The results are in! Changes this season
Wednesday, 23rd November 2016 by Rachel

The members have spoken...

Every year we send round a long survey to all our veg scheme members to find out how we’re doing and where we could improve. We got an incredible response this year with so much useful and uplifting feedback.  Here’s a summary of what you said and what we’re going to do about it.


Who are our members?

Of the third of our membership that responded to the survey, you are a pretty young bunch – 80% of you are under 46 years old. Nearly half of you are vegetarian or vegan and you’re all so environmentally conscious – 85% of you see the benefits to the environment as the key reason for buying organic, though health is important to a lot of you too.  You’re pretty active too – the majority if you walk or cycle to collect your bags. And you’re great cooks – 72% use your own creative genius to figure out what to do with your veg bag ingredients.  


What we’re doing well

Quality is king

Overwhelmingly positive response about the produce we supply with the majority of you rating it as good or excellent. The quality of the fruit & veg came out on top, but you’re slightly less enthusiastic about the variety and quantity – 4% rated quantity of the produce as poor and 3% rated variety of fruit as poor. This may be a small percentage but we’re very aware that this is increasingly a challenge for us.

Our budgets do not stretch as far as they used to, as the price of food is constantly going up as is the living wage. Unexpected factors such as unusual weather and Brexit have affected crop yields and prices. We’re currently working on securing a more stable supply of organic produce to ensure we can continue providing you with the best our small producers have to offer. 


Some 69% of you feel more connected to your local community since being part of growing Communities and 44% of you said you’re using your collection point more as a result of being a member. 

Hackney Salad

You LOVE the Hackney Salad and wish you could have it more often (well most of you do. Some people find it too bitter or spicy. In fact some households seem divided by it, “Other half thinks it is too spicy (I disagree) maybe some weeks leave out the spice and label it 'soft'”). Our salad yields were down this year due to the weather – it was too warm in winter which meant the pests did not die off and then too wet in May & June which hampered the start of the growing season and caused a plague of slugs, snails and other beasts. The patchwork farmers have been battling with these set-backs all season to try to match demand.

We deal with complaints well

Almost all of you said we were very easy to get hold of when you had a complaint and that we dealt with issues well. We do go out of our way to fix things when they go wrong – our delivery system leaves us open to many possible problems which are outside our control, so we work very hard to make sure we resolve issues when they do occur. And by the sounds of it, we do that very well. 

Where we can improve

While some people find it kind of cool collecting from a church (“I love telling people I get my veg from a graveyard”) others get a bit spooked picking up their veg in the dark. We’re working on some eco-lighting for St Peter’s and it should be in place very soon.

General feeling among some about the variety in the veg bags – lots of repetition week on week, or a strange combination of produce in the bags that make less obvious meals, or for some, just not enough of it.  We have had a strange year with sourcing produce, and the hungry gap did last longer and hit harder than usual. All the reasons I’ve explained above – unusual weather, Brexit devaluing the pound which made European fruit imports significantly more expensive. However we’re not making excuses, but want you to know we’re aware of the challenges to supply and we’re working on improving it.


Changes are coming…

You really don’t like plastic, that’s clear! We’ve taken that on board when thinking about our packaging.  Unfortunately for now there is no suitable alternative for bagging greens. Starch polymer is a compostable solution, but it doesn’t really do the job and it’s very expensive. The process is also really energy and resource intensive. We’re keeping an eye on this and as soon as a suitable alternative comes around, believe me we will be onto it. The plastic issue is an ongoing one and there are many arguments for plastic being the most sustainable solution, when all other factors are taken into account. Read our friend Pete at Pete at Westmill Organics’ blog about it.

Carrier bags – we floated the idea about switching to bags-for-life and you provided some really useful insights. While people are mostly in favour of switching there are some concerns, rightly so, about how we’d administer this and what types of bags we’ll be using. We don’t want to be adding to the amount of plastic in the world so we’re exploring options such as bags made from recycled plastic bottles. Some people preferred to stick with plastic carrier bags as they like being able to return all their bags to be reused by us. We just want to add here that we’re also very happy to accept bags for life too. We can’t take paper or cotton though, as they are too unreliable in wet weather.

The bag deposit idea still needs some thinking through. While 78% of you were happy to pay a £5-10 deposit for a set of bags, quite understandably there were many questions raised. We envisage needing to buy five bags per customer to allow for delays in people returning their bags (we know that not everyone’s going to be able to/remember to return their bag each week). We’re still mulling over all the options and will keep consulting and updating as we progress. 


Holiday policy

Some 83% of you were either very pleased or pretty neutral about scrapping the holiday policy and 2% didn’t even know that one existed. So that sounds like a pretty clear green light. Those of you that liked being able to donate your bags to the homeless charities we work with when on holiday, rest assured we’ll still be donating surplus and uncollected veg to these groups.