- Veg Scheme
- Food Growing
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If you are already a member of the veg scheme and need to contact us, email us.
Admin and payment questions
What's in the bags and where it comes from
About Growing Communities
What if I’m going away and don’t need a veg bag?
If you’re going to be away for a week or more and would like to cancel your bags, simply log in to your account and tick the weeks you want to take off. We'll adjust your payment the following month. Make any changes for the following week by Wednesday lunchtime (as this is when we confirm the order with our farmers).
Alternatively, you can donate your bag value to our Food Credit Scheme, using the online donation form accessible via the holiday page. Your donations will buy organic produce for the people who need it most, usually Hackney foodbank, Bounds Green Food Bank or other local food poverty initiatives in Haringey and Hackney. This blog post explains the scheme in more detail. We also donate leftover produce and uncollected bags to other local partners such as North London Action for the Homeless, Akwaaba, the Hackney Migrant Centre and Martha House, who put your fruit and veg to really good use.
If you have trouble logging in, email (preferred) or call us on 020 7502 7588.
How do I leave the scheme?
Just email and let us know that you'd like to stop your order for climate-friendly fruit and veg. To reduce admin, we ask you to stop at the end of the calendar month you have already paid for. But if you need to leave on a different date, of course you can: just tell us when you want to stop collecting your bags. Let us know by lunchtime on the Wednesday of the week before. Don't cancel your GoCardless as a means of leaving the scheme.
If you haven't logged in before, you will need to set up a password. Just write in the email address associated with your account. We'll send you a link to set your password. The link also works if you have forgotten your password or want to change it.
We usually pack double-value bags in the last week before the holidays, then the farmers have a well-deserved break the following week.
We charge upfront for the month ahead, so we can support our small-scale tenant farmers by paying them promptly. Payments are taken on or after the 1st of the month (the money will usually leave your account on the first Wednesday of the month). The amount will vary depending on how many bags we are delivering for you (a few times a year there are five Wednesdays or Thursdays in the month). Payments will be lower if you have booked holiday (we won't charge you for those weeks) - and will also be adjusted if you change your order.
Upcoming months with five Wednesdays are May 2023, August 2023, November 2023
Upcoming months with five Thursdays are June 2023, August 2023, November 2023
GoCardless only accept UK current accounts (not savings accounts). If you don’t have a UK current bank account or need to pay on a different date contact Rachel to arrange alternative payment..
We don’t have access to your bank account, so please set up a new GoCardless mandate by logging into your Growing Communities account. Then click on "Payments and GoCardless mandates", then "Create a direct debit mandate". We’ll get a notification about this and will cancel your old mandate (subject to the new one being accepted by GoCardless). Payments will default to the new GoCardless mandate so we will never take more than one for the month.
You can change your order at any time. We'll adjust your payment the following month to take account of any price differences. Make any changes for the following week by lunchtime on Wednesday (as this is when we confirm the order with our farmers). If you have trouble changing your order, just email or call us on 020 7502 7588.
We work with a group of local, small-scale farmers who rely on the regular orders and guaranteed income they get from supplying the veg scheme. We ask you to make all order changes for the following week by lunchtime on Wednesday, as we send our order to the farmers on Wednesday afternoon. That way, they know exactly how much produce to harvest for you. If we allow you to book holidays after we have put in the order, then we end up with too much produce on packing day.
This produce is never wasted - see What if I’m going away...? above. But it makes sense to get the numbers as accurate as possible when we're ordering from our farmers, so we (and ultimately you) don't end up shouldering the cost of over-ordered produce.
We prefer new members to try the scheme for a minimum of a month. There's so much variation that just one bag will not give you an accurate picture of the GC experience.
When you sign up we take payment till the end of the calendar month, but if you want to leave sooner, of course you can and we'll refund you. (We prefer not to do this to save on admin.)
Yes, we offer a pensioners' discount of 20% off the price of your bags. Contact us to apply. And we accept Healthy Start or Rose Vouchers as full or part payment for veg or fruit bags and to pay for fruit and vegetables at the farmers' market. Just email or call us and we can set that up for you.
If you can't find your bag at the collection point, don't take a different one, as this will cause problems for members collecting later on. Contact us as soon as possible (call 020 7502 7588 or email) and we'll do our best to get a replacement bag to you. Let us know if there's a problem with any of the produce - missing or bruised items, for example - and we'll credit your account for them.
We aim to respond to queries during these hours: Monday to Friday: 9.30am - 4pm.
If a collection point is full, we temporarily remove it from the list of available collection points.
We put a list of next week's provisional bag contents on our website usually by Friday afternoon. Some people like the surprise but if you want to plan ahead you can find out here
We don’t offer bespoke bags as it would add extra costs for admin, labour and produce, which we avoid to keep prices low for you. But most collection points have swap boxes, where you can exchange an item of fruit or veg for something you prefer. Swap the entire portion (all the apples from your bag, or all the onions, say) for another entire portion.
Allergen information: Hackney and Dagenham salad contain a mixture of seasonal leaves including mustard and celery.
Take a look at What can I order? which explains all the bag sizes, how many people they feed and what you might find in them.
The weight of the bag really depends on the produce we include and its relative cost. So for example £1 worth of salad weighs far less than £1 worth of potatoes. The other factor to bear in mind is the season. At the beginning of the season the cost of new potatoes, carrots, peaches etc is greater, so you get a bit less for your money, whereas in the autumn and winter, the produce is larger (cabbages, roots) and heavier.
We’re committed to ordering as locally as practicable. Our salad is grown on our own Soil Association-certified market gardens in Hackney and our Dagenham Farm; our potatoes and apples come from small farms in Kent and Essex; and our oranges come from cooperatives in Italy and Spain. In 2020, 84% of the veg we packed was grown in the UK and 28% of the fruit (down from a record 39% the year before). This substantially beats government figures which show that just 57% of the veg and 16% of the fruit eaten across the UK is grown in this country. And the amount of veg we bought direct from UK farmers (rather than via wholesalers) was over 60%. We never buy air-freighted produce and we avoid fruit and veg grown in heated greenhouses. Only our Fairtrade organic bananas come from outside Europe.
There are certain times of the year when UK produce isn’t so readily available. This is particularly the case in the UK ‘hungry gap’ – a regular time each year where the stores of last season’s vegetables (potatoes, onions, apples etc) have run out and the new-season produce isn’t ready. At that time we buy in produce shipped from Europe via our wholesaler. At other times of the year farmers may experience freak weather conditions (prolonged droughts or frosts) that have depleted their harvests, meaning we have to source extra produce from further away (in the UK or Europe). See our Buying Policy for more about how we choose your bag contents and Our Producers to meet the farmers who grow your food.
The UK fruit season is much shorter than the veg. For example the apple season is generally mid-August to March; the pear season is a bit shorter. In the summer we can usually source organic UK plums and some cherries but a lot of other organic UK fruit isn’t produced in large enough quantities or is too delicate for the bags (such as strawberries and raspberries).
Where we can't source UK fruit, we choose fruit shipped from farms in Europe to supplement your bags. Kiwis, for example, are relatively inexpensive and plentiful. The only exception is the Fairtrade bananas, which are shipped from the Dominican Republic or Peru. Between March and July there is hardly any UK fruit available, so we rely on produce from elsewhere. We never buy air-freighted produce and avoid fruit and veg grown in heated greenhouses.
We generally do far better than supermarkets and local shops on sourcing local organic fruit. We believe there is an argument for continuing to provide access to organic European fruit and all-year-round bags for those that want it. However, some people on the scheme choose to get the fruit bag only at certain times of the year (when the UK apples and pears are around) and go without fruit for the rest of the year.
Do you have to use plastic packaging?
We appreciate that many of you don't like to use plastic and we’re not keen on the oil extraction and waste implications of plastic either. We use plastic as minimally as possible and ask all our suppliers to do the same. Whenever possible, they bunch veg or leave it loose rather than bagging it. We have less control over produce bought through wholesalers, so it sometimes arrives with packaging that we - and you - would consider unnecessary.
We have done loads of research into the alternatives to plastic. Read our director Julie's investigation of different materials (July 2018) and conclusions about the packaging we use for the veg scheme (updated April 2021).
Unfortunately, there’s currently no substitute for plastic in terms of keeping greens fresh: paper and compostable plastics actually absorb moisture from leafy greens and make them go limp more quickly.
The carrier bags we use to pack your fruit and vegetables are made from recycled plastic and we reuse them as much as possible, so leave them at your collection point and we'll take them back and reuse them. We will also take back the clear polythene bags used for Hackney salad and other individual veg - clean ones please - and we'll make sure they are recycled.
The alternatives are tricky, complex and rely heavily on individual responsibility. However, the long-term damage of plastic waste is a serious concern and one that we're committed to taking on, but it requires systemic change at all levels, from government to industry to individuals. Until then we will continue to encourage plastic reuse and recycling and monitor the alternatives coming out, while doing our best to minimise packaging and maximise reuse throughout the supply chain. See our 2018 annual report for some of the ways we do this.
It is true that sustainable, organic produce (like Fairtrade) tends to cost more than conventional produce. Cheaper conventional produce is everywhere and it’s very difficult to resist. However ‘cheap’ food simply means that the ‘cost’ is passed further down the system either by large-scale farming and distribution systems that are highly damaging to the environment, or by giving far less to farmers. The organic farming process is more human-intensive and more land must be given to crops grown organically to avoid the use of pesticides and fertilisers.
It can do: buying direct shortens the supply chain. However, economies of scale are also a factor: so if it's produced by a very small farm or growing operation, which cannot afford to sell at a discount, this produce will cost more. It’s about striking a balance. We want to support small-scale farmers by paying them a fair price but we also want to provide affordable organic food for our members.
We start by having a good, mutually beneficial relationship with our farmers and suppliers. They are mainly small-scale tenant farmers without the reserves to be kept waiting a long time for payment, which is why we ask you to take out a regular subscription and pay upfront for the month. We very much believe that we’re in this together and they know we are going to pay them a fair price and work to increase the number of people on the scheme. At the same time they are aware that we need to provide a great bag of veg for our customers. We have a mixture of different suppliers, some very small, some larger. We also put much less of a mark-up on the produce we sell than mainstream, commercial retailers.
We can do this by running the bag scheme in a way that keeps our operational costs low. Examples of this are:
• keeping our admin costs down by encouraging you to pay once a month for the month
• making our scheme a collection scheme rather than delivering door to door (which also keeps our carbon emissions very low)
• not providing bespoke bags but instead offering a swap box at most collection points so you can swap unwanted items.
This means that more of your money is going to the farmer and we are fairer to our farmers, our members and the environment. The other advantage of this scheme is that GC is not for profit, rather than commercial, so we invest any surplus in advancing GC's aims - advocating for fairer, farmer-focused trade and agroecological farming. Read our director Julie's blog post to see just what a huge difference you make to farmers by buying through GC.
When you join Hackney's climate-friendly veg box scheme, you're doing much more than buying fresh, organic produce. You become a member of Growing Communities, which is a not-for-profit social enterprise working to take our food system back from the supermarkets and agribusiness and put the power where it should be: with communities and farmers.
We believe this is the way to create the sustainable, resilient food systems that will see us through the challenges of climate change.
It has become increasingly clear to us that ethically driven and farmer-focused trade is vital to this process of creating real change in the food system. While it’s really important that more people get involved in growing food, if we don’t also change the systems that trade the food, then those new small producers will follow the same fate as many of the small farmers who have gone out of business over the past few decades – trying to sell their food through a system that puts them at a permanent disadvantage or being completely dependent on subsidies from a rapidly shrinking public purse.
Growing Communities’ fruit and veg scheme and our organic farmers’ market support local, sustainable farms by giving them a regular guaranteed income and helping them to create jobs in their communities. Martin Mackey from Ripple Farm told us that supplying the veg scheme and the farmers’ market helped to save his business during some very challenging winters. Adrian Izzard of Wild Country Organics was able to increase his farm from 10 acres to 40 acres, and now employs 55 people.
As we're not-for-profit, any surplus we make goes straight back into furthering the aims of the organisation and making food better. We have created a Patchwork Farm in Hackney, where we grow produce for our ultra-local Hackney Salad bags and train new growers. And we set up Dagenham Farm, where we produce more food and teach local people how to grow and cook. We set up the Better Food Traders network to bring together all the small, ethical, climate-conscious retailers who support agroecological and regenerative farming and we created the Better Food Shed, a not-for-profit wholesaler that connects these small veg schemes in London with local farms.
As a member of Growing Communities, you're part of our efforts to create a sustainable, re-localised food system that can provide local people with real, practical alternatives to the current damaging food system.
You're welcome to attend our Annual General Meeting and have a say in how the scheme is run and you can become a member of our voluntary Board [and technically, as a member, you would also be required to pay up to one pound in the event of the company winding up...]. Every week we send you an email with details of what’s in the bag and where it was grown, recipes for the more unusual produce and news about the scheme.
As the scheme is collection-only rather than a delivery scheme, it cuts down on food miles and allows you to meet your neighbours when you collect your veg.
How is GC structured?
Growing Communities is a social enterprise - an organisation that works to bring about the environmental, social and economic change it desires directly through its trading activity. Any surplus we make is invested back into the organisation.
Our legal structure is a company limited by guarantee. While we do not have charitable status, we do have an organisational structure that is based on a charitable model, with members who elect a voluntary Board that has ultimate responsibility for the organisation. We have about 30 part-time members of staff. All our core income is self-generated.
Growing Communities was set up by a group of friends including Julie Brown (now the director of Growing Communities) over 25 years ago. It started life as a Community Supported Agriculture scheme, which linked just 30 families up with a farm in Buckinghamshire. "These were the early days of box schemes," says Julie, "and it really felt very subversive to be unloading vegetables fresh from the farm at 6am right under the nose of the local Sainsbury’s!" At the same time, Julie began organising weekend working trips to the farms supplying the box scheme so members could help with the watercress harvest, plant plum trees and pick caterpillars off Brussels sprouts.
The success of these trips helped inspire Julie to find sites in Hackney that could be transformed into flourishing organic vegetable plots with the aid of a grower and volunteers. “I started looking for land in Hackney by cycling around and peering over hedges and under fences.” In 1997 Growing Communities got its first site: a tiny piece of land by the old butterfly tunnel in Clissold Park. This was followed by the Oaktree site on Bethune Road later in 1997 and then the Springfield site in Springfield Park. In 2004 we set up a new growing site at Allens Gardens on Bethune Road, Stoke Newington, to replace the Oaktree site, which became a housing development.
Meanwhile, the box scheme (which by now was a bag scheme, as bags are so much easier to carry home than boxes) continued to grow and in 1999, Growing Communities moved out of the coordinator’s garage and into its current offices at the Old Fire Station Community Centre in Stoke Newington.
“We always wanted to be about more than just veg,” says Julie, so in 2003 Growing Communities set up the UK's first all-organic farmers' market in Stoke Newington. Initially the market took place next to Growing Communities' office at the Old Fire Station, but a need for more space led to a move to William Patten School on Stoke Newington Church Street in April 2005 and then to St Paul's Church on Stoke Newington High Street in 2011.
We will continue to expand our network of ethical, sustainable Better Food Traders. We campaign for policy changes to level the playing field for small organic farmers and producers and to demonstrate the importance and value of farmer-focused routes to market. Read about our latest research, which shows that every £1 spent with Growing Communities generates £3.70 of value for the people that eat the food, grow the food and the planet.
We believe that animals have a part to play in a sustainable agriculture system but that the scale and nature of most current livestock systems result in negative effects on the environment, animal welfare and human health. There is a case for the sensitive inclusion of livestock in an ecological farming system, and in the human diet.
All the meat you can buy at the market comes from small farms with high environmental and animal welfare standards. We define these as mixed farming systems, grass-fed livestock and farms that are aiming to reduce their dependency on bought-in animal feeds.
The farmers’ market aims to support small sustainable farmers from around London, such as Fabienne and Simon Peckham of Galileo Farm in Warwickshire. They use sustainable farming methods to rear chickens, sheep, pigs and beef cattle. By farming on a much smaller scale than most livestock farmers (whether organic or conventional), they ensure the quality of life for their animals is very high.
Hook and Sons from Hailsham in Sussex sell raw, unpasteurised milk, butter, cream and buttermilk as well as rose veal at the market, while the Bath Soft Cheese Company offers a choice of hard, soft and blue organic cheeses made from cows' milk.
Martin Yorwarth and his family fish off the coast at Newhaven in Sussex using only small boats and sustainable fishing methods, such as static net fishing using different sized nets to target different species, minimising discards.
We appreciate that some members of Growing Communities prefer to be vegetarian or vegan – and the bag scheme sells only fruit and veg, with eggs available to buy at the Old Fire Station collection point for those who want them.
Visitors are always welcome at the farmers’ market on Saturdays, where the market manager will be happy to answer any questions about the market or our other work. You can also come and see our growing sites on the days they are open (see Hackney Patchwork Farm page), and take the self-guided tour. Please bear in mind that the grower, trainees and volunteers are very busy on those days, so will not have much time to stop and chat. The veg scheme now packs well over 1500 bags of fruit and veg every Wednesday at The Old Fire Station so it’s not possible to come and see us then. Our website has a lot of detail about what we do, so please check whether your questions have already been answered somewhere on these pages.
If the event is in Hackney, then probably yes – if we are able to staff it. Please give as much notice as possible and email for further details. If it is further away, then probably no. As a not-for-profit organisation, we don’t have a budget to attend events where we would have to pay for stands.
If it is relevant to our work, then possibly, depending on our current workload. Again, we need as much notice as possible.
In the summer, we have extra Hackney-grown salad to sell, as well as herbs and other items in season. Contact our grower, Sophie Verhagen. For any other produce, it would be better for you to order from a wholesaler. London Food Link, who run Urban Food Fortnight, produced this handy list of London food suppliers and processors.
As you can imagine, we receive a lot of requests and we can't meet most of them. We all work limited hours and we don't have an information officer to deal with such requests. You can find a wealth of information on our website; our principles, Food Zones and Annual Reports are good starting points.
Check our jobs page around January or February.
Do you have any job vacancies?
Please see our jobs page.
If you can't find what you're looking for here, please email us or call 020 7502 7588