Frequently asked questions

The organic veg scheme section of the website has full details of our different bag sizes and types, how much they cost, the collection arrangements and how to join the scheme, as well as some frequently asked questions about the scheme.

About Growing Communities

Why should I get my veg from Growing Communities?

When you join the veg scheme, you are doing much more than buying fresh, organic fruit and veg. 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.Flowers and bees

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 community-led 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 in Stoke Newington support local, sustainable farms by giving them a regular guaranteed income and helping them to create jobs in their communities. Martin Mackie 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 has recently increased his farm from 10 acres to 40 acres, and now employs 57 people.

As we are not-for-profit, any surplus we make goes straight back into furthering the aims of the organisation. We have created a Patchwork Farm in Hackney, where we grow produce for our ultra-local Hackney Salad bags and train apprentice growers, who then go on to tend their own growing sites. We are also running a Start-up Programme to help other groups across the country set up bag schemes like ours that support sustainable local farmers.

What does membership mean for me?

As a member of Growing Communities, you are 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. Pick up veg

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 Board. Every week you receive an email newsletter 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, it cuts down on food miles and allows you to meet your neighbours when you go to 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 more than 20 part-time members of staff. All our core income is self-generated but we have recently received external funding for our Patchwork Farm programme, our farm in Dagenham and the Start-Up Programme.

How did Growing Communities start?

Growing Communities was set up by a group of friends including Julie Brown (now the director of Growing Communities) almost 20 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 stAllens Gardensarted 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: Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market.  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.

What’s happening in the future?

Our Start-Up Programme helps groups across the UK to set up new community-led organic bag schemes based on the Growing Communities model. We have developed a toolkit that start-ups can use to help them get started and provide training workshops and regular support.

Why does the farmers’ market have meat stalls?

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 on sale by farmers 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, and by having meat produced on mixed farms at the market, we are doing just that.

Using sustainable, farming methods, Matthew and Louise Unwin of Longwood Farm in Suffolk rear chickens, sheep, pigs and beef cattle. By farming on a much smaller scale than most livestock farmers (whether organic or conventional), Matthew ensures the quality of life for his animals is very high.

Hook and Sons from Hailsham in Sussex sell raw, unpasteurised 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.

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 pick-up for those who want them.

Can we visit you to talk about your work?

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 Patchwork Farm page), and take the self-guided tour. Please bear in mind that the grower, apprentices and volunteers are very busy on those days, so will not have much time to stop and chat. Every few months, we run Discovery Days, when you can come and meet the team, find out more about what we do and share a delicious lunch. For details of the next date, please email us. The box scheme now packs well over 1000 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.

Can you run a stall at our event?

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.

Can you come and speak at our event?

If it is relevant to our work, then possibly, depending on our current workload. Again, we need as much notice as possible.

Where can I get organic supplies?

See our links page.

Is there something similar to Growing Communities in my area?

We are working with various organisations who are starting up other community-led box schemes in other parts of London and the UK using the Growing Communities model. See our links page.

Can we order larger amounts of produce from you?

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. See our links page.

Can I interview you/write about you for my PhD, thesis etc?

As you can imagine, we receive a lot of requests and we can't meet them all – we all work part time 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, manifesto and Food Zone are good starting points. Our Discovery Days offer a chance to meet and interview our director Julie Brown and other members of the team. To book a place, please email us.

Can I read your annual reports?

Yes, you can access them through our media archive.

I’m setting up something similar, can I come and talk to you/pick your brains?

We are currently running a start-up programme for other organisations wanting to set up a box scheme. If you are interested please email us.

I’m interested in becoming a trainee

We advertise for new trainees in January or February. Please check our jobs page around that time.

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

Website by Joe Short