Tucked away in Downing Street in Farnham are two relatively new businesses each dedicated to providing the opportunity for all of us to make our own contribution to help not only improve the environment and reduce waste – but also to lead healthier lives.
Okomoko is a welcoming little café that boasts ‘100% plant-based deliciousness’ and is the brainchild of Sam Currie. Opened in early 2018 the café has quickly made its mark, not just with the local community but also with regular customers travelling from further afield.
Sam has been in catering for many years and it was always her dream to have a café. “At the beginning of the year I decided to try Veganuary and just found that it really clicked with me. I was pescatarian-vegetarian before, but the vegan diet just fits so well with me. I felt so much better for it,” explained Sam. “I found it almost impossible to eat out as a vegan. So it seemed a natural step to open a vegan café.”
The café provides customers with an appealing range of plant-based meals and drinks, and has two comfortable dining areas to settle in to enjoy their visit. “What is interesting is that of course we get a lot of people who follow plant-based or vegan diets coming in – but there are also a lot who can’t have gluten, eggs or dairy who know that they can just pick off the menu without having to question the ingredients. So it covers so many different options for a wide range of people.”
I had deliberately dropped in mid-morning when there were likely to be fewer people around so I could chat with Sam without interruption. Taking advantage of the comfortable seating both upstairs and downstairs were customers who were clearly enjoying the sociability of the café.
“We’ve changed the menu a couple of times since we started,” said Sam. “The menu was originally quite simple but the one we have now is really fine-tuned to what people clearly want and enjoy. And we focus very much on our specials. We prepare lots of fresh vegetables every morning and today we’ve got lasagne, a mixed-green gnocchi, our lovely leek and potato soup and we do an amazing burger too. And of course our usual sandwiches, jacket potatoes and lots of home-made cakes and other things.”
I was very tempted by their home-made seitan, which effectively is a bacon replacement and served up as a BLT sandwich with their own mayonnaise. Sam of course also provides takeaways, and runs a successful fixed-menu supper club which has quickly established itself as part of the local social scene.
The second reason for my visit was to find out more about Keep, which is located upstairs above the café. Their full name is Keep Old Containers with a very simple message: ‘Zero-waste whole foods, household and personal care shop and pop-up. Bring your empty containers for refill’.
Annabel Hay and Sarah Chatterton were busy sorting through a delivery and I took the opportunity to have a browse around their shop which is crammed full of a fascinating and thought-provoking range of products, all of which meet the criteria of reducing waste.
“We’ve always wanted to do this, and we both have similar interests,” said Annabel. “If it wasn’t for having children we would have started years ago. But everything is now perfectly aligned for us.”
“We’re naturally starting small but the eventual idea is an eco-supermaket where you can buy all your food loose, use refills for your personal care liquids and make use of second-hand, Fairtrade and sustainable items,” Sarah explained.
“We are both vegan,” said Annabel. “So the dry foods we sell are vegan wholefoods you can cook a meal from scratch with including nuts, seeds and grains. We try and sell locally-sourced items wherever possible. And on all of our products we look for a plastic-free and low carbon footprint element.”
“Our aim is also to make everything affordable. Some customers come in with a preconceived idea that it’s going to cost more, but because you only have to buy as much as you need and you’re not paying for the packaging we’ve had quite a few people commenting on how reasonable everything is.”
During my browsing I had noticed as well as the range of foods quite an eclectic mix of household and personal care items including bio-friendly laundry liquid, fabric conditioner and hand wash ready to pour into your own containers. “There’s so much here,” said Sarah. “Vegan wraps instead of clingfilm, re-usable make-up which is packed in bamboo and you can refill, shampoo bars without plastics, sulphates and palm oil that shampoo often contains, and reusable natural soap nuts for use in washing machines.”
“We feel that there are stages of our journey towards zero waste, and we are encouraging people to think about every aspect of their lives,” added Annabel. “Making small day to day changes is very important. And not having to worry about plastic packaging.”
I could feel a real sense of achievement, very much endorsed by Sarah’s final comment: “We personally serve every customer that comes in and we get a real connection with them. We feel that we are building a community of like-minded people that is expanding every day. Word is spreading.”
Phil Kemp is a Godalming-based writer and photographer. www.weyriver.co.uk.
Okomoko and Keep can be found at 19 Downing Street, Farnham GU9 7PB. Tel: 01252 712225