Green Drinks: Tuesday 20th March

Next week we’re going to be welcoming Hayley and Keith from Greengrow to talk to us about their Ilketshall based vegetable growing co-operative. They’re working hard to do something really difficult – making a living working on the land. As well as growing and supplying vegetables to local shops, restaurants and households Greengrow also offer volunteering opportunities and work with school children. We’re also hoping a few people from Norwich FarmShare a community-led vegetable growing scheme that serves the city will be joining us for a pint.

It set me thinking a bit about what more local supply might mean for Bungay – after all we tend to look back at what used to exist in terms of numbers of local shops and traders and imagine things might be similar now if only it weren’t for the supermarkets – but there are far more people now and our lives are very different. I started to think a little bit about the market for fruit and veg and here’s what I discovered about scale and value using basic figures from the 2001 census and the Office for National Statistics (it took about 10 minutes to find all this so it isn’t very rigorous):

Population of Bungay, Ditchingham and Earsham wards = about 10,000
Average weekly household spend on food and drink (2010 figures) = £53.20
Average weekly spend on fruit and vegetables = £7.10 (of which £3.10 was fruit and £4 vegetables)
Estimated number of households in the three wards = 3000 (rough guess)
Estimated annual spend on food and drink by households in Bungay, Ditchingham and Earsham wards = £8,299,200
Estimated annual spend of fruit and veg in Bungay, Ditchingham and Earsham wards = £1,107,600

By my reckoning, and regardless of what mix of produce is being sold and where it is grown, that one million pounds could support 4 good sized green grocers and employ an owner/proprietor and several part and full time staff in each shop. (I’m using shops for ease of doing this – could better be a mix of community supported agriculture schemes, box schemes, shops and markets)

And what if they sold more local produce? (defining ‘local’ is slippery, but I think I mean grown in the Waveney valley.) Even if only 60% of the vegetables and 15% of the fruit sold by those green grocers were grown locally it could support two small market garden / fruit businesses, or specialisation to meet demand on half a dozen farms which again would support a number of jobs.

On the one hand this shows there is a huge opportunity – but it also demonstrates what a massive gap exists in infrastructure, skills and how little support there really is for local food at present: we just about support one small green grocer in town and in terms of sales the co-op (which draws from a much wider area than just the three wards listed above) perhaps represents one green grocer of the type I imagine above.

Given that both the co-op and to a lesser extent Tutti Fruiti have a wider sphere of influence than just the three wards it’s probably fair to say that Bungay, Ditchingham and Earsham are 3 green grocers short of the possible – and that over three quarters of a million pounds that could be spent locally is spent elsewhere and most of that (70% or more) is spent in supermarkets who whisk it overseas or into the pockets of distant shareholders (as an aside wouldn’t it be great if your pension fund invested in local enterprises you could see, get involved in or even benefit from..?). And that’s just 10,000 people in three small wards.

The benefits of more local fruit and vegetable supplies – not least freshness and nutritional value, reduced environmental impact, economic returns to the community – are well known. So why aren’t we all doing more? And anyway what can we do? Tutti Fruiti sources locally and schemes like Greengrow are doing a great job – what else could we be doing to support them. And should we be having conversations with the Rainbow Co-op about their centralised supply chain?

Come along to the Green Dragon next Tuesday (19th, 7:30pm) to hear what is happening locally, share your ideas, have a chat – and perhaps enjoy a locally brewed pint!