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A farmer-focused system

New report: £1 spent on veg box schemes or farmers’ markets generates £3.70 in social, economic and environmental value 
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A farmer-focused system

A new report indicates that short, decentralised supply chains create a social, economic and environmental value of £3.70 for every £1 spent.

Farmer-Focused Routes to Market, based on Growing Communities in North London, is a collaboration between Soil Association and NEF Consulting (from the New Economics Foundation).

Farmers: part of the solution

Growing Communities is a farmer-focused organic food retailer. Its method of partnering with farmer-suppliers, committing to prices up front, paying invoices within two weeks and pledging to buy all produce agreed on has many benefits for farmers, customers and the environment.

As well as the overall economic value, the report finds that the farmer-focused system can cut waste, increase employment and job security, support local and new businesses, have a positive impact on the environment, contribute to reducing greenhouse gases and even change customer’s buying and eating habits.

‘The Growing Communities model shows clearly how organic farmers are part of the environmental solution. It’s a great example of why the ‘public money for public goods’ formula is the way forward, using government money to reward farmers for taking care of their land while producing high quality food at affordable prices.’

Organic sector development advisor

More jobs, less waste

Farmers surveyed reported sales increased by an average of 87% since working with Growing Communities, with 85% of farmers reporting sales growth.

Food processors report turnover increased by an average of 67% since attending Growing Communities Farmers’ Market in Stoke Newington, London.

71% of stallholders cite the support they received from Growing Communities as a reason their businesses have become self-sustaining.

Urban food networks that support organic farming have a positive impact on biodiversity and soil health: there are nearly 80% more earthworms on organic farms, plus higher numbers of birds (24%) and insect pollinators (23%).

‘The supermarket-dominated food market is currently failing to deliver for farmers, the environment and for the communities in which their customers live.

‘This report demonstrates that local supply chains like Growing Communities are doing so much more than selling high-quality local products to customers. By building farmers and communities into the system, these models help create more jobs, cut waste and benefit the environment. The government needs to do more to support farmer-focused routes to market.’

Director of Growing Communities

The report included 24 organic farmers supplying food directly to the veg scheme and farmers’ market (generating £890,300 in sales in 2019-20), 13 food processors who sold food or products at the farmers market (generating £158,810 in sales in 2019-20) and 36 people employed by Growing Communities. It also analysed the 1,421 veg scheme customers and the estimated 3,027 people fed through Growing Communities.

Benefits for shoppers

Buying from a local food network has many benefits for citizens – including good value, better health, improved social wellbeing and greater knowledge of local, seasonal produce.

84% of Growing Communities customers have eaten more fresh seasonal food since joining the scheme and 60% say they know more about where their food came from.

People also benefit from the environmental value; the report finds that localised food networks supporting organic farming contribute fewer greenhouse gases and have better soil health.

‘Polling shows that three in five people agree that government should make big or moderate changes in the wake of the pandemic – supporting regenerative models of community-led agriculture like Growing Communities would be meaningful way of ‘building back better’. In the end, it’s the land and nature that need to provide the limits to our consumption, not individual consumer choices or supermarket profits.
‘Of the £3.70 generated by the growing Communities Scheme, per pound spent, £3.46 goes to the customer and their household, in terms of the value of the food, improvements in health and wellbeing, and time saved due to less supermarket shopping.

‘32p of value is created for the environment, through better farming practices and changes in customer diets which reduce carbon emissions and improve water quality and wildlife health, among other things. Additionally, 13p of value was created for farmers and processors, and 7p for Growing Communities employees.’

Senior consultant at the New Economics Foundation

Growing Communities runs an organic fruit and veg scheme and farmers’ market and is part of a national network of similar retailers called the Better Food Traders.

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