Guest blog by Tony Lotter of Organic Ilford, a Redbridge social enterprise
Christmas 2015. I was exhausted and fed up. Our little scheme was thriving but was being blighted by ongoing supplier issues and thefts at our Redbridge pick-ups. Replacing produce or refunding customers was costing us more than we could afford. As was hiring transport to collect and deliver produce. After spending hours in the cold (and growing dark) weighing and packing veg and hearing my one-year-old daughter calling for me over and over, I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to spend my time with my family, not with turnips or spreadsheets.
So I closed the scheme and took a year off. Everyone said I was mad. But I didn’t feel drained anymore. Volunteering is great to do but when you are locked into doing it because you feel obliged to or an organisation treats you like staff but can’t afford to pay you, well that’s when you start to resent it. And resentment damages both the individual and the company.
Time away allowed me to rethink the purpose of Organic Ilford. I missed the ultra-fresh, local, seasonal produce each week and I couldn’t find anything like what we’d supplied in the shops in Ilford, and the tiny variety of organic food that was available was so overpriced we couldn’t afford much of it. Then Brexit happened and although that might not seem like it has any relevance to a small-scale veg scheme, the implications of leaving the EU to our food supply are huge. UK farms rely on skilled (and cheap) European labour and for some of the year (known as ‘the hungry gap’) the UK has to import food as we have either run out of stored produce or what is growing isn’t ready to harvest yet. Besides, we can’t grow things like citrus fruits, so we need to import those. And while everyone is distracted by UK (and USA) politics, climate change is running rampant and diddly-squat is being done about it.
I set up Organic Ilford as a way of helping to create local solutions to global problems. I decided to relaunch it to continue that goal.
Agriculture is the biggest global polluter. Which is pants given we need to eat. But what we eat and how it’s farmed can either has a positive or negative impact, to us and the planet. Your money has power and where you spend it empowers that thing. Buying a weekly veg bag from Organic Ilford supports a community-focused food chain that has a tangible impact on the local community, economy and environment.
By prioritising chemical-free growers and farmers as close to Redbridge as possible we can invest our hard-earned money in the local economy, paying farmers and workers a fair price, and not giving it to tax-dodging companies and shareholders. Ecological agriculture protects wild and edible biodiversity and works to protect nature, rather than actively degrade and destroy it. Reconnecting people with their food supply returns power to individuals, not corporations.
Knowing the name of the farmer that grew the food that now graces your plate is not some hipster fad; it means you are supporting a real person, keeping them in business, keeping a roof over their head, keeping the land safe from development and toxic chemicals. You know what is (or rather, what isn’t) in your food. You eat food that builds wellness, not illness. For you and the environment.
Collecting your weekly bag and not being able to pick and choose might seem inconvenient but it’s a lifestyle change that is easy to accommodate. We operate the way we do to keep overheads down in order to keep the scheme affordable.
Give it a try and help build a community food economy. Sign up here https://www.organicilford.org/sign-up/
As a reminder to Redbridge community groups and social enterprises that there are a wealth of resources on our Enterprising Redbridge website.