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More to veg boxes than meets the eye

summer fruits

People often ask us why we’re focusing on veg box schemes as the basis for building a new local food economy.

The simple answer is that pretty well everyone buys at least some fresh fruit and veg every week of the year.

But it’s also because organic and regeneratively grown fruit and veg can contribute so much more to the economy, in terms of people’s health and wellbeing, reducing pollution, sequestering carbon, creating secure and meaningful jobs, enhancing biodiversity and building community.

And there are some interesting stats to back that up. A couple of years ago the New Economics Foundation* (NEF) produced a report on Growing Communities, a London-based weekly veg box scheme and farmers’ market.

The NEF looked at the impact of Growing Communities’ operations on consumers, farmers, employees and the environment, and after a lot of number crunching, here’s what they found:

Every £1 a customer spends with Growing Communities generates £3.73 of social, environmental and economic benefits.

This figure includes the economic, non-financial costs of reduced yields from organic farming. If these costs are excluded, then the cost benefit ratio rises to £3.98 of value generated for each £1.

And that breaks down as follows:

  • £3.46 worth of benefits for the people eating the food (including the value of the food itself)
  • 32p for the environment
  • 11p for the farmers
  • 7p for Growing Communities’ staff.

Significantly, for veg box scheme consumers, the value of improvements in health were more than double the value of the actual food. But the social/wellbeing element of the scheme was also important, generating valuable social interaction and a sense of community. And members also reckoned it saved them precious time because they weren’t having to go the supermarket so much.

Benefits to environment came from carbon sequestration, environmentally friendly farming practices, short supply chains, less packaging and changes in consumer behaviour, including eating less meat.

For farmers, the benefits were also multifaceted. With the Growing Communities model, farmers get 50% of the sale price – more than three times what they’d get in the global supermarket system. And while farmers said the increased financial security was important, the greatest benefit was found to be feeling that their work was more appreciated. By being outside the supermarket system, they also enjoyed greater autonomy over what they produced and felt less pressure to scale up their operations.

Of course this is just one study, but it does suggest that the humble veg box scheme can be a powerful force for good. And it’s why we want to make sure every community in our region has access to a local scheme.

But making more fruit and veg available locally is only part of the solution. We also need to grow the market for local produce by convincing more people to make the switch.

And that’s exactly the topic we’ll be addressing in our next Zoom workshop, on 10 November at 2pm. Joining us will be Growing Communities’ Julia Kirby-Smith, project lead for Better Food Traders, their ethical food traders partnership. She’ll be sharing insights from Growing Communities’ 25 years of experience, and we know there’ll be lots to learn.

* “Farmer Focused Routes to Market: an evaluation of the social, environmental and economic contribution of Growing Communities”, December 2020, Christian Jaccarini, Manuela Lupton-Paez and Jasmeet Phagoora. Funded by Farming the Future.

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