Wet 'n' Wild

Susan, our Head of Operations, usually likes to stay behind the scenes working her veg magic. This week, she shares her experience working with farms and putting together your bag orders over what has been a truly wet and wild springtime for our suppliers.

As a customer of Local Greens, you are most likely on board with the ideas that food production costs more than the mass market lets on, and that food is at its best when it is in season. How strange is it for you to stroll through a supermarket’s fruit and veg aisles and see £1 a bag offers left, right and centre?  This gives the majority of consumers the impression that a bag of carrots can be produced at this price week after week, and that is just normal. I’d like to share my ordering experience with supplying you with the best quality veg, in budget and in season over these past few unpredictable weeks.

Carrots and onions are year-round staples in all of our bags. For the majority of the year, Local Greens can rely on a robust supply of UK grown carrots. This week, our suppliers from the Better Food Shed shared news that UK carrots are finished, a week earlier than they were expecting. We can still order carrots, but the supply will now move on to new season Italian carrots because new season UK carrots aren’t ready. Italian carrots are sure to be flavourful and nice, but they come with an increase in transportation and price. Another one of our staples – onions – went through a similar fate a few weeks back. Onion storages can usually get us through the Hungry Gap, but we are already on to Dutch produced onions since the UK supply is gone. UK potatoes and apples go through a similar ebb and flow of balancing fresh and storage supplies, and this usually goes unnoticed to consumers. Together with already increased prices of other produce and recent supply issues due to weather and a variety of other factors, I had to wonder how I was going to put the five veg bags and the fruit bag together within budget (or at least as close to budget as possible), while still supplying you with an interesting variety and good quality. 

I receive order lists from the Better Food Shed and our other direct suppliers early in the week, and have your orders in every Thursday afternoon for the next week’s bag (which is also why we request a week’s notice for any changes from you). The week lead-time gives the farmers enough time to assess their crops and harvest the veg. Of course, a lot can change in a week, and a sudden frost or hailstorm complicates things. Sometimes, we order and plan for 30 crates of kale, but only 20 of them are viable. If the farm isn’t able to supply more, that’s were substitutions come into play.

As is usually the case, once I completed the order each Thursday, I feel we have achieved a good balance between supply, variety and cost.  The reality is, I have to make compromises each week.  I would prefer not to use any non-UK veg. I would prefer to sometimes include bigger portions, high cost items for every bag (asparagus!), and more variety, but I’m also pleased we can supply you with bags that reflect what is happening on (or in) the ground at this very moment. You know exactly how the weather or import policies are hitting the farmers because it is clearly reflected in your veg bags each week.

Along with the ordering lists, I also receive updates from many of the farms, and there is a lot to look forward to. UK carrots should start from late June, depending on how wet and warm it gets in the next month. You’ll know both carrots and onions are back in homegrown season when they arrive with their green tops in tact. Our long-time supplier, Sarah Green Organics, shared that her fields have finally started to grow now that we have had a few warm-ish nights and wet weather. She reckons field lettuce will be ready in two weeks. Glasshouse greens are plentiful from our suppliers at Wild Country Organics and Hughes Organics. We are in the midst of a UK gap for cauliflower and broccoli, but the summer crop is on its way.  Our partners at Ripple Farm have supplied beautiful wet garlic this week, and are optimistic that the warm rain has helped the soil temperature and plant growth will speed up. They’ve transplanted their baby kale, chard and spinach plants to the fields where they should establish well and be on your plates later this summer.

The trade offs that go into that £1 bag of veg at the supermarket are not worth it for our health, our planet or our farmers. It seems like an easier solution, but in the end, the harm it creates is more severe than the annoyance of small carrots for a few weeks. I hope sharing my ordering work helps to better inform the bag experience you collect from us each week. This has been an especially difficult spring, and I thank you for sticking with us to make the best of what is available. I am always working to deliver the best bag to you.

Photo Credit: Jonny Hughes @jonny2love
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