Jean Bergin

We Are Family

For our 10th anniversary, Jean Bergin, Managing Director and a founder of Local Greens, shares her reflections on the family of people who have supported Local Greens and shaped the community it is today.

For me Local Greens is like a big family. Over the years, we have moved house, made friends in a new community; family members have grown up and moved away but stayed in touch. There is a backbone of reliable people who have been there from the start, supporting us or working to ensure our success.

Local Greens got going through the Growing Communities start up programme. Growing Communities is led by the brilliant Julie Brown. Julie is an original thinker and tireless campaigner for sustainable food. She always tests your principles, never lets you off with a throw away comment and has been a great sparring partner and good friend to me and Local Greens. The start up programme has now grown into The Better Food Traders, the larger network of sustainable food business across the UK to which we belong. Local Greens was one of the first accredited members of the BFT, and I was honoured to be on the selection panel during the box scheme accreditation stage. The driving force behind that organisation is again Julie, but also Natasha Soares and Nicky East. They have both been involved with Local Greens over the 10 years. Nicky did our ordering when we were going through a sticky patch. She brought her experience, patience and understanding to help get us through. She is now co-ordinator of Better Food Traders. Natasha is a valuable member of our board and has filled other roles over the years. She set up South London Salad, finding community growing projects in Tulse Hill, Loughborough Junction, Catford and Clapham. They supplied Local Greens with mixed leaves while giving their volunteers the opportunity to improve their lives through growing. Natasha is now the Project Leader at Better Food Traders.

Others who have been with us all the way through are the farmers. Martin and Sarah Mackey run Ripple Farm Organics in Canterbury. The ethos of Ripple Farm states clearly what we have in common, and why small, organic farms are so important for food security and to slow climate change. Martin and I, both being Irish and keen cyclists, always have lots to talk about. Long ago, I gave him a ‘Friends of Herne Hill Velodrome’ cycling cap. He was chuffed about it, which reminds me, he probably needs a new one by now. Another farmer is Sarah Green, whose family has been farming on the same site in Essex for generations. It’s been a pleasure seeing her start her own family and train the next generations of Greens in organic farming. It’s a challenge to get to Sarah’s farm in Tillingham, Essex, from South East London, but when you get there, there is always a warm welcome, hospitality and a tour around a beautiful, unknown part of the country. Tillingham, in the Dengie National Nature Reserve, has its own micro climate, which allows Sarah to be the first farmer to offer new season veg. There are also Lizzie and Graham Hughes of Hughes Organics in Bunwell, Norfolk. Graham is a good friend to Local Greens and has a particular soft spot for south London as he is a Tulse Hill boy. Graham has been a pioneer of organic growing since 1982, starting with a greenhouse, and now growing with his son Josh, supplying greens, beans and tomatoes among other favourites. And finally, we met Paul Vassey Wells at Brockmans Farm and followed him to Walmestone Growers. He is a talented grower, believes in the sustainable food movement and is in the process of converting his fields from spray-free to organic (his polytunnels are fully organic, and his field crops are in the first year of conversion). Paul visited us yesterday, when he had to step in to drive because of delivery issues. It was great to see him and have a catch up.

Our Local Greens family is also made up of board members who came and went over the years. Many moved into bigger roles in sustainable food, and it is nice to think that Local Greens was part of their journey. Maria Devereaux brought her marketing and PR skills to Local Greens. She arranged competitions (pumpkins for life, not just Halloween), organised volunteers, was part of recruitment teams, hosted growing workshops, arranged pop-up dinners and made introductions. Maria changed careers and now runs gardening projects where she introduces the joy of growing food for educational and therapeutic purposes to community groups and schools in South London. Respect Maria! Another former board member is Harriet Lamb, previous Chief Executive of Fairtrade UK. While on the board of Local Greens, she had vision and experience that was invaluable for a start up. She has since gone on to greater things, but sustainable food is still important to her, only last week speaking on a ‘Food Poverty and Climate Change’ webinar hosted by Impact Hub Kings Cross. Harriet brings energy to everything, has a sharp mind and is great in a debate. Well done, Harriet.

On a personal family level, my children, who are all young adults now, have grown up with Local Greens. They all have fond memories of visiting the farms, running through the fields, tasting the freshly harvested salad crops, scratching a pig behind the ear, feeding sheep, popping peas, marveling at the farm machinery. One of my daughters remembers the weeding attachment that looked like lots of blue fingers.

Isn’t it just fantastic to see how food unites people through growing, distribution and eating? We are all part of a bigger thing which is sustainable food grown in harmony with nature, using organic or agroecological methods; food that is fresh and nutritious because of our short supply chains; food that directly links people and the farmers who grow it.