SHAFAQNA – Uzma Asghar is a 38 year old female Muslim entrepreneur and mum of two young children living in Birmingham, UK. Uzma, self-declared “hippy” has a degree in Medical Biochemistry, but decided after having children to make her passion for healthy natural eating and living into a business venture so that she could afford to maintain organic health foods for her family and provide services to other women and families wishing to do so. She set up The Organic Shed a food collective based in Birmingham which was the first company to deliver organic halal meat to Muslim families in Birmingham.
You have an organic food business called The Organic Shed, please explain how it came about?
The organic shed started as a little project to help people order organic meat from an organic farm because the delivery charges at the time were quite high. We ordered a 10kg box when my daughter was weaning and we were introducing meat in to her diet. I was into an organic lifestyle prior to be married, my husband wasn’t. When we had children I wasn’t contributing to the food budget any more because I wasn’t working. My husband, who was working, refused to go down the organic route, that is until I basically used my daughter as leverage, she started weaning and I said I can’t feed this kind of meat to her because it’s bad for her body. He was more interested in fulfilling whether she ate well rather than if we ate well. For him it was finances, organic meat costs more and you get a lot less meat for your money. But when my eldest daughter was in the picture, we bought a 10kg box and it lasted us six months. In order to do that we had to buy a freezer to put in the garage and make sure we had space to put all of this meat. So we did that, and after six months I asked my husband if he wanted to go to an open day at the farm and chat with the farmers. Although I knew all the background I needed him to hear it from somebody other than me. So when I was there and he listened to the farmer talk about why they rear the animals the way they do, and how long they rear them before they slaughter them, he was like “yeah this is really important” and I replied “uh, yeah, obviously”. I let him absorb all of that and when we came home we decided “why don’t we set up something that allows more people to access this?”. And he was quite interested then. We discussed how we could do this, realising that some people may not have the garage space that we have and some people may not have the cash flow to buy in bulk, they may only be able to spare a certain amount each month. Space and money was a big thing for a lot of people so we thought let’s do a small group order. I put a Facebook message up on my profile to see if anybody was interested and there were a few people that did come forward and we did offer a group order. A sister in Sparkhill lent us her dining room and people came and picked up. It was a collection thing at that time. People came and picked up from her house and from that point on it grew. More people were able to order if there was a delivery in place so then we moved to delivery. We did about three or four collections at the sister’s house, then we moved to deliveries. I was going to the farm and picking up the stuff, sorting it at my house and delivering it the same evening. Bear in mind I had my eldest daughter, then two with me throughout the day; I used to do it with her in tow! It ran for about two years I’d say then I was pregnant with my youngest daughter; I think I was eight months pregnant when I did my last delivery. At this point we were delivering to around thirty houses in Birmingham, this was December 2015. And then our delivery partner came into the picture and I allowed him to take over the logistics side of things. So that’s how the The Organic Shed started, merely because I wanted the best for my child, and for us to have a breather with our cash flow.
What is your business model or philosophy?
My aim is, in order for me to remember things I need to implement stuff. I feel like I have to share that stuff, any knowledge I gain I have to share to support my aspirations, and in order for that I have to make my sharing financially viable. And if I share and earn money from it I’m actually able to grow in learning and I’m actually able to implement that. I’m teaching other people and in order for me to teach other people I have to be able to demonstrate that I have to be able to do the stuff myself. That’s how I’ve worked out my business model and that’s it, and as long as it does that, it’s fine.
You’ve been selling organic meat for 2.5 years, what other products do you sell?
Before my youngest daughter came along I was also doing group orders for dry organic goods, pre-packaged stuff, flours, dried fruit, and toiletries through a wholesaler. What I would do was charge people wholesale prices, people didn’t have to buy the whole bulk of that item, and they could share it among each other. Then I would charge the wholesale prices but add a processing fee which included delivery to their house. We also sell local raw honey, we’re probably selling the only honey – one or two beekeepers do this in Birmingham – where the beekeepers don’t take the honey from the bees over the winter. Usually beekeepers take all the honey that they can and substitute it with sugar syrup over the winter to keep the bees alive. The beekeeper that we use only takes away the excess so the bees are sustained on their own produce; we’re not giving them any extra which is man-made. Only a few beekeepers in Birmingham do this so we sell a very limited amount of it.
Then I have an educational arm which is workshops and training which I hope will be covering topics such as foraging, fermented foods, raw desserts, eating better, budgeting for an organic lifestyle, those kinds of things, they’re kind of all intertwined. Natural immunity, that kind of stuff.
I’ve noticed that organic food is two to three times more expensive and many people’s household budgets are very tight these days. What kind of advice do you give to people who want to go organic?
I go with what I’ve experienced to date, my journey, we are not completely organic, far from it, but we are on the journey. A lot of people get stumped, they look at the expense and they say “no way can we afford that” and they never get on the journey. Or they try it for a bit and they say “no, this isn’t working or what not” and the organic food is the first thing to go and they go back to their old ways, because it feels really hard to do. And my advice, I would call it coaching more than anything else, is to look at where you’re at right now and look at where you’d like to be and find out ways that you can get there, step by step, and break it down into tiny little small bits of achievable targets. So that might just be incorporating one or two organic items whether that’s food or clothing or whatever the person wants to tackle first. It might be toiletries, they may not be fussed about food, so we say “how can we make that item happen?”. So it’s looking at their overall budget to date, whether they can increase or decrease that. And looking at what they have today and if that’s going to stay the way it is, it’s looking at how important is that item, is it a priority thing? Then looking at what else you spend money on and looking at how we can eliminate some things, if they are eliminable and seeing how we can fund that. We currently spend about £180 a month on food and household items. When I tell people that, they think that’s really low, some people spend a lot more but they’re not eating as well as we do. I notice that if I buy good quality I tend to eat less, I find it more nourishing, more filling and satisfying, so we don’t actually binge on other stuff, so actually our budget can come down and we can buy other stuff with the excess money we may have left over. It takes years, I don’t think it can happen like that, to make that change, if you want to go the whole hog and I’ve not got there yet.