Five of the best…organic veg box schemes

| 16th January 2012
veg boxes
Whether you’re looking for seasonal veg or slaughter-free milk, Britain’s box schemes make avoiding the supermarket a cinch

Organic food sales might have taken a recession-related hit but with consumers increasingly concerned about what they’re putting on their plates, things are looking up for the UK veg box industry. Although organic farmland only accounts for a miserly four per cent of the UK total, a much more impressive 86 per cent of households now regularly buy organic produce according to a 2011 report by the Soil Association. What’s more, they say, despite a sales drop of 5.9 per cent in 2010, they expect this trend to have reversed over the course of 2011 and to have continued into 2012. In an age of price cuts and austerity, that might sound like wishful thinking, but the latest sales figures released by Tesco – showing a significant drop in Christmas takings – suggest that things might just be changing.

Although supermarkets still account for the lion’s share of the retail market, the Soil Association’s report found that supermarket sales were declining, with the slack being picked up by independent retailers and box schemes. And despite talk of austerity and the Euro crisis, veg box sales actually increased by one per cent last year. A relatively recent phenomenon, veg box schemes have become a lifeline for small community growers who lack capital to hire premises of their own and who don’t want to be taken for a ride by the supermarkets. Greener, cleaner and with a focus on local food, veg boxes are the ultimate riposte to the food retail giants. So who’s best? Try one of these on for size.

Riverford Organics
Offering a choice of fruit, veg, fruit and veg or meat boxes in a range of different sizes, Riverford Organics offers you all the benefits of a farm shop without leaving the house. Originally entirely sourced from owner, Guy Watson’s Devonshire farm, Riverford produce now comes from farmers’ collectives spread all over the country with each group of farmers supplying the consumers in their locale. Not only are your purchases organic, it’s supporting the efforts of local farmers to boot.

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Abel and Cole
Almost certainly the one you’ve already heard of, Abel and Cole is one of the most successful and longest running of the UK’s vegetable box schemes. Starting life as a purveyor of organic potatoes, the company has expanded into a full range of groceries including everything from locally grown onions to non-toxic cleaning products. Still topping the popularity charts though are the veg boxes, which come in a range of sizes and are updated weekly to reflect what’s in season. Better still, they’re affordable with prices for a small box starting at £9.

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Growing Communities
Unlike most farm-based box schemes, Growing Communities is an urban concern. Headquartered in Hackney, the community-led initiative operates a number of certified organic market gardens across the capital plus a regular stall at the Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market. As much about helping other urban communities to realise their farming dreams as selling fruit and veg; by buying from Growing Communities, you’re helping to fund a truly unique urban agribusiness.

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Coleshill Organics
Coleshill is a Wiltshire farm on a mission to get us all to eat more vegetables via boxes that contain a rainbow array of seasonal goodies. Stellar fans include celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Raymond Blanc, and Coleshill is also a former winner of Box Scheme of the Year and Horticultural Producer of the Year gongs. Sadly, unless you happen to be a Wiltshire resident yourself, home delivery isn’t available. Still, it’s worth checking out the farm shop if you happen to be in the area.

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The ultimate cruelty-free box scheme supplier, Farmaround has partnered with Compassion in World Farming to promote the supply of slaughter-free milk and eggs. Their hens, for instance, not only live free range, organic lives, they also get to see out their full lifespan instead of being dispatched to the chicken soup factory after 18 months. Along with milk and eggs, Farmaround also offer a variety of veg boxes containing a mixture of organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables.

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