Increasing in popularity are fruit and vegetable box schemes, usually organised as a weekly delivery of locally grown and harvested fruit and vegetables, either directly to a customer’s home (typically within a 10–15-mile radius) or to a pickup point within the local community. A huge advantage of such schemes is that they decentralise our food supply and keep profits in the hands of farmers. From our conversations with local farmers, we share some thoughts on how to make a success of a vegetable box scheme:
Make an annual plan
Make and follow an annual plan for sowing, planting, and harvesting. Customise your crop programme to meet the demand of your expanding base of loyal customers instead of growing speculatively for other direct retailers.
Grow your vegetables just how you like them because there is no pressure to provide a standard size or shape to meet the demands of commercial buyers. Plus there is no risk of wasting crops purely because they are no longer required by a commercial buyer.
Utilise any outbuildings and existing premises to reduce capital costs. Be realistic with what you can grow and harvest within the space available. Your crops will be affected by seasonality and our erratic climate so invest in a good size polytunnel to help extend the growing season.
Use minimal or recycled packaging to help the environment and reduce costs and factor in plenty of time for packing boxes and delivery. You will need pest-free storage facilities (possibly cold storage) and a clean packing shed.
Make the most of face-to-face conversations and advertising opportunities
You are directly in touch with your customers so make the most of face-to-face conversations to promote sales. Your customers are typically enthusiastic about purchasing fresh locally grown produce and therefore a great advocate for your business!
Book a stall at a local farmers’ market to generate interest and canvas customers. Compare other vegetable box schemes; their prices and offering. Advertise your vegetable box scheme on social media with a dedicated web page for enquiries and orders. Offer a free introductory box for new customers and incentives for introducing new customers.
Host events at your farm
Open your farm to the public and introduce your scheme via open days, tours, workshops and ‘pick your own’ and tasting opportunities. ‘Buying local’ is increasing in popularity with rising support from chefs and restaurants often looking for a regular supply of ingredients for popular dishes and menus.
Expand your distribution channels
Can you expand your distribution or collaborate on a healthy eating campaign with local schools and community groups, health and leisure clubs and medical centres? Team-up with other local producers to help expand your reach and complement your offering. As a result customers can enjoy more variety and it will help to supplement any shortages.
Farm Tech Supplies supports smallholders and farmers with a range of mowing and ground care equipment including flail mowers, hedge cutters, tipping trailers and transport boxes. Get in touch with our friendly sales team to discuss your needs 01420 520510, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtsey of Northdown Orchard in Basingstoke.