Mental health charity Growing Well is expanding its weekly vegetable box scheme after a boom in demand for locally grown food during the COVID-19 crisis.
The organic fruit and vegetable farm at Low Sizergh supplies 74 local families under its ‘Crop Share’ scheme. Members receive around 37 bags of fresh, seasonal, organic produce a year, paying a monthly subscription of £40.
The income plays a vital part in supporting Growing Well’s charitable work, with around 100 people with mental health problems volunteering on the farm and in its kitchen every year.
The extra availability coincides with the site reopening last week (w/c June 22) to its volunteers after 13 weeks of lockdown, and the start of the abundant summer season where Crop Sharers receive beautiful vegetables, salad and fruits every week until late autumn.
Growing Well chief executive Mary Smith said: “We had a big spike in enquiries and demand at the beginning of lockdown, when so many people were struggling to get reliable food supplies.
“We were able to fulfil some of that but with a skeleton growing team we’ve had to work so hard just to keep growing at the same level.
“Now we are delighted to have our volunteers back with us and are producing our beautiful summer Crop Shares every week it’s the perfect time to expand our production and offer 26 more Crop Share places to local families.”
Mrs Smith said being a Crop Share member was about more than just having a great supply of local veg.
“Our Crop Sharers are some of our most important supporters – their guaranteed income underwrites all of our farm work which is the foundation of our work to support volunteers build or recover their confidence and resilience.
“We then offer a whole range of mental health support and training in life skills, work skills and horticulture on top, all of which we need to fundraise for, but it’s the Crop Sharers who have that direct connection to the work our volunteers contribute day to day, growing, picking and packing the food their families enjoy.”
Kendal wedding photographer Tiree Dawson became a Crop Sharer in November, she said: “We love our Growing Well Cropshare, it’s always so exciting to get the email that tells us ‘what’s in the bag. There are so many reasons to be part of this scheme. We get to enjoy incredibly tasty organic produce that has been grown just a few miles away and the huge variety in the bags means that as well as all our favourites we find ourselves trying new things and experimenting with different recipes.
“The Crop Share scheme is incredibly generous and as a family of four it keeps us going for at least a week. Because the items are so freshly harvested they tend to last longer too. Being part of the Crop Share has made us more aware of eating seasonally. This year we hope to teach ourselves some ways of preserving all the extras in the summer bags so that we can enjoy them through the winter to.
“All of these are huge benefits from a selfish point of view… but the even more exciting thing is that by supporting the Crop Share scheme we are playing a small part in providing much needed funding to help Growing Well to continue to provide a safe, supportive working farm environment to nurture mental health recovery. My only regret is that we didn’t sign up to this earlier!”
Growing Well Crop Shares are £40 per month payable by direct debit. Bags are made available to collect from Low Sizergh Farm on Thursdays from 4pm. (Special COVID-19 arrangements are currently in place)