You Can't Get There from Here

'Arigato' for Vegetables
A new season of crops is nearly upon us, and you'll notice some winter strongholds mixing in with the fresh spring produce. We've teamed up with Moto Priestman, chef at Okan Brixton, to bring some new flavours and excitement to those root veggies. Check out her Local Greens take on Japanese Breakfast below. New recipes to come each week, and if you're craving Japanese goodness, Okan is open for takeaway and delivery.

Speaking of a new season...here's what's coming to veg bags near you in May:

rhubarb, asparagus, wet garlic, lettuces, chard, spinach, spring onions, broad beans, new potatoes, spring greens, spring cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, globe artichokes, mini cucumbers, spinach, pak choi, cherry tomatoes (towards end of May!!)

You Can't Get There from Here
Remember when quickly popping to the shop was a thing? How easy it was to buy a bag of apples, head of broccoli or bunch of tomatoes without a care in the world. Amid this pandemic, however, we've seen how the commercial, conventional growing systems buckle when workers and goods are abruptly at risk. There is an old New England saying, when something is too complicated, or you're stuck in the middle of nowhere, that 'you can't get there from here.' Supply chains are suddenly stuck, and getting from here to there has become complicated. Luckily, by supporting Local Greens, you support short supply chains that keep your veg bags full and your farms in business even during crisis.

We already knew our farmers were key workers long before that became a trendy phrase. Their work is hard and somewhat unpredictable. Without them our plates, cupboards and tummies would be empty. The tremendous spike in demand means that many supply chains can't cope. Using Local Greens as an example, since March 16th, our customer base increased by 92%, meaning we need 92% more fruit and veg to continue supplying customers.  However, as Natasha Soares of Better Food Traders says, farmers "can’t just pull a crop out of the ground like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat." Farming takes time and planning and nature works at her own pace. Local Greens founder, Jean Bergin, is very open and up-front about the challenge: “We are very concerned about supply as most of our produce comes from eight small farms in Kent, Essex and Suffolk…We already know that the UK’s supply of stored vegetables is gone and we’re now having to rely on supplies from the Netherlands, but we don’t know what will happen there…If one of our farms can’t supply us, it will be a problem”.

It isn't only fresh crops that are feeling the pressure. The dried goods rotating between bags come from Hodmedod's, which prides itself on supplying all UK-grown pulses and grains. Josiah Meldrum, who runs the company, shared, “we haven’t come up for air since March 16th. Normally, we’d pack 50 – 60 orders a day.  At the moment, we’re doing 250 – 300 orders a day, which is unmanageable." 

Back in January, the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) discussed sustainable supply chains, without knowing how prescient the topic would become. In a world modified by pandemic, the veg schemes "that are doing best are the ones with the shortest supply chains,” according to Page Dykstra from the CSA Network UK. To fill your weekly bag, Local Greens has to manage a few logistics with local distributors, or directly from farms. Our chain is A to B to C, and sometimes just A to B. That is vastly shorter than managing refrigerated cargo from Argentina or South Africa, worrying if a port is still operating or if lorry drivers are healthy enough to work. Local supply systems have fewer touch points and links in their chains, and so there are fewer points where they can break. The health crisis "has exposed deep structural weaknesses in the current UK food system, dominated by supermarkets whose business model is based not on seasonality, locality or nutrition...now the fragility of the system is exposed," according to Ethical Consumer. 

Our short chains enable us to communicate directly with customers and even bring some of you to the arch, further reducing delivery touch points. The ORFC noted that, "while [grocery store] shoppers are forced to regard each other with fear, CSA and box scheme communities have pulled together to help their more vulnerable members, dropping off to those who can’t get to pick up points." Jean has enjoyed seeing LGers come together, saying, “In London, there is a community spirit that I haven’t seen in 30 years of living here. The offers of help are overwhelming; it’s really connected us to our customers. Now they’ve got time on their hands, they really value the service we’re offering.”

Next time you see a long queue at a supermarket, where "millions across the country pick over the leftover fruit and vegetables," we hope you'll be extra thankful for your bag of veg, for the farmers behind it and for the relatively short journey it had to make to your kitchen. Natasha at BFT hopes that beyond this pandemic, “citizens in the future recognise that in order to have a resilient supply of food, farmers need to be supported all year round when times are bad as well as when times are good...in order to have a resilient food supply we need to source our food from local, sustainable farmers.” By supporting Local Greens, you support a system that makes it easier to get from there to here, strengthens communities, produces better quality food, and makes us resilient through this crisis and into the future.

Read On:
In Praise of Short Supply Chains
Community-led Food Providers Bring Calm in Times of Panic