Most of our readers would most probably love to eat only organic foods? By now we know why it would hugely benefit the earth and our bodies, yet these foods are not always readily available and sometime still end up over-packaged and or over-priced on shop shelves. This is often due to the long distanced and many middle men between the farmer and the consumer.
Now a new initiative, the Green Road, was started in the Stellenbosch area by the Green Road Hub at the Stellenbosch Organic Farmer’s Market to close the gap and get consumers and farmers talking to each other about their needs and abilities to supply and commit to purchase organic produce within a specific season. On 7 December 2011, 75 people gathered for the launch, including 12 farmers, representing 150 hectares, committed to grow food for the consumers who, in turn committed to buy this food.
On 7 January, 2012, the GR facilitators met with the committed farmers. Questions were asked and answered, especially about price and the constraints that farmers experience during production. It was made clear that there is no relationship between the cost of producing the food that we buy from the farmer and the price we pay. In order to establish a fair and equitable distribution of money in the food supply chain, there must be a relationship of understanding about how to link the chain in the best possible way. Another meeting between consumers and farmers was held on 24 January.
Communication with farmers is key
Helen van Zyl said they are excited, as the following dreams are now turning into reality:
- ‘‘We can produce healthy, organic and biodynamic produce to a committed group of consumers.
- We can feed our children healthy food
- We can take responsibility for our own nutrition
- We can connect with the farmers and see where our food comes from
- We can assist with the training, support and development of farmers’’
“The first phase of the Green Road can now be moved from vision to practice. During this first phase, we are working with what is already in the ground on the committed acreage.
As far as vegetable crops go, we have over 20 different crops available to the Green Road supply chain for the period January to March. This period is seen as “Green Road 1”, for the lack of a better label,” says Riaan van Zyl.
There will be enough food to supply both the market and the Green Road. The Organic Farmers’ Market is a place of cultural and social activity and this will not be disturbed. By its nature the activity of agriculture is ideally one of surplus. As the Green Road develops, issues of surplus and shortages will become more manageable and predictable, as they will have a constant flow of information from consumer to producer and vice versa.
Commit half your monthly food spend
Riaan explained that research indicates the average food-spend of a “middle-class” consumer to be between R800 – R1000 per person per month. The Green Road is asking their consumers to commit 50% of their monthly food-spend to the Green Road. With this kind of support from 100 family units in the first phase, the Green Road can get itself up and running in order to create the capacity for growth into a supply chain that can support a 1000 or more family units with a wide variety of organic and biodynamic products, efficiently delivered at an equitable price and good quality.
What is the pricing mechanism? The Green Road believes there is sufficient leverage (monetary value) within the system to benefit both the farmer and the consumer. They will attend to waste reduction, shortening the supply chain, value-addition on-farm, local distribution and efficient communication of needs within the system to maximise value in the system for both consumer and producer. Organic agriculture is much more seasonal than chemical produce, and the initial conversion could also lead to lower yields. Their consumers need to become familiar with these challenges in order to support this, especially during the inception phases.
Crops are in the field for the summer/late summer season. This will form the base of the consumer offer. As their consumers get involved, their requirements for the winter season will be fed through to the farmers, and planting can then happen according to a programme to better suit the consumer demands.
“The Basic Hamper”
This is the base of every weekly offering to consumers.
For now until the end of March the offer consists of 3 different “box options” in a three-week cycle (5 x vegetables, 3 x fruit), available in a rotational system. The boxes are made smaller to suit small families or single people. Larger families can double up on the same offering to increase quantities.
Apart from the “Veggie Box”, Green Road will offer the consumers an extensive range of other products that can be added to the shopping trolley. Where the “Box” is a standard rotation that the consumer takes weekly “as is”, the add-ons can be picked from a list in quantity and value of the consumer’s choice.
Fresh add-ons include meat, chicken, milk, yoghurt, cheese and certain fruits.
“Grocery add-ons” include items such as olive oil, rice, grains, pulses, tea, and even cleaning products if required.
The “add-ons” are bought into the Green Road from producers and distributors who are not committed Green Road suppliers, but producers and wholesalers producing according to their standards and ethos and who are willing to supply at fair prices.
There seems to be different expectation from consumers as to the financial value of such a box of fresh produce, which indicates the need for farmers and consumers to communicate. There needs to be an understanding of each other’s needs and expectations, in order to arrive at a value that will support the farmer, keep him or her on the farm, but also to give the consumer a fair and predictable “value-for-money” product.
1.The Bottom Line on Green Road1:
- The Green Road Hub (organisers) requests a minimum monthly commitment from a Green Road consumer of 50% of their monthly spend, in advance. This translates into a R500 per month per person. The reason for the advance payment is to ensure support for the farmers – to give them a measure of security, and keep them farming for them – the basic tenet of a Community Supported Agriculture system.
- For this contribution, the consumer will receive a vegetable and fruit selection from the Green Road farmers, consisting of a rotational offering of 5 vegetables and 3 fruit every week. This offering is sufficient for a small family or single person, and can be doubled or tripled for a larger family.
- The vegetable offering is the standard and “must-take” offering of GR 1.
- Green Road Hub will communicate the contents and varieties well in advance to give the consumer a chance to plan and supplement, if necessary.
- In addition, Green Road Hub will publish (via e-mail and Facebook) a list of add-on products ranging from meat and dairy to dry goods (groceries) that can be ordered via email to fill the “shopping trolley”. This list will be published every Tuesday and the vegetable offering plus additional products can be collected from the Waldorf School Shop on a Friday, the Market on a Saturday, and soon from other distribution points to be confirmed and published.
- Orders need to be placed before 10pm every Monday.
- Consumers can increase their contribution as much as they like over and above the basic contribution, and utilise their credit to “fill their trolley” with any of the products on the add-on list.
- It is important to promote organic, seasonal and local because it is critical for the survival of farmers, the planet and the consumers.
- We need to take ownership and responsibility for our food supply chain in a world where food is becoming a commodity that is prone to power-play, the vagaries of climate, politics and non-food cash crops.
- We cannot and should not be relying on others to guarantee our food security and sovereignty.
Fair value to consumer and sustainable income to farmer
Green Road strives to deliver good quality organic/biodynamic vegetables and fruit, organic and natural value-added goods at a price that will ensure a fair value for the consumer and a sustainable income for the farmer. This is the ultimate difference within the system: a new relationship between producers and consumers, based on transparent setting of prices, frank and open conversation, joint responsibility and sharing of risk and reward.
The current financial and legal governance of the Green Road is supplied by the Board of Trustees of the Stellenbosch Waldorf School. This gives the emerging initiative support and integrity. As the initiative grows, consumers, facilitators and farmers will decide on the eventual legal status of the Green Road. The most viable structure seems to be a co-operative, but a decision will be made when the initiative requires its own legal “vehicle”.
Green Road will develop its own PGS, (Participatory Guarantee System) administrated within the Hub with the support of the Consumer Support Group and the Farmers.