An organic box scheme or a local veg box scheme, which is better for the planet?
I’ve written a little about this before and had a couple of lovely guest posts on the subject of Local Veg Boxes but I’ve never looked seriously at finding a more local supplier myself. This is one dilemma I’m finding it really hard to resolve. I find the whole subject of food miles quite confusing. There doesn’t seem to be one definitive agreed standard for working them out so it is really difficult to be sure you are comparing like with like. I suppose my heart says local must be better but my head is less convinced. There have been some brave experiments in trying to eat locally by people based in London but I’m not convinced it is really practical. (One word of warning – search for “eat local London” will bring up some really interesting blogs, full of details of great farmers markets and local suppliers. From London. Ontario! )
I do try to use my local farmers market every month. It has to be said though, the vegetable produce comes all the way from Oxfordshire, so not really more local than my box scheme. One study reported on the BBC suggested that the best thing would be to eat food grown within a 20 mile radius. The professor involved did admit:
“In the short term, our paper adds to consumer frustration,” Professor Lang concedes.
No kidding? Sigh….. Well that was back in 2005 but I’m not sure things got any clearer!
We, as you will know if you follow the blog, use the Riverford organic vegetable box scheme and I’m very happy with the quality of the produce. However, it can hardly be described as local to East London. The food we get comes up from Devon in big trucks and is then distributed by small local delivery franchisees. If you are in another region your Riverford box might come from their Yorkshire farm or one of their other farms. In terms of carbon footprint and emissions they make a good case for this method of distribution. But still, not that local.
Some of the food is imported from France and Spain. Riverford are very scrupulous about reporting that. Their website goes into considerable detail to explain exactly why sometimes importing food is actually a better use of resources than trying to grow the same food here. They have a fascinating description of why it is better to transport tomatoes from Spain by truck than to grow them under plastic in the UK. They say:
The emissions from transporting those tomatoes (from Spain or Italy) to the UK (about 240g CO2 per kg of fruit) are about a tenth of those associated with growing them closer to home using heat. The situation for peppers which are lower yielding but require the same amount of heat per square meter is even worse at about 4.5kg of CO2 per kg of fruit.
But Which is Best, Local or Organic?
Back to the original question then. If I could find a more local vegetable box scheme would that be better then organic? I had a look round and found to my surprise that I just might be able to have my organic cake and eat it too. The Hornbeam Cafe in Walthamstowe act as a pick up point for OrganicLea. They say they do weekly, mostly locally sourced organic vegetable boxes. The veg can be picked up after 2:30 each Wednesday. Worth further investigation? Maybe.
I’m busy working out if I can get there after teaching on Wednesdays when I decide to look at little more deeply at their box contents. Erm…. The last box they have details for on the site is for the end of September. This does not bode well. The box does have some local produce but it also says:
Produce from: Hughes Organics and small farmers in East
Anglia, Sarah Green in Essex and our growing site (Hawkwood)
in Chingford, and from Langridge Organic wholesalers.(my formatting)
Further investigation also reveals suppliers in Norfolk and Linconshire. Not very local then really, though they do have some grapes and figs that were grown in Tottenham. (It’s been an amazing summer!) In fact quite a few suppliers are further away than Riverford and I really don’t like the use of an organic wholesaler. Their produce could be from anywhere!
My options seem quite limited then. To be more local we’d have to grow our own veg, not very practical in a small garden and you still have to get through the unproductive winter, move (!), or stick with a vegetable box from one of the big boys, the best of which, for now, seems to be Riverford.
Posted as part of Blog Action Day 2011