Written by Food Citizen Sean Chew

The COVID-19 pandemic saw supermarkets struggle to meet the sheer demand of grocery-deprived customers. Dwindling supplies meant shelves were left empty, amplified by panic-buying and unnecessarily stocking up. Frustrated, some customers initially turned to alternative food suppliers, which might not be such a bad thing!

A major disruptive event like a economic recession or pandemic causes people to rethink norms, like where they get food from and how that food is grown. Our current pandemic sent an overwhelming amount of orders in the direction of Growing with Grace, a sustainable food business based in Clapham, that runs an organic vegetable box scheme; supplying customers with bundles of high-quality, locally-grown produce.

A volunteer planting round beans at the greenhouse.

Co-founder and organic grower, Neil Marshall, recounts the absolutely unmanageable 300 to 400 orders flooding in at the start of lockdown, that forced a halt to orders and created a lengthy waiting list. This put an immense amount of pressure on the staff to fulfill orders, with the team having to double output with a minimized workforce due to sheltering or illness.

Neil reflects that while it seems like a golden opportunity for the business, it’s an immensely difficult thing to manage because of the sharp change in circumstances. As grocery stores restocked and demand dwindled, Growing with Grace did not retain all those new customers. There was never a guarantee that even with the huge increase in sales and necessary changes to meet demand, the increase in interest due to the pandemic would increase their long term sales. However, at the core of it all, Neil still feels it was a wonderful time to deliver their message and produce to people.

That message is that modern food production doesn’t make sense. High food outputs comes at the cost of a large energy deficit and environmental health. Our growing and harvesting methods are damaging the very limited soil we have on the surface of the planet. In contrast Growing with Grace is committed to producing food in the kindest way possible, and their love shows through their thoughtfully-selected organic food boxes.

An assortment of organic produce being sold at the farm shop.

Despite the odds, Growing with Grace managed to open a bakery in July 2020 to produce bread for customers and the box schemes. And there are even plans in place for a café some time in the future!

Learn more about Growing with Grace and their resilient food model in FoodFutures’ case study and place your own order for delivery at growingwithgrace.org.uk.

A close-up of some flowers in the Growing with Grace greenhouse.

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