2019 marks the start of a record year at Coleshill Organics, with a significant boost in sales for our little organic veg box scheme. We always experience a small surge of new veg box customers in the New Year, with many people attempting to make good on their New Year’s resolutions… but never on the scale we’ve seen since 1 January this year.

In the first two weeks of 2019, we had 12 new box customers sign up for delivery, with four old customers renewing their subscriptions. This represents an eight-fold increase compared to the first two weeks of 2018. And we are not alone: according to the Soil Association’s recent Organic Market 2019 report, home delivery of organic (through online and organic box schemes like ours) saw sales growth of 14.2% in 2018, and now accounts for 14% of all organic sales.

Our global challenges

Despite the alarming fact that, as a nation, we still buy 98% of our food from the supermarket, we’re absolutely delighted to see a significant number of people turning to local and organic produce. With rising atmospheric carbon levels, global insect population collapse and widespread contamination of land and food from chemical agriculture, it’s clear that we all need to embrace agroecological and organic farming more than ever.

Source: The Guardian

Yet an organic future is no longer pie-in-the-sky stuff. A new report from the influential IDDRi, Ten Years For Agroecology in Europe, states that a wholesale transition to agroecology would:

  • feed the European population healthily
  • maintain export capacity
  • reduce Europe’s global food footprint
  • result in a 40% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions
  • help to restore biodiversity and to protect natural resources.

Small changes, big difference

Of course, the level of interest and increase in sales we’re celebrating here at Coleshill Organics wouldn’t even register on the supermarket’s tills, but it makes a huge difference to us.

It means that our organic market garden has a more realistic chance of providing a decent living for myself, my assistant, my head grower and his assistant. I can also start looking at investing in my staff, maybe even putting up a new polytunnel … who knows? It means an awful lot, which is why I am so grateful to my loyal customers.

I must admit that I find it uplifting–and rather thrilling–that a small, 7-acre walled garden in rural Wiltshire not only provides organic vegetables for approximately 150 families but also offers a livelihood for four people and their families.

Maybe it is no coincidence that, prior to this new wave of enthusiasm and interest in our organic veg boxes, we saw a boost in productivity in the garden that we’ve not witnessed for several years. This is, of course, largely thanks to Matt, my head grower, who joined us early last year. I have always felt that the gold standard for any veg box scheme—and indeed its profitability—is the quality and quantity of fresh veg and fruit that it can grow itself, without reliance on wholesalers or other bought-in produce. And that’s something we’re excelling at.

A REAL veg box scheme

Of course, I could always change my business model and simply buy in all my veg from the wholesaler and deliver it, like certain national organic boxes schemes I could mention…

I could sell my tractor and all the costly implements that keep breaking down, and turn the garden into pony paddocks or a car park and simply have a packing shed and a van. (We always need more car park spaces and I’ve heard that car park spaces are being sold for £10,000 each.) The garden staff could go and work in Waitrose where it would be warm and dry all year. On paper, it probably looks like a good business plan, but to me, this job is all about the soil, the garden and the people who work it. And it is heart-warming to see things picking up again this year. Let’s hope it continues.

Heartfelt thanks

A significant section of our walled garden suddenly collapsed in early January

As you might have gathered, I am genuinely thrilled that the start of 2019 has marked a small but significant upturn in our income. But the truth is that small-scale organic production is probably still the most expensive way to produce vegetables—particularly if you are growing in a walled garden and the wall falls down, as mine did earlier this year! Anyone who toils in this line of work is never going to be rich, and any spare cash will probably be spent at the osteopath.

But I am not talking about any old vegetable production: I am talking about a small-scale, sustainable production system; a scale that attracts and invites people in for all the right reasons with its intoxicating mix of delicious, wholesome fruit, vegetables, flowers, bees, insects, herbs, pathways, trees and wildlife, as well as its history and its timelessness. And that is the difference for those of us who work here, as well as those who choose to buy here—and for the future generation that will inherit this small bit of Earth.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support.

Sonia