Gone are the days when I worked out how much spinach to grow while sitting on the tractor sowing the seed, and then doubled or trebled it to account for weeds, drought, pestilence and incompetence. Inevitably the acreage sown depended a lot on my mood and personal enthusiasm for the vegetable. It was fun, but chaotic and wasteful. Twenty years and millions of seeds later, we have had to get more organised. By virtue of meticulous record-keeping analysed by agronomists, plus the aid of computer programs, GPS, irrigation systems, weeding machinery and years of accumulated wisdom, our production each week is now remarkably close to our plans.
Planning starts with a notional “ideal contents” for each box for each week of the year. “Ideal” is what we did in previous years, tempered by comments from you (keep them coming) plus some sense of vegetable fashion (will cauliflower be the new beetroot?). Mercifully you are a fairly constant lot. We have a pretty good idea of how many of each box we will sell each week so, working back through yields and days from planting to harvest, we get to how much of what should be planted when. There is then a bit of horse trading about which member of our co-op will plant what; and when and what a fair price would be for that harvest week. Over the years we have reached a mutual agreement of who is good at what, so this is easier than might be expected. Anything we can’t grow at home is then split in a similar way between the growers we work with abroad. We like to get a first draft done this month and have the process virtually complete by Christmas.
Free markets can be brutal and very wasteful. The result of all our planning, your support and long trading relationships is that we have very little waste; growers sow knowing they have a market. This is how the boxes can be 20% cheaper than supermarkets while living in harmony with our growers.