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Food for Thoughts and Squirrels

In the first of this week’s #ECOWeek19 posts, we are delighted to share this guest blog post from Laerke Hass, a current 2nd year Sustainable Development student and Hearty Squirrel volunteer at the University of Edinburgh.

Some students countdown the week until a Friday, but Thursdays are the favourite days of squirrels across the university. No, not the bushy-tailed ones eating your food in George Square gardens… I’m referring to the more human kind that sell vegetables, eggs and bread in the Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative.

stall 2 for hearty squirrel
Hearty Squirrel Stall, Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre Basement, Image Credit: Hearty Squirrel

A student-run cooperative, the Hearty Squirrel has existed since 2012 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 for students or low-salaried people in Edinburgh. The vegetables and eggs we sell every Thursday in the Gordon Aikman lecture theatre and every other Thursday in King’s Buildings are fresh from Whitmuir farm, near the Pentlands. Our bread is supplied 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 businesses and making a sustainable lifestyle accessible to students who usually must make do with the cheapest supermarket option.

However, the Hearty Squirrel is much more than a cheap 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 is a great way to learn how to listen, be respectful and make valuable contributions to something larger than yourself. In the last year that I have been involved with the Hearty Squirrel, I have learned how important it is to share work equally and to take responsibility for your part. What seemed like a big, scary thing before i.e. buying food and making sure the budget isn’t in the red; anything ‘finance-y’ is no longer as daunting.

In this week 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 and wrapped in plastic with complex international trade-deals and transportation networks. This is dangerous for the planet and its people. We need to buy local and seasonal food, to support organic farms and to ensure that food is equally distributed across the globe.

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. For instance, alumnus Ellie Green, who volunteered with the Hearty Squirrel in 2006-2008, decided to continue working with food after she graduated. She went on to run the Leith Wholefood Coop at the Autonomous Centre from 2008-2011 and is still involved in local food buying and cooperative solutions. As she said herself, ‘I try to avoid the supermarket if possible!’

Although, I’m not sure what I want to do after I graduate, for me the Hearty Squirrel is much more than a stepping stone into a career path. It is a great community, a shared process of learning and a fun way to spend a Thursday. Yet, I do believe that getting involved with any of the Green societies on campus – be it People and Planet, SDA, 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 be truly sustainable.


  • On Wednesday 13th February, the Hearty Squirrel will be at the Green Hub Introductory Event. Sign up for a free afternoon of sustainability and communality: https://mycareerhub.ed.ac.uk/students/events/Detail/571925/ecoweek-2019-introduction-to-g
  • Come and visit the Hearty Squirrel at our food stall on Thursday 14th February, Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre Basement: https://mycareerhub.ed.ac.uk/students/events/Detail/570767/ecoweek-2019-hearty-squirrel-s
  • Contact the Hearty Squirrel on our Facebook Group  or email us at heartysquirreledinburgh@gmail.com


Squirrel Photo
Image Credit: Hearty Squirrel

(Copyright Hearty Squirrel)

(Copyright Hearty Squirrel)


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