Sales of fruit and vegetable boxes more than doubled as a result of coronavirus – and local producers hope to capitalise on this growing trend post-pandemic.
Small farmers have provided a vital service to the public as people’s buying trends shifted from supermarket shopping and the nation turned en masse to online food deliveries.
Although the trend has slowed in recent weeks, growers say customer loyalty remains high – and they hope people will continue buying locally sourced, fresh seasonal produce once the pandemic is over.
Grower Chris Loughlin and the team at Leigh Court Farm, in Abbots Leigh, Bristol, provide fresh and local organic fruit and veg boxes to customers in Bristol and north Somerset.
They grow about 8ha of fruit and vegetables and the remainder – all certified organic produce – is sourced from abroad, mainly Europe.
“When the coronavirus pandemic hit, our business doubled overnight – and it could have tripled if we’d had the extra capacity,” Mr Loughlin told Farmers Weekly.
“As farmers, we are glad that we are key workers providing an important service. We have had to change our working practices, but as we mainly work outside, we have been able to carry on without too many problems.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the company was selling 300-400 veg boxes a week, which leapt to 600-700 as lockdown took hold.
“In August, the numbers are always artificially low,” Mr Loughlin said. “But we still expect to double our normal business for September when everyone returns to their homes from their holidays.”
The Community Farm is a shared enterprise owned and run by more than 500 people. Based in Chew Magna, Somerset, it has also seen its sales more than double since coronavirus.
When lockdown was in full swing in April, its home deliveries of food boxes provided an essential food service in keeping local communities fed, especially vulnerable people shielding from the virus.
Farm owners say Covid-19 has highlighted the value of a resilient and secure local food system, with a short and simple supply chain.
Incredible Edible responds to Covid food challenge
Incredible Edible Bristol, a community food growing movement, is inspiring people across the city to take food production back into their own hands.
Across Bristol, there are over 40 edible gardens in parks, on street corners and station platforms that have been built by volunteers and partners. The crops they grow are available for anyone to take and eat.
When lockdown began in late March, Bristol Food Producers started a conversation between farmers, market gardeners and restaurant owners to see how food produced on these plots could find their way into veg boxes, rather than supply restaurants that were closed due to the virus. Ongoing support has also been provided by Bristol Food Union.
Incredible Edible Bristol founder Sara Venn said: “We trained our core team into food growers overnight and got food to organisations that had been missed, such as refugee organisations.
“In Avonmouth, we got fresh produce into the shopping bags of people who have been shielding and could not get out to do their shopping.”
Ms Venn said small producers and restaurants in Bristol had worked closely together to adapt the local food system to meet people’s needs. “It’s been amazing. It has got foods to where they needed to go.”
Mary Conway, of Purple Patch Bristol, runs a salad and veg box subscription service. Crops are grown at an old, historic smallholding near St Werburghs, in the centre of the city, with a capacity of about 35-40 boxes a week.
“Since coronavirus, we’ve seen a massive interest in veg boxes. We started our boxes in June and immediately we sold out,” said Mrs Conway.
“Hopefully, people will stay with me for the whole season. Convenience is a big thing. We’re creatures of habit, used to going to the supermarket.
“But coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works. Once these new habits are ingrained, hopefully they will stick.”
A report by the Food Foundation charity, published in May, found that UK veg box schemes had doubled their sales as a result of coronavirus.
Farmers Weekly is getting behind the #FeedtheNation campaign to back UK farmers working flat out to produce safe, affordable and reliable food to feed the nation this harvest.
With our partners, we are raising public awareness of this campaign by highlighting the actions farmers are taking to get food to consumers.