Why Kent Veg?

Posted by Steve Oram on

When we started our food business in 2005, the goal was to make fresh, local food more accessible to everybody. Although other farm shops existed (we started as The Old Dairy farm shop) they nearly all used national and international products. Often produce would be passed off as artisan or homemade through marketing when it was actually white label* from big factories. 

All of the core values you will read about below are not new to us. We have been doing this for over 15 years. Sure, we have improved but our core beliefs have always been the same.

We are called Kent Veg Box because it’s exactly that. Vegetables from Kent. Not ‘mostly’ from Kent, or ‘where possible’ from Kent. Our Veg is exclusively from the Garden of England.

This ethos has continued as we have moved from our original farm shops into the online home delivery space. Other Veg Box companies will have ‘Local’ on the website but will add the phrase 'Where we can' or 'subject to availability'. These are, of course, caveats to make life easier for the company. Supplying local food isn't easy, it requires commitment and flexibility, no quick call to the nearest wholesaler for Spanish peppers. Buzz words are often thrown around and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the customer to distinguish between companies.

We want to be as transparent as we can, so you can make the best possible decision when it comes to your veg. You’ll know exactly where it comes from, and how far it’s travelled to get to us, before being hand packed and delivered to your door.

We are the only UK Veg Box offering 100% Low Food Miles veg helping you do your bit for climate change. 

Let’s look at why we believe buying locally is best.

1. Climate Change

Climate Change is a complex, multifaceted issue. We know that one way to slow its impact is by small, personal lifestyle changes that when combined as a population moves the needle toward a sustainable future.  

Taking a step toward understanding the origin of your food is a small but very simple way you can help. Most of our food travels less than 50 miles to get to us, and often under 30 miles to get to you. The carbon footprint is miniscule compared to the outlay of planes, boats and lorries trucking vegetables across the planet.

The white you can see on the cabbage, from Trevor Bradley at Wingham, is frost; our veg quite often arrives with us showing the weather - it's that short a journey from the field to your veg box, just 39 food miles.

Low food miles means lower emissions and that can only be a good thing. We also try to reduce wasted journeys wherever possible. We pick up our veg on set days so we aren’t making multiple trips to the same farms. We don’t offer set delivery times, as we want to design the routes our delivery drivers take so they’re minimising distances between drops. This may put us at a disadvantage compared with companies allowing you pick slots, but it’s something we can’t possibly compromise on.

Low food miles aren’t the whole picture, and there are ongoing calculations around whether driving vegetables from Europe in the winter is better for the environment than heated greenhouse use in the UK, however it’s not as simple as that. A lot of the time, those farms in Europe are also using heat to regulate greenhouse temperature to maximise cropping, so you’re just adding miles onto similar farming practices.

As an example, we use Thanet Earth for produce and although they’re a greenhouse that are commonly demonised, they have made considerable use of modern technology to turn a potential negative impact on the environment into a positive.

Each greenhouse is a power station, generating electricity for the National Grid. The plants are kept warm by making use of the waste heat from this 'combined heat and power' system, which also provides extra carbon dioxide for the plants to grow to their potential. Their environmental credentials are further strengthened by the use of biological pest control – using predatory insects to control the pest insects rather than harmful insecticides – as well as employing a rainwater capture system. As a consequence, the horticultural complex has a very low carbon footprint.

2. Nutrition

Did you know fresh veg has a nutritional half-life? This is how long it takes produce to lose half its nutritional value. Read This Study. 7 days in the fridge and a spinach leaf can lose up to half of its nutrients. If your spinach leaf takes 3 

days to get to the shelf, another 2 days for you to buy it, it is, nutritionally, not the leaf you thought you were buying even if you eat it same day. 

Our spinach, from LJ Betts just 6 food miles from us, is cropped on the day we pick up, and delivered to your door in a maximum of 3 days, and for some within 30 hours – you can only get quicker by growing your own!

 

3. Local Economy

If you use local suppliers, and they use local suppliers, then there are massive benefits to the local economy. Why? The money circulates locally rather than disappears out the region to a Head office in London or Devon. 

The New Economic Foundation published it Local Multiplier paper in 2002 called The Money Trail. I'll leave you to read it but it shows how money spent locally can circulate in the area, so multiplying the value of a pound.

It’s not just about spending your money locally, it’s about that company spending that money to do good locally too. You might buy locally, but does the company you buy from buy locally themselves? Many of the farms we work with have been owned by families for generations and are a just as passionate about the local economy as we are.

Our expenditure sits at around 95% with small local business like us. We are always looking at ways we can contribute. For instance we have been working with a social enterprise called Wye Orchard since their inception in 2018. Based in 2 acres of greenhouses at the Old Agricultural College in Wye. They do not

heat the greenhouses, but use them to grow crops like aubergine and cucumbers that are better under glass in our climate.

We have committed to taking their crops from the start, including now underwriting new crops for the winter season like carrots, which has meant they can invest and grow more. As they are a social enterprise, employing local people only, we know the money we pay them stays local.

We do not send money for veg to anywhere apart from local farms on ours and your doorstep.

4. Packaging

Because our Veg is collected at the farm, boxed and with you in a maximum of 4 days, it allows us to negate the need for excess packaging, no need to keep the weather and dirt out if you're not transporting across a continent. We don’t need to encase cucumbers in plastic.

We have worked extensively with suppliers to constantly drive down our use of packaging, paying particular interest in eliminating single use plastic. For example, we have made sure suppliers like RG Ovenden are questioned about moving to a more sustainable packaging solution with their leaf veg. This season they moved away from plastic to a new biodegradable option which is fantastic news.

Most of our veg will come to you how it comes out the field (often with the dirt still attached!) and we have made a commitment to be constantly re-evaluating and working with our suppliers to drive down our use of packaging.

Rest assured, when you buy from us and something comes in any form of packaging, there is a reason for it. Most of our essential packaging we do have

to use is either biodegradable or recyclable and we are working on anything that isn’t. We hope soon to go to all compostable packaging, we just need the prices to drop some more to make it viable.

5. Taste

Vegetables. As fresh as possible. Produced by small scale farmers who are incredibly passionate about growing the best vegetables they can. They must taste better, right?

Our growers don't grow for looks or for shelf life. The vegetables we purchase are grown to be eaten. This may sound daft, the deciding factor for growers when selling to long supply chains is almost always shelf life and uniformity, not taste. With us, farmers can pick when it’s ready, safe in the knowledge that by the end of the week it’s been delivered to you.

Take the humble squash, and the supermarkets favourite – Butternut. It’s ok. It grows the same and easily, long shelf life and looks like a squash. No one locally grows them. Why? They taste bland compared to other less uniform squash like Red Kuri or Crown Prince. They have a depth of flavour the butternut can’t compete with. Next time you get one of our squashes, get a butternut and roast them side by side, you’ll see what we mean. Our squash might be a little odd looking, but it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

We very often get comments when people first join us about how much better our produce tastes. When something is fresh, in season and delivered promptly you won’t believe the difference it makes.

Give it a go and see for yourself!

 


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