Growing Communities, London: Urban Food Policy Snapshot

by Alexina Cather, MPH
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Food policy: Growing Communities

Overview: Growing Communities (GC) aims to create a resilient, sustainable food system in which producers, consumers, and the environment benefit equally. Using a bag program design, urban dwellers receive weekly bags of locally produced fruits and vegetables at set prices. This also provides small-scale farmers with a market while simultaneously protecting the environment. For nearly 20 years, the program has fostered a healthy, interconnected community founded on the concept of sustainable agriculture.

Location: London, England; specifically in the boroughs of Hackney and Dagenham

  • London population: 8.539 million
    • London is the largest city in England
  • Hackney population: 263,150
  • Dagenham population: 187,000

Program Initiated:

  • GC initially began as a local fruit and vegetable bag project in 1996, in Hackney.

Progress to date:

  • Number of customers served in local fruit and vegetable bag project has grown from 30 to over 1000 households since the program’s inception.
    • Guarantees a market for 25 local, organic, and biodynamic farms and food producers, allowing them to continue their operations.
  • Expanded the number of local farming plots in both Hackney and Dagenham.
    • The first growing plot in Hackney, acquired in 1997, has since grown to twelve plots.
  • In 2003, GC established the first all-organic farmers’ market in London.
    • The market has changed locations twice (2005 and 2011) to meet growing demand.
  • Influenced over ten other groups, known as the “Better Food Traders”, to create similar food groups both locally and across the country.
  • In 2010, GC created a “Food Zones” model, which details what a sustainable and resilient farming system would look like.
    • Later that year, GC created a start-up program which provides training and financial support for groups across the country interested in joining GC’s initiative.
  • In 2012, GC expanded to Dagenham, opening the peri-urban Dagenham farm.

Food Policy Category: Food Supply and Distribution; Sustainable Agriculture

Program Goals:

  • To create a sustainable and resilient food system.
  • To put food back into the hands of communities, rather than in the hands of massive food corporations.
  • To support and encourage local farmers.
  • To make fresh, organic, non-processed food a reality for urban dwellers.
  • To create a fair, community-run trading system which benefits producers and consumers equally.

How it works:

  • GC coordinates with farmers to provide customers with weekly fruit and vegetable bag schemes.
    • Produce is purchased from farmers, then sold to GC members at a higher price. The income generated subsidizes the cost of producing food and setting up new sites.
    • GC members pay a monthly fee to receive a weekly bag of seasonal fruits and/or vegetables. They can choose which size and produce they would like (i.e., just fruit, just vegetables, both).
    • Customers then choose a collection point from one of GC’s 15 Hackney sites.
  • The GC is entirely community-led, which enables members to vote on how the organization should be run.
    • Though products change depending on the season and availability, the price remains fixed.
    • Any excess/uncollected food from bag schemes is donated to charities and similar food projects.
  • Potential candidates interested in the Start Up Programme fill out an application and create a business plan.
    • Accepted applicants go through a pre-launch and planning stage to ensure success, and have access to online tool-kits, mentoring and training, a peer support system, and interest-free start-up loans.

Why it is important:

  • Growing Communities allows urban dwellers to have access to organic, locally produced food at fair prices, encouraging a healthy community.
  • It provides local farmers with a guaranteed market, allowing small producers to stay in business.
  • The method of production at Growing Communities is sustainable, which positively impacts the environment.
  • GC can empower community members by allowing them to be involved in the process of food production.


  • From the initiative’s 2012-2013 Annual Report, 55 percent of members say the scheme has enhanced their sense of community and connection; 95 percent rate the scheme as well-priced for its value; and 100 percent would recommend the farmers’ market to others.
  • From the 2013-2014 Annual Report, it was reported that the community has funneled about £1 million into the hands of small farmers and producers – critical support for their continued existence.
  • The 2014-2015 Annual Report measured the total value of sustainable produce traded from both the bag scheme and farmers’ market increased by 16 percent from their last year.
    • The income from bag schemes has increased by 18 percent; the farmers’ market saw a 14 percent increase in turnover.
  • Growing Communities remains financially independent and sustainable, with their core services remaining self-funded. Occasional grants are spent on expansion projects.

Learn More

Point(s) of Contact:

Similar Practices:

  • USA: Go Organic NYC
    • Weekly organic fruit and vegetable box scheme
    • Members chose what size box they’d like, as well as whether they would like a “customized box” or a “standard box”, with set fruits, vegetables, and seasonal items.
    • Unlike Growing Communities, Go Organic NYC proves the option for members to customize which products they would like from week to week,
  • Denmark: Aarstiderne
    • Organic fruit, vegetable, and meat box delivery service.
    • Also deliver “meal boxes”, providing ingredients for 3-4 meals per week.
    • Currently serves 45,000 households in Denmark and 10,000 in Sweden.
  • USA: Farmbox Direct
    • Provides weekly deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables to customers across the country.
      • Menu changes weekly, according to what is in-season and available.
    • Customers can customize their boxes based on size and products.
      • Unlike GC, customers do not have to be members. Instead, they pay per week.
      • Produce is delivered to the customer’s door.
  • USA: CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in NYC
    • Allows urban dwellers to have access to high quality organic vegetables.
    • Customers pay for an entire season of produce rather than per box.
      • Between months of June – October or November, customers receive weekly or bi-weekly deliveries of locally produced vegetables.
  • UK: Riverford Organic Farmers
    • Weekly delivery service for fruit, vegetable, and meat boxes across the UK.
      • Customers can choose what size box and what produce (i.e.: only fruit, fruit and vegetable, etc) they would like.
      • “Recipe boxes” (with vegetarian options) are also available, which provide ingredients for 2 – 3 meals.
    • Customers pay per box, and do not have to order every week.
    • Produce is delivered to the customer’s door.
    • ROF also has a “farm shop” on their website, which delivers locally produced bread, baked goods, sauces, pastas, oils, etc to customers according to their zip code.
  • Ireland: Green Earth Organics
    • Weekly delivery service of organic fruit and vegetable boxes.
    • Boxes are customizable depending on what size and produce customers would like.
    • Customers have the option of signing up for regular delivery, or paying per box.
    • Green Earth Organics website also has a variety of organic products, from spices to oils to cereals, that customers can order.


Photo credit: Growing Communities

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