Growing communities

Julie Brown, director of a local scheme to put money back into the pockets of farmers, explains how Haringey residents have been making agriculture greener

Growing Communities
Mary Hogan, a Growing Communities member who collects at Hornsey Vale

Did you know that when you buy fruit and veg from the supermarket, the farmers who grew it receive, on average, less than 10% of the value of that produce? According to food campaigning charity Sustain, profit margins on common foods like apples, bread and cheese can be a little as 1p.

I think we can all agree it’s outrageous that the people who grow our food are struggling to feed their families, while supermarket bosses rake in millions. Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts earned £3.8million last year, 200 times more than his lowest paid employee.

Not only is the dominant food system failing farmers, it’s failing you and me and all the creatures we share the planet with. We’re in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis and changing the way we grow, produce and consume food can have one of the biggest impacts when it comes to lowering emissions and improving livelihoods.

So, in 1996 I set up Growing Communities (GC), and in 2020 we partnered with Sustain to launch the Better Food Traders Network, a UK-wide network of veg box schemes dedicated to helping small-scale farmers make a living while improving access to fresh, sustainably grown fruit and veg grown as locally as possible.

To me, this is a key part of the systemic changes we seek: we have to make it possible for more organic and nature friendly farmers to survive and thrive if we are to make our food and farming system fit for the future.

A veg bag subscription from GC helps over 30 committed, hardworking, climate-friendly farmers to make a decent living for themselves and their workers. At GC, more than 50% of your £1 is returned to the farmer. But that’s not all: pollution and emissions are reduced, wildlife is supported and members tell us they are more adventurous in the kitchen, feel healthier, more connected to the seasons and enjoy connecting with neighbours at collection points.

Yet we are facing hard times. After a rushed eviction from their packing base at Grow Tottenham, Haringey’s ‘Better Food Trader’ Crop Drop asked us to help to keep the scheme going, which of course we agreed to. We now have over 1,600 members across Hackney and Haringey standing up for better food – just by ordering a weekly bag of veggies. There are more than 250,000 people living in Haringey alone. Imagine the impact we could have on farmers’ livelihoods, on biodiversity across the UK and on the wellbeing of people living in the borough if even 5% of people joined our community. Let’s face it, supermarket bosses aren’t going to redistribute their wealth of their own accord, so let’s help them along the way by supporting an alternative, healthier food system.

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