How did Crop Drop get started and what was your inspiration?
Around 2009 Rachel Dring, our founder, became really conscious of the how unsustainable, unfair and unhealthy our food system is. She was already pretty obsessed with food (she’d changed her career from a community arts manager to a vegan chef) but she decided she wanted to set up a business that would make a practical difference. She later met Julie Brown from Growing Communities who encouraged her to direct her love of food and dislike of supermarkets towards creating a community-based veg box scheme in her local area.
Growing Communities provided business support and a start-up loan and in October 2013 Crop Drop launched.
How long have you been in Tottenham?
We’ve been in Tottenham right from the beginning. We rented a shipping container in the carpark of the Selby Centre for our first year. We’re now based at the Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre.
Who is involved?
We have four part-time staff and a brilliant team of local volunteers to help us pack the veg once a week.
We work with four farms – London Grown, the urban farmers who are also based at Wolves Lane, Forty Hall Farm in Enfield, Sarah Greens Organics in Essex and Ripple Farm in Kent. They grow specifically for the veg scheme to ensure we have a weekly supply of fresh produce. It’s all about having good relationships with the growers and paying them a decent price for their work.
We also work in collaboration with 12 local businesses who are drop point hosts for the scheme. These are all small independent businesses or community organisations around Haringey that provide a space where our customers can go to collect their veg bags. We have four in Tottenham including Craving Coffee, Loven Bakery and The Beehive.
What are the key activities you’re involved in?
We order produce from our farmers on a Monday morning, its harvested on Tuesday and delivered to us on Wednesday morning. We then sort and pack it into our individual customers’ bags and on Thursday we load up our van and deliver them to our drop points around Haringey.
The other side of what we do is marketing – convincing people to join the veg scheme and stick with it! We’re encouraging people to change their relationship with food. Not just in being more in tune with the seasons and knowing more about who grew their food, but also how and what they cook. With a veg box you don’t get to choose what you have, so you have to figure out what to cook with what you have. We provide lots of recipes each week and it’s really heartening to hear back from customers who say that it’s changed they way they eat and inspired them to be more creative in the kitchen.
Why do you think it’s important to grow produce locally?
The political and environmental argument is that if we invest more in our local farmers then we are more resilient to the threats of climate change, peak oil, political unrest and price fluctuations. It supports local economies, reduces carbon emissions and is more likely to be supporting farmers by paying them a fair price. Growing food in cities has limited commercial potential as plots are smaller and there are so many more demands on the space but its invaluable in bringing people back into contact with nature, improving food literacy and developing an appreciation for what seasonal food really is. When people are involved in growing food they’re much more likely to choose to eat more healthily. The more connection we have with our food the better. That’s what we’ve lost in cities – there’s a disconnect, where people don’t know what an aubergine is or what chips are made from. But things are changing now and we’re starting to see a shift back to the earth and the simple pleasures in life with many new urban growing plots and local food projects popping up all the time.
It’s also fresher and tastier. You can’t beat a freshly picked tomato grown naturally and harvested at the height of it’s ripeness. Or a bag of mixed salad leaves picked just two days earlier. You can get that kind of freshness when your farmer is a short drive away, or in our case, a few metres across the yard. When it’s local and organic, you’re reminded of what vegetables are supposed to taste of!
What are your plans for the future?
We’re involved in creating a community food hub at the former council-run Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre. There’s lots of food growing space, a cafe, community space and a big barn there which we’re renovating to become our warehouse. We’re collaborating with London Grown, a food growers cooperative who’ve been growing amazing organic produce for us on the site. Last year during the height of the growing season we were sourcing 50% of our produce from Haringey & Enfield. We’re hoping to increase that this year and we’re going to get more local folks inspired to cook seasonal vegan food – we’re rolling out a series of cooking classes and supper clubs around Haringey this year so keep your eyes peeled for our events.
This article first appeared in the Food & Drink issue of Discovering Tottenham which came out in March this year.