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Box Schemes - Part of the slow movement

Box schemes have gained popularity in the last 10 years and are becoming more and more common, especially in urban areas.  If you are a member of a box scheme you will have a ‘box’ of fresh, seasonal fruit or vegetables delivered to you at regular intervals. 

Box schemes are organised by the farmer, a wholesaler, or by someone in the community who connects directly with a farmer or wholesaler.  Box schemes usually operate at the local community level but some are regional and occasionally there may be one that is coordinated at the state level, supplying local food to local people in each area where the scheme operates.  The smaller the box scheme the more of the food dollar stays in your local area and the greater connection you feel for your food and your local area.

Just like other kinds of community food systems, the local box schemes make the connection between the farmer and the consumer closer, and this close connection does more to increase the guarantee of quality produce.  It also helps the farmer get to know what consumers want.

Box schemes like other forms of community food systems support the slow movement and it emphasis on connection to what it local.  Box schemes contribute to, and support, the local economy in many ways.  Producers who use a box scheme to sell their produce usually have more employees per hectare, and provide livelihood for farm families on a much smaller area than do conventional farming and distribution systems.  And prices compete favourably with supermarket prices because there are fewer middle-people and fewer overheads.

Box schemes encourage social responsibility and increase the understanding of farming issues amongst consumers.  And producers increase their understanding of consumer needs, which usually results in greater diversity in the farmed landscape.

So what exactly is a ‘box scheme’?

Despite its name a box scheme may not use boxes – it may use bags, or other containers.  You order produce and products you want from a list or in some cases the contents of the box is determined by the producer depending on availability.  The box is delivered at regular intervals, usually weekly. 

When the contents of the box are determined by the producer or the operator of the scheme, and are subject to seasonal availability, the box scheme operator usually offers small, medium and family size boxes to meet different household needs.

The box scheme system of selling was developed by producers to shortcut the extended food supply chain and so sell their produce direct to local consumers.  There are a number of variations to the box scheme around and there are an increasing number of home delivery businesses that buy produce from farms and wholesalers.  Many box schemes also sell dairy produce, meat, wines and wholefoods.

Box schemes reduce transport costs to the environment and reduce packaging – the boxes are used over and over again. 

Just as you would if shopping in other retail outlets, if you want organic, make sure the goods are certified.

Will a box scheme meet my needs?

A box scheme will not suit all people.  Because it is a delivery based system you need to make sure there is somewhere the box can be delivered that is suitable to both yourself and the scheme operator.  Sometimes this is not possible.  Drop-off points can often be your home, work, a neighbours, or a central point where several other people also pick up their boxes.  If you choose delivery to your home and you are not always home you need to arrange delivery to a protected spot eg in the shade of a tree or in a garden shed etc.

What are the different attributes of a box scheme?

In some areas, customers are fortunate enough to have several box schemes to choose from.  The following points may help you in your decision making:

  • Is the produce certified?
  • Does the box size suit your needs?
  • Can you specify the produce?
  • Is the produce local?
  • Is the scheme locally owned and operated?
  • Is information about the produce available to you?
  • Is packaging kept to a minimum and reused?
  • Is there a newsletter covering topical issues eg GM?
  • Does the producer have farm walks or open days?