I get a veg box from Abel & Cole – have done for about 15 years – and although I have patronised local veg schemes, I must say the quality and service I have had with A&C has been consistently good over the time I have used them. One of the problems with the smaller CSA projects is that they are often simply not of the standard that one can get from the larger companies and, while I realise I am coming across as being rather unsporting, it’s not because I don’t understand the challenges, I really do! but we have to be aware that simply being local isn’t enough: we need more small farms supplying to the locality to supplement the market gardens as only a few community-based operations have the scope, skills, and scale to produce the range of foods at a quality and quantity that is expected.
While I freely admit we all need to get better at adopting a more generous attitude to less-than-perfect fruit and veg, there is a difference between accepting a variation is size or colour or texture, or removing the odd caterpillar or cluster of aphids, and dealing with a bag of veg which is largely inedible. Unfortunately, receiving such specimens tends to turn people off rather than encouraging them to cut, scrape, or peel their way through to more palatable parts of their purchased vegetable. Most of us understand that muddy carrots and potatoes store far more effectively than their washed and plastic-wrapped counterparts, and anyone who has grown their own produce will understand the limitations, and focus more on the fresh taste and crunch, and – unless you’ve gone to a tremendous amount of trouble – it will be essentially free food. That is part and parcel of having watched and seen and appreciated what has gone in to the process, and we can’t expect to feel the same from a third party source, especially if we have paid a premium.
I was listening to Farmarama and a fascinating account about the indigenous people of New Zealand where the model is that they have a commercial farming operation, and then supply their local community for free. This is similar to the biodynamic principle of the farm being self-supporting, and able to produce food for the local community as part of the rotation and growing schedule. Vicky and I are exploring possibilities for her land in order to produce food at a level which is meaningful. The point is, that if you aren’t using lots of external inputs, and saved seed and home-made compost is utilised, the costs involved with growing should be minimal. Of course, if the produce is being sold through an outlet or value is added in the form of preserving there are then justifiable costs to do with retailing that need to be recouped, but anyway, it got me thinking.
Perhaps a scheme where people pick their own free produce in return for some weeding or watering, or tidying the greenhouse? it would be good to demonstrate that you can grow food with very few inputs, if you choose the right types and varieties. Watch this space…