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The recent customer survey brought up some very valid questions from members relating to our buying policy – what and why we source certain things for the bags. So we thought we’d explain in a bit more detail.
We have a pragmatic and principled approach to sourcing that ensures we’re supporting local growers by providing them with a regular income and providing a market for their produce, from as nearby as practicably possible. You can read our full buying policy here, and check out the Food Zones model it's based on.
Spending every penny
We also have a set budget to spend on each bag – while produce prices fluctuate throughout the year, we try to keep things as consistent as possible for farmers and you - giving you value for money while helping farmers shift the produce when it’s at its best. Sometimes that means we might include a chilli, a lemon or a bulb of garlic. Some people may feel like this is not a worthwhile amount to receive in a veg bag, but we see these as a bonus item, helping our farmers shift their chillies when they're at their peak and making sure we spend every penny of our budget on you. Not enough to make a meal out of but something we hope will add a bit of pizzazz to a dish.
Spring produce and those bags...
As the seasons change, so do the bag contents. As we approach early spring we find ourselves in the "hungry gap". This is the leanest period in the farming calendar from March to May, when the winter crops are coming to an end and the new-season crops are still busily growing, leaving very little available to harvest. Leafy greens are our mainstay in the spring months – Wild Country Organics are starting to produce some lovely salads, spinach, cavolo nero and Asian greens like tatsoi and pak choi. These need to be bagged in plastic to protect them, so you may notice an increase in plastic use in the coming months.
We've done a lot of work to reduce the amount of plastic we use in the veg scheme but delicate leafy greens remain a challenge as they wouldn’t survive in one piece without being bagged. We’ve explored other options and so far there are no alternatives that can adequately preserve the produce or offer any environmental advantage over plastic. So for now we encourage you to reuse the bags as much as possible (click here for some of the best ideas from veg scheme members) and recycle them when you’ve finished with them. You can read more about our research and reasoning behind plastic bags here.
Our European friends
While the UK produce is scarce, we turn to growers from elsewhere in Europe to plug the gap until the UK season properly kicks in. The majority of the organic supply comes from Spain and Italy where milder warmer weather means they can keep sowing and harvesting a greater range of crops through the winter and spring. The same is true of the fruit bags. We're coming to the end of the stored UK-grown apples and pears, so you'll find more citrus and Italian kiwis in the bags until the UK rhubarb kicks in, followed by cherries, apricots and plums in the summer.
Some people have asked about bananas too. Although they travel the greatest distance of any item we put in the bags (from Peru and the Dominican Republic usually), they have a surprisingly small carbon footprint: they're grown in natural sunlight, they're transported by boat and they come in their own packaging. All the bananas we put in the bags are Fairtrade and organic. They are also very nutritious and relatively cheap, which enables us to spend more on the other items in the fruit bag.