Shopping for a village
At this time in August produce from our local farmers is prolific and it's my job to place the orders from them every week for our veg bag customers. This can be complicated when we work with six different farms all with huge gluts of the same things at the moment - sweetcorn, tomatoes, courgettes, beans, cucumbers just keep on coming and as Grahame, the farmer who runs Hughes Organics, said today “we have to be inventive or persuasive to help move produce because it won't stop growing or wait for the end of the holiday season”. I try to make sure we buy something from each supplier every week – it really helps our farmers to be able to plan ahead if they have a general idea of income from week to week. But I also need to strike a balance for our customers and not overload them with too much of the same thing – although we wait half a year for these things to come into season, we don't necessarily want to eat them every week! But the season is short – sweetcorn, for instance, will only be here for six weeks. Summer is short but sweet in more ways than one!
We got a bit of a sustainable food geek thrill last week when I managed to source 100% of the fruit & veg direct from farmers. This is actually a big deal for us, because ever since we started four years ago we've always relied on our organic wholesaler to supply a proportion of the week's fruit & veg offerings. But we're at that point in the year where we have such a great amount of produce coming from our London growers, as well as from Essex, Norfolk and Kent that we don't actually need to order much, if at all, from the wholesaler. We're also very lucky to have just begun a trading relationship with Peach & Pippin – a husband & wife dynamic duo who've taken over a small orchard in Essex. They supplied all the fruit last week and this week too – deliciously sweet greengages, plums, damsons and apples. Buying direct from local farms ensures we're trading as fairly as possible – the farmers set their price and we pay it, without any more middle men (or women) needing to take a cut.
We also aim to buy as close to Haringey as possible. This summer the London produce in our veg bags has doubled as Beth's team at Forty Hall Farm in Enfield have been steadily increasing their productivity. And the new kids on the block, London Grown, have got off to an amazing start. They formed nine months ago and their first year of growing has been prolific. They grow on a nine acre site in Enfield and in the glasshouses at Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre, which is the HQ we share with them.
Our other golden rule is “always organic”. While most of the farms we source from are Soil Association certified, London Grown is not yet certified, but are growing organically. They trained at OrganicLea, who do everything on organic and permaculture principles. They will be applying for certification with the Soil Association soon, once they have the funds and the staffing in place to do all that admin. While we have to be flexible on the local and direct trade principles, depending on seasonal availability, organic is always a must and we never use any conventionally grown produce. It's anathema to us.
We're hoping that the Better Food Traders will start rolling out their certification scheme soon so that we can be independently monitored on how we put all of our values into practice – as more businesses jump on the healthy eating bandwagon without much consideration of the ethical and environmental factors, it would be good for customers to have this extra assurance - sometimes it can be hard to know who to trust!
So as I prepare to do another grocery shop for the size of a small village, I'm feeling very blessed to be working with such an amazing bunch of farmers, to be feeding such a fantastic array of Haringey people with such a delicious bounty of summer produce. I hope you're enjoying the selection at the moment. And I assure you, just as you start to feel like can't take any more french beans, they'll be gone for another year.