Well folks, I’ve not blogged in ages, and although I wanted to keep it up, having a gazillion veggies to tend kind of gets in the way. Here, I have a blog post that I wasn’t expecting to write, but am also quite pleased to be writing it. It means we’ve been doing something right – actually a little too right.
The season has been going so well – even though we lost a lot of early crops due to pest damage. Our members are incredibly happy with their massive veg boxes, and herein lies the problem! They’ve been too massive. Hear me out.
Firstly, let me express my gratitude to our wonderful members. These first adopters onto our vegbox scheme are incredibly special to us – they supported us from the very moment we sent the email around with payment details to get the ball rolling, and just a few weeks later – the veg deliveries started. I feel so warm and grateful about our members, that when I check out the going rate for vegetables grown to organic principles, see what’s ready to be picked, put together a little spreadsheet to work out the amounts I’d like to put into the boxes to come up past the £10 and £15 cost of the boxes – I’ve been putting waaaaaay too much veg in, and underestimating the value, quite significantly. Often over 300-400g of mixed salad leaves, bunches of kale and chard close to half a kilo – and when this is all added up, it is always significantly above the cost of the box. By a long way. The issue for our members, is that it’s being reported as being overwhelming. Many are close to having to throw some away!
I regret nothing! You deserve to be spoiled with this wonderful veg – you wonderful people!
However, I also did some maths, which put things into a different perspective.
Most of the work in the garden is done by me (Dan) and Sophie, although we occasionally have a wwoofers or two (these are volunteers not dogs, from WWOOF.org). They have been (and continue to be) wonderful people, helping us in exchange for learning skills and having some time to explore Cornwall, and this week, we had 4 people harvesting, weighing and packing. The person-time (or man hours) we put into just this last step before it reaches the door (the harvest), if we were to attribute minimum wage for this time, accounted for 120% of the total payments made for these 9 boxes. While I have to admit that I work a little quicker than these first timers (it’s week 6 for me after all), and we are not actually paying ourselves a wage yet – it hit me hard – that we have to make this business financially sustainable, or we just won’t last long, and won’t be able to keep the veg coming, which means our social aims also don’t get met and nobody gets fed. Either we’ll go under when we get to the point of paying ourselves a small wage, we’ll burn out and go under due to not being able to cope, we will have to become 10x more efficient (which just isn’t possible), or we need to spread the veg further, to feed more families.
I’ve done some work on other farms of our type, and while I know I can always improve techniques and speeds of certain tasks, there’s only so much optimising to be done before reaching a limit. And I think we have found it.
It is now clear – and after hearing it from a third of our members this week(!), we are going to have to bring the amounts of veggies in the boxes down to a more reasonable amount, perhaps by (as has been suggested) around 1/3. It saddens me in some ways (because I love to treat our members well), but I know it is the right thing to do. We never started this journey expecting to earn much (or nothing in the first year as it happens), but if we can’t even earn minimum wage for the harvest days, it really doesn’t hold out much hope for all the rest of the work that leads to the harvest. And believe me, there is a LOT of work. I’ve been so happy to be doing this sacred work, and will continue to do so, but we have to make it sustainable, so that in the longer term, we can feed more people.
So all of this work has proven to me why good quality food grown in this way costs what it does. It’s because it takes a lot of time, resources and work, and many land workers are working for less than minimum wage. They (we) do it for the love of it. There may be some labour-saving tools out there, but these just save a little here and a little there. Wherever we can make things more efficient, we do. Now for us to be able to afford to grow food for our community, we have to charge what it is worth. This would be obvious to most business people, but I have never thought of myself as creating a business. Time to face facts.
Thanks for reading. And if you want to join us, please get in touch. You’ll get a good amount of veg for a reasonable price, that is worth every penny.