A new report from the Food Foundation has revealed that veg box schemes across the UK have doubled the number of boxes sold weekly as a result of coronavirus.
Weekly sales of veg boxes have increased by 111% in the six weeks between the end of February 2020 and mid-April 2020. With an estimated 500 veg box schemes operating in the UK prior to the outbreak, an estimated total of 3.5 million veg boxes have been delivered to households over the last six weeks.
The demand has led to 82% of box schemes now having waiting lists and being closed to new orders, with the average waiting list numbering 160 people and the largest box scheme turning away 6,700 customers. According to estimates, if waiting lists were met and the customers being turned away were supplied instead, an estimated total of 5.3 million veg boxes could be supplied over the next six weeks.
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation said: “In a time of national crisis, fruit and veg producers running box schemes have provided a critical service to their customers and communities: we must ensure our agriculture policy, now and in the future, helps them get the investment they need as they play a vital role in supporting access to healthy produce as part of a sustainable food and farming system.”
Two thirds (65%) of veg box schemes are actively prioritising key workers, the vulnerable or isolating by moving key workers and vulnerable groups to the top of waiting lists and prioritising them for orders and delivery.
Veg box schemes businesses are now calling for support in the form of small government grants so they can scale up to meet demand. This investment would help with staffing, infrastructure such as polytunnels, delivery vehicles, cold stores and packing houses and specific supplies for deliveries such as boxes, cleaning and personal protective equipment.
Jo Hunt of Knockfarrel Produce responded to the rise in demand by calling on the Government to help address income inequality among self-employed farmers: “We need to earn more than £3.20 an hour for farming – we run a successful, fully subscribed veg box scheme with 85% of produce grown on our own farm, and 150 customers in remote rural areas. But we, the two farmers, are self-employed and earn only £3.20 an hour for our work. This is one third of the living wage, and we rely on benefits to top up our wages.
“The reasons behind this are many: small farm size; low food prices for imports; no farm subsidies; supermarket discounting and price competition; no charges for pollution in food production and transport, etc. Why are ‘key workers’ like us earning a third of the minimum wage? This income inequality needs to be addressed urgently. And until it is, very few farmers will want to move into local food production and increase the supply to meet rapidly rising demand.”