“ Address: Newby Wiske / Northallerton / North Yorkshire / DL7 9HB „
"What on earth is a veggie box?" I hear you cry!
Well, it's the new, trendy way of eating healthily and sustainably, and it's coming soon to a farm near you.
The idea is that you order a box of seasonal organic fruit and veg from local farmers. Each week, this is delivered free to your door, giving you the chance to sample utterly fresh, gloriously tasty produce fresh from the ground. Your conscience will be clean too, because this food is produced and sold according to a far more environmentally friendly business model than that used by the big supermarkets.
The River Swale scheme
The River Swale vegetable box scheme is part of a nationwide franchise which started at the famous Riverford farm in Devon. For those lucky enough to live in the south east, it has a sister branch in East Anglia called the River Nene Box Scheme, which is based around a farm at Peterborough.
The River Swale scheme is based at a farm in Newby Wiske and offers a range of boxes, with a multitude of extras like butter, eggs, fruit juice etc. that you can add into your order as and when you want.
The Range of Boxes
There are six core boxes on offer:
1. Large: contains 12 varieties (enough for a large family) and costs £15.
2. Medium: contains 10 varieties (enough for a medium sized family) and costs £12.75
3. Small: contains 8 varieties (enough for a couple) and costs £9.95
4. Mini: contains 6 varieties (enough for a single person or a couple who don't eat much veg) and costs £7.90
5. Seasonal box: at the moment this is a winter box, with 8 types of British winter veg, costing £9.95
6. Fruit and veg box: a mixture of 10 varieties of fruit and veg (enough for a medium sized family for a week), costing £13.95
There are also a number of different fruit bags on offer.
The ordering process is remarkably easy. You can arrange a delivery via River Swale's website or over the phone. You simply select the box that best suits you, tell them whether you want it weekly, fortnightly, monthly or as a one-off order, and submit. You can add in extras as and where you see fit, according to your needs.
Each week, the website tells you in advance what the contents of your box will look like, so you can plan what you will cook and buy any extra ingredients you need. This also means that you can switch your box in the event that it contains something you don't like!
Pricing is competitive if you eat plenty of fruit and veg. The operators of the scheme estimate that you're making a saving of 10-20% on supermarket prices for organic food each week. The largest boxes represent the best value.
Delivery is free, so you won't get a nasty addition to your bill when its dropped off. Payment is by credit card online - you can choose when and how you pay off your bill (weekly or monthly) as you see fit.
I have yet to be disappointed with anything I have been sent, taste-wise. I used to think I found vegetables a bit boring, but this box has made me realize that they're anything but. I actually really like their tastes and textures, which are strong and interesting - I just don't like the wishy-washy watery, pathetically tasteless things that are called "vegetables" by supermarkets. Even things like spinach and chard (both of which I thought I hated) turn out to be rather yummy when they're actually grown in the ground.
I have tried several box schemes, and this is far the best when it comes to the quality of the food on offer. Everything looks pristine, and is really fresh and tasty. Wilty lettuces need not apply here!
The extras are tasty too - the eggs, which come from a local farm have more taste and a fluffier texture than any other eggs I've tried.
First of all, you need to be a reasonably competent cook to get the most our of one of these. I don't mean that you have to be Gordon Ramsey (I'm certainly not!), but you have to have some basic sense of how to prepare use vegetables. To help out budding cooks River Swale place a newsletter in the box with a simple recipe in it, helping you to cook different dishes.
More importantly still, you have to be the kind of person who is open-minded enough to try new recipes and new kinds of vegetables. I don't know why, but some people react to a new dish like their life has suddenly been put in danger- they go into a state of total panic and near-shutdown. It's only food, dammit! However, if this is you, you might find this scheme a bit daunting.
The biggest disadvantage is that you can't opt out of a particular variety of fruit and veg with this box - you just get what's in season. If you happen to have a loathing for a particular variety of fruit or veg, you can't stop them from sending it out to you (though the flexible ordering system does mean that if you check online and see your box contains something you dislike, you can switch to a larger or smaller one without that product in it).
I suspect that this shopping model will become standard in future decades as we all try to reduce our carbon footprints, but for many people who are used to picking and choosing exactly what they buy, it might be a difficult shift to make right now. The lack of air freighting does mean that you have to accept that you're not going to be able to buy things like strawberries all year round - you do have to work with a more natural rhythm as things come into season, enjoying each vegetable in its allotted time. However, the scheme makes sure that you always have a good selection of fruit and veg on offer, buying produce from Europe to supplement their homegrown items in the winter and spring months when little can be harvested here.
Another small disadvantage for some is that the fruit and veg are sometimes quite dirty. I don't mind this - in fact I welcome it as a sign that the produce has been grown in proper earth, not in hydroponic greenhouses. But for some, it may be offputting.
Everything is sourced as locally as possible - the company refuses to use airfreight, so your fruit and veg has a much lower carbon footprint than most supermarket food. All produce is from organic and ethical sources. Farmers also get a fair deal, rather than having prices driven down to levels that put them near bankruptcy.
An unsnobby, cheap way to stock up on healthy organic food, for those that like to cook.
Organic grown produce comes in a selection of six boxes. Home delivery is also available.