Thursday, 19 April 2012

Norwich Farmshare and social justice

Why isn't everyone a member of Norwich FarmShare? I'll let off anyone reading this who lives more than 5 miles from Norwich; or who grows all their own veg; or who doesn't eat vegetables (although we welcome supporter members too, who pay us just £2 a month and don't have to have any vegetables!).

Who else is there? People who haven't heard of Norwich FarmShare yet- well, our marketing team is working on that. People who don't feel that locally grown, low waste, low carbon, knobbly, muddy, odd vegetables are important to them- hopefully one day we'll be able to have an outreach project worker who can help us tell people what's great about all that stuff.

So we come to people who can't afford it. I think these people split into two groups. I meet an awful lot of people who tell me they can't afford it (as they glance distractedly at the shiny screen of their newest gadget). I'd like to rename these people a group who can afford it but don't actually want to be a member. And to be honest, that's completely fair. We couldn't possibly grow enough vegetables to feed all of Norwich anyway.

I also work in some very poor areas of Norwich and I know very well there are some people who very genuinely can't afford it. There are people in Norwich who don't know where their next meal is coming from. Not because they squander their money on fags and playstations; not because they're bad people. I struggle to know how & why people can be so poor when as a country we have so much, when there's so much money just sloshing around that quite by chance 23 of the 29 members of the UK cabinet are millionaires.

Yet according to Foodbank (a national network providing emergency food to families in crisis), 13 million people around the UK live below the poverty line, and in Norwich alone they fed 1,760 families in the last 6 months.

I struggle to express how angry it makes me that this need exists. But happily, I've been able to start to do something small about it. It's always worried me that people who are members of Norwich FarmShare are, by definition, people who can afford it. That restricts us to a certain section of the community. And while I believe that our vegetable shares are good value for what they offer, I also know that they're a big chunk of money if you don't have much.

Amazingly, we've been able to join a project run by the NHS called Healthy Start. Healthy Start gives families on low incomes vouchers to spend on fresh fruit, vegetables and milk. That means that families who meet the conditions for the vouchers can get a weekly share of local, delicious, seasonal vegetables for free, and we can claim the money back from the NHS. The NHS and wider society benefits in the longer term from the improved nutrition and then health of the young family- nobody loses.

I'm so impressed that the NHS has had the courage to make this scheme open to food co-ops, CSAs and local small scale producers and retailers, and not just got into bed with the big four supermarkets. If you know a grower or a retailer who you think might be able to join, do tell them about the scheme- they can find out all the details here. Or if you would like to check if you or a friend can get the vouchers, that information is here.

If you'd like to know more about Norwich FarmShare, try our website, or visit us any Thursday between 4.00 and 6.30 at our Food Hub to meet us and ask any questions you have.

Elena. Pics: Hafidha and Aziz; Veg by Jan.

1 comment:

  1. hi Elena,
    I'm amazed the NHS has such a scheme, this is great! I agree that more people should come to FarmShare or have other access to fresh vegs. It is so important for a healthy life and also, I believe, for a good mental health. I volunteer at FoodCycle, and I'm organising a "day out" at the FarmShare, for the work day. I hope to bring people who didn't FarmShare and will want to come back!
    See you there,
    Sophie Chollet