Agriculture  |  Successes  |  23.06.2011

Organic vegetable box schemes

A vegetable box schemes is a scheme where customers sign up to have a box of locally produced fruit and vegetables either delivered directly to their homes or to a collection point. The scheme might be operated by a local cooperative which arranges to have the boxes delivered directly from a local farm. Other schemes are run by businesses which offer their services to a wider geographical area and work in conjunction with a network of local growers. The boxes are typically delivered weekly or every fortnight on a subscription basis.

The environmental advantages of these schemes are that they reduce packaging and allow the producer to select the contents of the box based on seasonality and availability. This reduces food waste and gives farmers production estimates they can work towards. Most schemes tend to offer customers exclusively organic produce, and the arrangement cuts down on the number of miles travelled from field to doorstep in comparison to supermarkets. Some of the larger schemes also offer the option of purchasing extra products which are delivered along with the box, much like an online supermarket.

A well known example of a vegetable box scheme run as a business in the UK is Able & Cole. The company offers a range of organic boxes, which vary according to size and the type of produce offered (vegetable, fruit, salad ingredients, gourmet ingredients etc.). The company allows a great deal of customisation. Customers can select certain fruit or vegetables they have a preference for, or certain types they wish to avoid. This ensures customers don’t get any produce they want use, whilst still allowing Able & Cole the flexibility to ensure the boxes are filled with what their farmers have produced. The standard contents of the box are visible on the website at least a week in advance of the delivery. The website offers a range of other organic products which can be added to their delivery, and allows customers to cancel a weekly box if they need to.  

Able & Cole favours local British produces, and has a network of smaller independent farms, but it would not be able to provide a great deal of variety during certain periods of the year if all products came from the UK only. For this reason, the boxes supplement whatever has been seasonally produced in the UK that week with additional produce shipped-in from abroad. The company has a policy of never using air-freight to import its produce.

Another such example is die Grüne Kiste in Germany. Die Grüne Kiste delivers organic food from local sources in an environmental friendly way to citizens of Hamburg area. Currently the company has about 2,000 subscribers that receive farm products from the surrounding region. The advantage of the delivery system is not only a high product quality and therefore a high customer satisfaction, but also contributes to the (eco-) balance sheet: only ordered products are being harvested. Die Grüne Kiste was founded in September 1996 by an unemployed person and currently has nine previously unemployed employees.

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