Feral Trade, trading goods through social networks

Feral Trade

Feral Trade (Import-Export) is an artist-run grocery business established in Bristol in 2003. According to Kate Rich, the inventor, it is a public experiment which trades goods via social networks. Products are run along social routes, avoiding official channels of distribution in preference for a hand-carried cargo system, often using other artists or curators as mules. All activity is logged on the project website, which allows the movements of groceries to be monitored, in the spirit of open source programming. In addition to their now 5-year old trade in coffee from El Salvador, the product line has grown to include sweets from Iran, turmeric from Bangladesh, grappa from Croatia and wild grown antidepressants from Bulgaria establishing a remarkable series of informal, alternative distribution networks of otherwise locally produced goods. The process is called Feral Trade to distinguish it from other methods such as Fair or Free. This trade is considered “feral” in the sense of feral pigeon rather than feral wolf. This is an important distinction, suggesting survival tactics in hostile urban environments as opposed to romantic notions of wild nature. The Feral Trade approach is reminiscent of time past, when goods moved more slowly. Kate draws the comparison between the days when freight shipped at an unhurried pace along the canals. It would take weeks to travel through the UK so what mattered was frequency and not speed. As long as they were moving along at regular intervals, people would continue to have their daily essentials delivered. The success of this project is even more remarkable in a climate of rising tensions over transportation resources. We could argue that if market freight system were more “feral” the question “did you pack this bag yourself?” would be irrelevant.

Valentina Culatti