A Manchester co-operative set up to help create a fairer food system is expanding its operations, with support from ethical loan provider Co-operative and Community Finance (CCF).
Veg Box People brings together local organic growers, commercial buyers and workers to supply organic fresh veg. Grown by seven farmers within a 50-mile radius of the city, the produce is brought to customers just a few hours after it is harvested.
The co-op – set up three years ago and officially incorporated in April 2016 – is a joint project of the Kindling Trust, Manchester Veg People and the University of Manchester.
Now, helped by the £20,000 loan from CCF, it has expanded from 40 customers and just one collection point to over 300 vegetable boxes and 100 fruit boxes a week through 19 collection points. CCF stepped in after traditional lenders refused to work with the organisation because of its co-operative structure.
Co-founder Chris Walsh said: “The loan was critical to our growth and banks would not lend to us. If we had not have got the loan we would be struggling. We needed to spend a chunk of money to enable our customers to order online. And it worked. Now we have over 300 customers and the future is rosy.”
Customers of the co-op set up an online account and place an order which they can they collect from their chosen collection point. Payment is taken on a regular basis through direct debits. The veg boxes come in four sizes: starter/student box (£6); small (£8); medium (£11) and large (£14).
Mr Walsh added: “We would like to be a lot bigger, bringing a lot more organic fruit and veg into the city and making it available to people who traditionally would not access it. There are loads of farmers who are struggling on the periphery of Greater Manchester and if we could support them by buying their produce that would be great.”
Veg Box People recently featured on BBC TV series A Matter of Life and Debt, which looked at how a loan from an ethical lender can make a crucial difference to individuals and small enterprises.
Ian Rothwell, investment manager at CCF, said: “It’s extremely rewarding to see a co-op doing so well after receiving a loan from us. And, I have to say, the veg tasted delicious!”