Greenheart Growers – Feeding communities with fresh produce during lockdown and beyond

Posted: 26 October 2020, in News

This year has been a challenging one for Greenheart Growers, as I’d imagine it has been for so many social enterprises and businesses. Our Social Enterprise based in Parkhead, Glasgow grows fruit and vegetables for sale, working with the local community to connect people to food, nature, and one another.

Our own situation developed as follows: we had all our seeds sown, seedlings ready in the trays in the polytunnel, ready to go out into our beds at our growing site. These seedlings were intended for the Cafes and Restaurants we work with in the Glasgow area, including The Gannet, Cail Bruiche, Bilson 11, Sprigg Cafe, Zero Waste in Dennistoun, Bar Brett and Epicures.

So when the restaurants and cafes all had to close, we suddenly had hundreds of seedlings and no one to sell them to. My business partner Max and I considered what to do and we discussed something we had always been toying with but had never tried: offering a Veg Box Scheme.

We worked out what we could do with the seedlings we had, what a veg box would contain, how much space we had at our site, and what would our capacity be. We decided on an initial Veg Box Scheme for 30 members and began to advertise the offer, hopeful that this revenue would allow us to continue to function as a business this year.

The response was amazing. Within a couple days the 30 places were fully booked, with people from the local area in Parkhead, Tollcross and Dennistoun snapping up the places. The contrast between working with Cafes and Restaurants (restaurant owners and chefs) and with members of the public was a major surprise. People we so easygoing, so thrilled and pleased with the produce, which was fresher and more nutritious than anything they had had access to before.

This is not to say the chefs we usually work with are not grateful or are difficult, far from it, but when you grow for a local person, they do not require things to be in certain way e.g Mizuna leaves 3cm – 5cm long only which made our preparation of produce for the Veg boxes easier and quicker.

We created a Whatsapp group for the veg box customers, to communicate what produce they would be receiving and showing them how they could cook with this produce. The dishes that our customers made were absolutely superb and the group was such an expected bonus, with a small community of people enthusing about highly nutritious, local organic produce and doing wonderful things with it.

If we can laugh about the difference between supplying restaurants and local people now, it’s because thankfully, the restaurants we worked with were able to come back on board as soon as they were allowed to open up and serve customers again. This meant that we were now supplying the Veg Box scheme but also made sure to have garnish items, edible flowers and small salad leaves available for our Cafes and Restaurants.

It turned out to be the best of both worlds, with Max focusing on the Veg Box and me taking care of our commercial customers. This allowed us to appreciate what an amazing gap in the market there actually was for a veg box scheme and the passion people seem to have for local produce.

We also developed a volunteer group who were an amazing help with the veg box scheme, people who were eager to get outdoors during the lockdown and to lend a hand and help in a useful way. Volunteer days became a joy at our site, where we had previously struggled to attract consistent helpers.

So, in hindsight, even though we have been faced with a huge challenge this season, we managed to adapt to it easily. People always have to eat and there is a sparsity of options if you want to buy local organic produce in the city of Glasgow. In this respect, our own story is, I guess, a success story. That said, the reality of the lockdown remains; the destruction to society that the lockdown measures have imposed on human relations, businesses, people, not to mention the tens of thousands who have lost their lives.

I wish that we would stop using the phrase “The New Normal,” and that we can remain true to the fact that what we are going through is not normal: the way we are being asked to interact with each other is not normal. The extent of the regulations that are being imposed on us is not normal. None of it is normal.

At Greenheart Growers we will be keeping this in our minds as we plan for next year, where we intend to expand our Veg Box scheme, continue our relationships with the cafes and restaurants in our community and continue to hope that we can see a decrease in the level of control in our daily lives so that normal human relations can resume again.

Andy McGovern
Greenheart Growers