This week we will deliver our first boxes in the North East from River Swale Organic Vegetables. The vegetables will not be southerners. This is the third in our sisterhood of regional box schemes, building on the lessons we have learned over 21 years of growing organically and 14 years of packing boxes in Devon. River Nene, our second regional box scheme, started in 2005 working with a group of growers around the Fens and delivering in the East Midlands and East Anglia. It has been a tremendous success exceeding our most ambitious targets.
River Swale Organic Vegetables is a joint venture with Peter Richardson, an organic farmer in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. He works with a group of local farmers to grow the vegetables, while we provide agronomy, technical support, IT, marketing, finance and the systems that get the box to the doorstep each week.
The big idea is to retain the social, environmental and economic benefits of small, local businesses, so retaining autonomy and regional character, while sharing the benefits of scale across the network; most obviously IT, finance, negotiating credit card rates etc, but probably more importantly in sharing the benefits of accumulated knowledge be it the best carrot variety, how to control weeds in rhubarb or what to put in a box in February.
Megalomania? Well perhaps; I would dearly like to offer an alternative route from farm to table on a scale that challenges the madness of the supermarket dominated production and supply chain, while at the same time avoiding the norms of growth:
1. Scale - If the regions continue to grow we will divide them to reduce food miles further and keep them at a personal size. Riverford has reached this size and will be divided in two this year when our fourth sister scheme, Norton in Hampshire, joins us. And again if we can establish a growers group in Kent. River Nene is rapidly approaching the same scale so we are looking for partners in Essex or Suffolk.
2. Control & autonomy