Box schemes are a system of purchasing organic fruit and vegetables that has really taken off. Generally, they involve a supplier delivering a box of fresh, seasonal organic food, either directly to your door or to a local drop-off point. Box schemes may be run by an individual grower, or by a wholesaler or organic company which buys-in the produce. Some box schemes are run by a group of consumers. Most box schemes are local or regional but there are some that are state-wide.

Box schemes bring back trust, human scale and a local identity to food. The closer link between farmer and consumer tends to guarantee the quality of the food. Farmers who use a box scheme to sell their produce tend to employ more people per hectare, and provide livelihoods for farm families on a much smaller area than conventional farming. Prices are usually comparable to supermarket prices, because of fewer middle-people and lower overheads.

Box schemes are based on a rationale that payment is not just for the food, but for support of the farm as a whole. Providing greater connection between the farmer and the consumer encourages social responsibility, increases the understanding of farming issues amongst consumers, and results in greater diversity in the farmed landscape.

How does an organic box scheme work?

The box scheme may not use boxes – it may use bags, or sacks or some other container. The box is delivered at regular intervals, usually weekly, and contains either your order from a list that has been circulated or a selection of produce chosen by the producer based on what has been harvested. Most box schemes run on the scheme operator choosing the produce, based on seasonal availability.

Box scheme operators usually offer small, medium and family size boxes.

The system was developed by farmers to shortcut the extended food supply chain and sell their fresh produce direct to local consumers. A number of variations to the basic system exist and there are an increasing number of home delivery businesses that buy their produce from farms and wholesalers. They may also supply organic dairy produce, meat, wines and wholefoods. Most schemes are able to cater to allergies to certain produce, and strong dislikes for certain fruits or vegetables.

Box schemes keep unnecessary packaging, storage and transportation to a minimum.

Like other organic outlets, it is important to ensure the produce is organic – check the certification.

Will joining a box scheme suit my lifestyle?

Because box schemes are a delivery based system you need to make provision for delivery to a place that is suitable to both yourself and the scheme operator. Drop-off points can be your home, work, or a central drop-off point (often a wholefood shop or a neighbourhood centre). If you have home delivery, and you are not always going to be home, you can arrange the delivery to be placed in a sheltered position in either the front or back yard.

What should I look for when choosing a box scheme

If you are lucky enough to have more than one organic box scheme to choose from, choose one that meets your specific needs.

Check to make sure:

  • they deliver certified organic produce
  • the box size suits your family’s needs
  • you can specify produce to exclude
  • the scheme is based on local produce
  • if you are not buying directly from the farm, can the distributor tell you about the origins of their produce
  • does the scheme re-use their packaging to reduce waste
  • does the scheme produce a newsletter covering topical issues such as GM
  • does the farmer have farm walks or open days so you can gain a greater understanding of the farm system of which you are a part.