hungry is incredibly upsetting,” says Jenny Costa, a long-time torchbearer in Britain for reducing food waste who famously founded Rubies in the Rubble by employing disadvantaged women. The company makes chutneys and condiments from “salvaged” produce. “This year has been crazy, with the shortage of seasonal workers,” she says. “There are systemic issues and supply-chain issues, and farmers are desperately trying to diversify because it’s not worth picking their own fruit.”
With the business approaching its 10-year anniversary in February, it has saved 351,600kg of produce from the scrap heap, and Costa’s ideas, once considered quirky, have been fully vindicated. The company, with just 14 employees, not only donates its own surplus stock but plays an intermediary role in the matrix of farmers, supermarkets, producers, charities (such as the foodbank collective The Trussell Trust) and community organisations that gets fruit and veg to someone who can either process it or eat it. In October, Rubies’ staff stepped in with food-rescue champions The Gleaning Network and The Felix Project and physically helped an Essex farmer rescue as many apples as possible, donating half to food banks and putting the rest to work in an apple and cranberry chutney for Christmas.
“I always wanted our jars to spark a bit of thought, to function in the fridge as a symbolic reminder to use and appreciate what you’ve got,” says Costa. “When you give a present of food, you’re giving the fruit of someone’s labours: it’s one of the most meaningful gifts there is.”
“There’s a kind of safety in the nostalgia around preserves and a comfort factor in the purchasing of them that peaks at this time of year – and it seems to go hand in hand with charitable giving,” agrees Sarah Metcalf, grocery buyer at Fortnum & Mason, where gift-seekers are currently lining up for classic English strawberry jam and a rare, short-season mandarin marmalade from Chios. “It’s important to people that their comfort extends to others, and we’re careful that the suppliers we partner with, from our own-brand preserves and honeys to the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove products, share those values. Right now, it’s a volatile environment for producers – retailers need to support those who do it right.”
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