I just signed up for an organic vegetable delivery once a week from a farm that works within the national network known as the Jardins de Cocagne. The farms in this network employ adults in social difficulty as a reinsertion programme to get them back into work and a regular, regulated lifestyle.
My local chapter is called Terra Ferma and currently provides work and training for 13 people, plus three full-time qualified gardeners. The farm is a few miles from our house and can be visited twice a month when they open the gardens to the public and set up a little market with produce from the farm, as well as eggs, honey and so on from other local partner farms.
How it works:
You sign up (annual fee 20 Euro) and pay for 4 produce hampers in advance. You can then cancel your subscription by simply giving them a phone call, or you send a cheque for another 4 deliveries.
Because I signed up in September, I got an extra hamper for free. Lucky me!
Every Wednesday morning, Terra Ferma put a list of their produce on their Facebook page, so you know what you’ll find in your bag on Friday afternoon. For 10 Euro, you get a small hamper, a large one costs 15 Euro (I chose a small one for now).
Can you choose what vegetable are in your hamper?
No, you can’t. The point is that you eat seasonal produce, so depending on what is in season, what is ripe, what has been eaten by the snails and is lost… you get an assortment according to what the garden can produce. You will always get your money’s worth, but they might substitute a pound of tomatoes for the planned bell peppers that aren’t quite ripe yet, or an extra rutabaga for the leek that got frostbite.
This is what I got this week:
1kg of carrots
850g of heirloom tomatoes
a 500g round courgette
a bunch of radishes
2 green peppers
4 little salads
Considering I spend a small fortune (anywhere between 50 and 100 Euro!) when I do my food shopping at the fresh produce market in L’Isle-Jourdain, this is reasonable, especially considering it is organic (and certified). I do not go to the supermarket every week, though, so you can probably compare that sum to doing a weekly shop at Tesco.
The veg is not delivered to my house, but to a collection point (one of several possible points) in the centre of L’Isle-Jourdain, half-way between the kids’ schools. It has convenient parking and the bags of vegetables are made available between 4p.m. and 7p.m., which leaves ample time. You get an invoice that mentions your remaining balance, a break-down of the contents of your bag, and one or two recipes for the week’s vegetables. This week, there was something about making spiced carrot fritters, for example.
What happens if you can’t pick up your vegetables one week because you are out of town?
That’s no trouble. You just phone the farm before Wednesday lunchtime and tell them you wont be needing your delivery that week. They will simply roll over your order to the following week.
I was an active member of an AMAP – Association pour le Maintien de l’Agriculture Paysanne – for a few years. This type of association of consumers (or “consum’acteurs“, as they like to call us) sponsor one or more organic farmers by paying for produce 6 months in advance. You participate in the distribution of the produce once or twice a term, even sign up to go cherry picking or weeding a few times, and basically do what you can to encourage people to eat locally-produced food and to short-circuit supermarket distribution systems. While I totally support the eating-better and happier-farmers bit, I did find the AMAP system more troublesome, as you could not put off even ONE food delivery and we had to organise friends collection veg for other friends and swapping hampers with people on holidays on different dates to ourselves. It worked fine at the time, but I know very few people where I live now and wouldn’t know who to ask for a favour. The Terra Ferma thing seems to be that much more flexible and I’m delighted to be giving it a try.
I am definitely planning on bringing my kids to the next Open Garden visit – they eat so much more varied veg when they see how they grow and get to pluck something out of the earth or off a stalk.