Having fresh and organic vegetables arrive on your doorstep is not only something that happens when you fall in love with a farmer, it's a life choice which can benefit everyone.
Apart from it's convenience, there are many reasons why ordering a vegetable box straight from a farm makes more sense than buying from the middle-men supermarkets. It's healthier, it's seasonal and it is certainly better for the environment. If the fact that it is organic September is not reason enough to give it a try, some information from the Soil Association and the farms themselves may entice us.
From the NHS to the World Health Organisation, all the big names are telling us to eat our five a day of fruit and veg and have been for a long time.
Despite this, the papers are reminding us that obesity is still rising, and diets are getting worse. Looking at the supermarket shelves, we can see why. Processed foods packed with sugar, salt, MSG are the norm, and the vegetables have, according to many of our grandparents and food critics, stopped tasting of vegetables. How is that even possible? It is not surprising that the kids don't want to eat them!
There is scientific evidence, gathered by the Soil Association, which shows that the way vegetables are produced effects their nutritional content and flavour. For example, organically grown vegetables contain 60% more antioxidants, less nitrogen and cadmium.
As well as the flavour of the vegetables, buying direct from the farm means that we eat more seasonal vegetables, which reduced carbon emissions from importing and exporting and localises the economy. Companies such as Abel and Cole, an organic food producer and supplier, provide seasonal recipe cards in their veg boxes to help people create tasty meals all year round. It is lovely to know where the food you are putting in your body comes from and it is possible to visit many of the farms and be in contact with the growers of your vegetables.
Rachel Lovell from Riverford Organics tells us that Riverford is owned by a British farmer, so all the revenues are invested back into British farming and the local economy. The farmers are also guaranteed a fixed price for their produce which means that they get a fare return, and avoids small scale farmers going bankrupt because of the volatility in the market. They currently supply 45,000 homes a week across Britain. The great thing is, she tells me, is that they choose their vegetable varieties based on the way they taste rather than their yield or growth rate. This makes for some tasty soups now the autumn is approaching!
Many organic farms have wildlife protection schemes too which supports biodiversity in Britain and ethical livestock farming. It is often possible to leave out the old box for them to collect when they drop off the new one which reduces packaging and waste. All in all, they are farms which you can trust are making the best efforts to protect the environment and everything in it. Many of them also sell other products such as meat, dairy and eggs, which can make the switch to organic and ethical even easier.
Having a vegetable box delivered to your door weekly or fortnightly could bring a smile to your face and more action in your kitchen - even without that romance with a farmer. To help find your nearest supplier, the Soil Association have a local scheme finder on their website. Alternatively, Riverford and Abel and Cole are nationwide companies with comprehensive websites and many other products available to browse online.
We asked Rachel Lovell from Riverford why exactly we should all make the switch....
What does your company offer that is special and what is your catchment area?
We are different from other large scale veg box businesses in that we are owned by a British farmer and all of the profits go back into British farming, rather than venture capitalists. Our focus is growing and selling food that's full of flavour, not getting the biggest profit margin possible. We deliver throughout most of England and South Wales.
What are the health benefits of eating organic vegetables? Are there benefits for farmers too?
We don't make claims about health benefits of organic food as that is for scientists to determine. However we know first hand as farmers that the way food is grown such as whether it is soil-grown or pushed on with artificial fertilisers, allowed to grow slowly or fed hydroponically, all of this absolutely influences how it looks, feels and tastes. We'd be amazed if these differences were not also evident in the nutritional content too. We select the tastiest vegetable varieties, not the highest yielding or the fastest growing, then grow them at their natural rate on mineral and nutrient rich soils, and we think our veg is some of the tastiest you can get. There are benefits to farmers too if they are Riverford suppliers as we guarantee all of our prices way in advance, giving a level of income security that is hard for farmers to get elsewhere.
How many boxes do you currently supply on a weekly basis?
Around 45,000 a week from our four regional farms in the UK
Do you get a box? What is your favourite autumnal seasonal recipe?
Riverford is a brilliant employer and we get free 'grade out' veg as part of the staff perks, so a vegbox would really leave me drowning in veg, wonderful though it is! In autumn as it gets colder my favourite recipe is sausage, kale and barley stew - amazing!
Do you think it would be possible for UK farmers if every household in the ordered a veg box? Would the infrastructure of farming have to change? If so how? What would this look like?
The infrastructure would absolutely have to change as there are not enough organic farms to meet demand. It takes three years to convert to organic so would not be simple - but it is supply and demand; farmers don't see a big enough demand to switch to organic. However the more organic farms we have in the UK the better as it would help with food security in some ways - organic farms are not reliant on imported artificial fertilisers and pesticides to grow their crops. It would also help our environment; organic farms support 50% more wildlife than conventional farms, with 30% more species.
- Interview and words by Laurie King
- Photos courtesy of Rachel Lovell at Riverford Organics