Haringey Community Press

Haringey Community Press

Top of the crops

Why we must provide a radical alternative to the current food system

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Crop Drop founder and director, Rachel Dring packs a box of carrots All photos credit: Amanda Stockley

Why we must provide a radical alternative to the current food system

By Rachel Dring, founder and director, Crop Drop

Back in 2013, it was near impossible to get your hands on fresh, organic, affordable produce in Tottenham let alone produce grown right here in the borough.

Instead, our eating habits were dictated by the supermarkets and this, I learned, was wreaking havoc on our planet, not only sending emissions soaring but leading to huge food inequalities. And while supermarket bosses got richer, small-scale ecological farms − the kind that are the key to curbing climate change, were going out of business at an alarming rate as they struggled with impossible standards, last minute cancellations, and pitifully low prices that barely covered the cost of production.

I wanted to do something to change this. So, from the glamourous confines of a Tottenham shipping container, I set out to create a more sustainable food system, one that could reconnect communities with the people who grew our food, while ensuring farmers were paid a fair price.

With the support of a start-up scheme run by the Hackney-based Growing Communities and a handful of local friends I launched Haringey’s not-for-profit veg box scheme, Crop Drop. Rather than offer home delivery, we struck up relationships with like-minded independent businesses and community spaces around the borough.

Fast forward to this month, we’re celebrating our eighth year of trading. We now have eleven veg bag collection points around Haringey, we grow our own organic veg at Wolves Lane Centre in Wood Green, and have an ever-expanding customer base who love the way a simple veg bag subscription can change their whole approach to cooking and eating.

Unfortunately, we’re not the only thing that has grown in that time. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report revealed to many what we’ve known for a long time: we’re in a climate and ecological emergency and the dominant industrial food system is still one of the biggest culprits.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that global food production now accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions, while rampant pesticide use is a main driver of ‘insectageddon’. Diet-related illnesses are on the rise too and are estimated to cost the NHS around £6billion each year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Awareness is growing, more people are growing their own and there are some promising national efforts, like the National Food Strategy, that provide us with a road map out of this mess.

It’s widely accepted now that regenerative farming, the kind our veg box scheme supports, is key to absorbing carbon and renewing ecosystems. But this kind of farming is more expensive, requiring more people, time and effort.

Price, however, shouldn’t be a barrier to eating healthily. In 2020, after the first lockdown, we set up the Food For All meal project in collaboration with the Wolves Lane Centre and the Felix Project. To date we’ve delivered more than 13,000 free healthy meals from surplus and locally grown produce for people in need.

The World Wildlife Fund’s Live well report estimated that eating more plants, grains and legumes, could help cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. That’s why we’re helping more people fall in love with home cooking with our weekly recipes designed by local chefs. Plus, we’re launching plant-based cookery classes soon to help people get the most out of their veg.

While there’s a lot we can all do to change our personal shopping and eating habits, we also need systemic change on a national and global level. We’re hopeful that the climate talks at COP26 next month will bring about meaningful change but based on the last 20 years of inaction, we’re not holding our breath.

We do know that stronger communities acting together to put pressure on the government does make a difference.

There are so many growing and conservation groups you can get involved in, including with us at Wolves Lane Centre.

Collectively we have all the solutions to curb the worst effects of climate change and build a better, fairer and more healthy food system.

To celebrate their eighth birthday, Crop Drop is offering TCP readers £5 off your first order. Just visit www.cropdrop.co.uk and use code TCP5 when you join.

To find out more about volunteering at Wolves Lane Centre visit: www.wolveslane.org