Supermarket vegetables in the UK are mysteriously expensive, over-handled, over-packaged, over-travelled, and frequently less than fresh. No wonder the population feels indifferent about eating them.
Only 33% of adults clock up the government’s recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Delve down into that meagre figure, and I suspect you’ll find fruit is disproportionately represented. That’s preferable to eating Haribo, but this fruit fix still panders to our national fondness for sweetness.
How can more of us be persuaded to seek out and enjoy vegetables?
Earlier this month, at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, the Landworkers’ Alliance presented its vision for improving matters, highlighting impressive case studies. We should upscale the number of agro-ecological market gardens in the UK and divert 20% of the £2.7bn we currently spend on imports to UK-grown production, distributed to households by farmer-focused routes to market and to primary school pupils via public procurement.
Every £1 spent locally generates £3.70 in local benefits. So if the UK diverted 20% of the money it currently spends on veg imports to domestic production, we could potentially see £2bn worth of local community benefits.
The Landworkers’ Alliance is onto something important here. The vegetables in my organic box scheme, farm shop, and greengrocers have a whole other level of freshness and flavour when compared to their lacklustre supermarket equivalents. Focusing outside the supermarket retailing system would energise smaller-scale vegetable growing schemes. It could be instrumental in rekindling the nation’s appetite for veg.
To make this happen, the Alliance says the minimum size threshold of three hectares for agricultural payments should be scrapped under the new agriculture bill. Many market gardens have less land yet can feed 30 to 50 households per hectare.
At present, funding for producer organisations supports only three co-operatives of large-scale fruit and vegetable producers with turnovers of more than £1m a year, who supply the supermarkets. None of this funding is available to smaller-scale growers and market gardeners who grow food for local communities.
Ministers must correct these limits urgently so our market garden renaissance can begin.
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