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.

Evaluation:

  • 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.

References:

 

Photo credit: Growing Communities

Related Articles

Subscribe To Weekly NYC Food Policy Watch Newsletter
Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter today to receive updates on the latest news, reports and event information
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.
×
×