Veg Box People is a new box scheme providing super-local organic veg in Manchester. Most of our veg comes from within 50 miles of Manchester, from the well-established horticultural areas of Lancashire as well as a couple of unique urban growing sites in Sale and Stockport.
We’ve started with a collection point in the heart of the main University of Manchester campus, and have a fantastic engaged set of customers there. We organise seasonal socials where University chefs cook up meals with our veg, and there is a real buzz around the quality (and sometimes unusual) veg that we provide, and lots of suggestions for recipes amongst our customers.
We are a workers’ co-operative, which means no shareholders, no high margins, no ruthless pursuit of profit – instead just an honest living wage for us and fair prices to our farmers. We’re in it for the love of good food and a passion for making it affordable (and exciting!) for everyone.
The next steps for us are to start new collection points in different points around the city.
At Veg Box People we believe that organic production methods are the best and most sustainable way to produce food. We believe in the central tenet of organic growing: that healthy soil leads to healthy plants which lead to healthy food.
We sell organic or ‘in-conversion’ produce but also, in recognition of the financial implication for farmers converting to organic production, we sell ‘pre-conversion’ produce – fruit & veg grown during the conversion period using certified organic methods but before the soil can officially be classed as organic.
We buy most of our veg from within a 50 mile radius (with a significant proportion of that coming from within 12 miles of Manchester city centre). This cuts down on food miles, ensures freshness and nutrition, and increases the connections between growers and customers eating their produce.
The trade that we are bringing through Veg Box People is creating opportunities and stability not just for us workers on the box scheme but also many of our core local growers. We have, so far, created over £25,000 of sales for local organic produce – most of which are sales to customers who are new to buying organic.
The stability of the weekly demand provided by our veg bags means that the natural risk inherent in growing vegetables is reduced – we crop plan closely with our growers and have the flexibility of ordering to make sure as little as possible of their produce goes to waste.
The new demand that we are creating has given opportunities to new growers. We have a unique relationship with two FarmStart sites just outside Manchester in Cheshire, where a new generation of organic growers are being given an opportunity to learn growing skills and sell to us at Veg Box People.
We see our job at Veg Box People as more than just providing weekly bags of lovely veg, but also building connections within the community around the celebration and enjoyment of food. So we organise farm walks for box scheme customers to come and see some of the growing sites and growers producing their veg, and we are also just about to host our first seasonal cooking evening, where chefs at the University of Manchester will cook a range of recipes (all written up on cards for people to take away) alongside talks from growers.
Already we are seeing some of our customers exchanging recipes and ideas on our social media sites.
We are hoping that all the trade and community links will be, ultimately, changing two key parts of the bigger picture:
Firstly, people’s food culture – where more of our customers know more about where their food has come from, who has grown it, and some of the key issues around sustainability in food production; where the freshness, taste and nutrition of their food is more valued; where cooking, seasonal variation and local identity is enjoyed and celebrated.
Secondly, creating a fairer food supply chain – where growers are paid promptly and fairly for their produce; where workers earn at least the living wage; where high quality organic food is not exclusive but made affordable for everyone; where all parts of the chain work co-operatively and people and planet are put before profit.