We've had a go at growing our own vegetables at Lou Messugo but failed rather miserably. We just never got the hang of the hot weather and dry summers. Somehow the amount we had to water the plants seemed to outweigh any financial savings in growing our own. But that didn't stop us from wanting the freshest, most locally produced veg possible. Enter the veggie box.
A couple of years ago I signed up to AMAP, a nationwide locally-based association for vegetable production and distribution - a vegetable box scheme. In a nutshell, you pay an annual subscription and are contracted into receiving a box of locally produced fruit and veg once a week for a year. You have no choice in what you receive, but it is all grown on a local farm, often organically or biodynamically. By committing to the scheme you support a local independent farm, cut out the middleman, encourage biodiversity, reduce your carbon footprint and receive the freshest seasonal ingredients.
The history of AMAP (Association pour le maintien d'une agriculture paysanne) started in Japan when a group of mothers concerned at how industrialised agriculture was becoming back in 1965 created the first Teikei (meaning collaboration/cooperation in Japanese). Around the same time community farms called Food Guilds in Switzerland were also developing direct partnerships with consumers. In 1985 an American farmer introduced this concept to her community in Massachusettes having studied the Swiss Food Guilds. This became the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The idea rapidly took hold in the USA and spread to Canada. The first AMAP began in the early 1990s.
Now while I fully believe in the principles of AMAP it was the unrelenting reality of the winter "cabbage" box that broke me. We started out thinking that the lack of choice would be good for us; would open up our horizons and introduce us to vegetables we wouldn't normally think of buying. But there's only so much swiss chard and cabbage any one family can take. Summer in Provence wasn't a problem - the sweetest, juiciest tomotoes in abundance, courgettes, aubergines, all sorts of beans, peppers, melons, herbs and salads...all delicious. And then there was winter. Week after week of swiss chard, cabbage and turnips. Rarely a carrot, barely a potato, never a pumpkin. It all depends on the farm you're signed up to and we seemed to have lucked out with champion chard growers. My boys are good eaters but never-endng supplies of chard and cabbage was one step too far. I ended up having to supplement the box with broccoli and beans and other things they'd eat. This meant there was waste in the box and the economics of the whole venture got out of hand. AMAP is not cheap. It's not meant to be cheap, rather good quality for the price, and fair. By buying in extra veg we found we were exploding our weekly food bills.
So sadly that was the end of our venture with AMAP. Back to regular fruit and vegetable buying at the local market and supermarket. Local market doesn't always mean local produce, and certainly doesn't necessarily guarantee picked that day, though of course you can find good trustworthy suppliers this way. And then one day earlier this summer up popped these brightly coloured pretty photos of luscious fruit and veg on my newsfeed on Facebook. Who could resist finding out more? It turned out they were veggie boxes from a local farm, delivered to the office of a friend, Chris, who organised distribution amongst staff and friends (and took the tempting photos!) The beauty of this scheme is that there is no annual subscription and no obligation to buy each week; only when you want. So far we've been very impressed. The selection and variety has been better than the AMAP box, though of course we are yet to test a winter. If however, they produce vast amounts of turnip and chard we will just take a break.
Last week we ended up with a glut of juicy ripe plums and pears and the two biggest eaters in the family were away for several days. This gave me the perfect opportunity to throw together a totally improvised pear and plum tart. It was damn fine if I do say so myself! And if this is what extra fruit means in this household from now on, I'm happy with that.
Do you/would you/have you ever subscribed to a scheme like AMAP? Where do you get your fruit and vegetables from? I'd love to hear from you.