Fruit & veg scheme FAQs
General problems with the collection and bags
- Why weren’t my bags there this week?
- Why was there an item missing from my bag?
- What should I do if the produce in the bag is mouldy or damaged?
- Why is the salad/spinach/chard in plastic packaging? Isn’t this bad for the environment?
- Why do you pack into plastic bags instead of boxes?
- Why do you ask people to pay up front for the month?
- What happens if I want to leave the scheme?
- Can I change my order mid-month?
What's in the bags and where it comes from
- How much produce do I get in the bag each week?
- What’s the weight of the bag each week?
- Where do you get your produce?
- Why is there European fruit in the bag?
- Can I ask not to have a certain item in the bag?
- Why do we get so many potatoes, carrots, onions and other roots?
- Why does organic food cost more?
- Does local produce cost less?
- How do you strike a balance between paying a fair price to farmers and providing affordable organic food?
Please ring or email us if you can’t find the right bags at your collection point and we’ll try to find out why – whether the order was wrong for some reason or whether your bags have been taken by someone else by mistake. Then we can arrange a refund or give you extra produce the next week. Please don't take someone else's bag.
We sometimes have to substitute one item for another if there’s been a problem with quality or quantities, so check that you haven’t got a different vegetable instead. If it’s an omission on our part, we will put extra items in your bag next week – and label it specifically for you to collect.
Let us know and we’ll make sure you get extra items the next week.
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. Pete Richardson from Westmill Organics wrote an interesting blog about this recently, where he says that there is considerable evidence to suggest that paper and biodegradable plastics are no more environmentally friendly in many respects than plastic.
We’re always keeping an eye on developments, and when there is a suitable and affordable alternative material we will use that instead.
We appreciate that many members don't like to use plastic, but bags are much easier than boxes for you to carry home from collection points - especially if you collect on foot or by bike (which most of you do). And they take up much less room than veg boxes, allowing us to make fewer journeys to our collection points, and to use the limited space there more effectively. Also packing into (mostly reused) plastic bags allows us to make good use of the huge numbers of bags still in circulation. Finally, there is evidence to suggest that plastic packaging has a much lower carbon footprint than its paper or card equivalent. See Guy Watson's report about this.
Monthly prices are calculated to include 4 weeks’ holiday each year, so you only pay for 48 bags a year. If you don’t go away, you can collect your veg every week anyway or organise for a friend or neighbour to collect your bags while you’re away. If you do go away and let us know one week in advance, we won’t order for you that week. This helps to cut down waste.
In practice, the holiday system means that if you're around every week you get a bag every week (in effect, you get 4 free bags a year). If you go away for up to 4 weeks, this is already taken into account. If you go away for more than 4 weeks in a year, we'll refund you for every week over the 4 – just remember to let us know by the Thursday before each time you go away, otherwise we’ll already have ordered your veg.
If you want to get a friend to collect your veg instead of cancelling for the odd week here and there, you don't need to tell us – the friend just needs to go along to the collection point and say your name.
We decided to run the scheme this way so that our producers are guaranteed a certain income each month and our members don't have to stop and start fiddly payments each time they go away.
We keep a record of all holiday requested and we can email this to you - or give us a ring.
We’re not for profit and so we operate an up-front monthly payment system to minimise the amount of time and money spent on administration/chasing payments and therefore spend more money on furthering the aims of the organisation. Up-front payments provide a stable, guaranteed flow of money for our farmers, workers and rent.
Just let us know when you want to stop collecting your bags (at the latest, Thursday for the following week). To reduce admin, we usually ask people to stop their order at the end of the of their payment cycle.
You can change your order at any time - we just need a week's notice. If you increase your order mid-month, a payment will be taken to cover the increase for the rest of the month. If you decrease your order, your next monthly payment will be reduced to reflect this, and include any refund.
What's in the bags and where it comes from
Take a look at What can I order? which explains all the bags 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.
We’re committed to ordering as locally as practicable. Our salad is grown on our own Soil Association 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. Last year, 66% of our vegetables and 15% of the fruit in our fruit bags came direct from local farms while overall 89% of our vegetables came from the UK. We never buy air-freighted produce or produce from heated greenhouses. Only our Fairtrade organic bananas come from outside Europe.
There are certain times of the year where 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 Growers for more about the farmers we work with.
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 produce (such as strawberries, raspberries) is too delicate for the bags.
Where we can't source UK fruit we get fruit shipped from farms in Europe to supplement the bags. Kiwis, for example, are relatively inexpensive and plentiful. The only exception is the Fairtrade bananas, which are shipped from the Dominican Republic. Between March and July there is hardly any UK fruit available so we rely on produce from elsewhere. We do not buy air-freighted produce or produce grown in heated greenhouses.
We generally find we 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 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.
Unfortunately we are a small veg scheme and we don’t have the resources to organise and offer bespoke bags. However, some of our pick-up points have swap boxes, where you can exchange an item of fruit of veg for something you prefer.
Part of the reason we order the staples is because they are locally available for most of the year, which means we can guarantee there will be some UK-grown produce in the bags throughout the year.
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 we believe that ‘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 small-scale 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 we’re buying from a very small farm or operation, which produces small volumes and 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.
How do you strike a balance between paying a fair price to farmers and providing affordable organic food?
We start by having a good, mutually beneficial relationship with our farmers and suppliers. 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 scheme. At the same time they are aware that we need to provide a great bag of veg for our customers. We also put much less of a mark-up on the produce we sell than mainstream, commercial retailers. We have a mixture of different suppliers, some very small, some larger.
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 everyone to pay once a month for the month
• making our scheme a collection scheme rather than delivering door to door
• not providing bespoke bags but instead offering a swap box at many pick-up points so members 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 our scheme is that we are not for profit, rather than commercial, so we invest any surplus in advancing the aims of our organisation.