With a focus on biodynamic and organic veg boxes and no plastic in sight, Surrey's Greener Greens are very much a company of our times – and yet they've been pushing healthy eating and supporting independent growers for more than 20 years. Every Christmas, they also run a charitable veg box scheme to support deprived families and the elderly
As most people were frantically running around icy High Streets putting together the last of their Christmas shopping, Surrey's Greener Greens were packing and delivering boxes full of deliciously fresh fruit and veg to those who may have otherwise had to do without.
For the past 10 years their 'Unwrapped' charity scheme has grown and grown, encouraging customers to donate towards organic veg boxes that are then distributed to those in need in the local community via handpicked organisations.
"Around 10 years ago, I was inspired by River Cottage and a programme about sourcing chicken," says Greener Greens owner, Jill Morris.
"It highlighted just how poor the protein levels can be among the cheaper alternatives when compared to, say, a free range, organic chicken.
"Parents who are trying to do the right thing for their children but on a budget, are almost being tricked into feeding them food that actually has very few benefits thanks to the production processes."
She decided there and then that it would be great to give something back at Christmas to people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.
"It's so lovely how supportive our customers and visitors to Horsham Farmers' Market have been with our gifting scheme.
"This year, for example, we were able to send over 450kg of fruit and veg to Broadfield Children’s Centre in Crawley in our family bags – feeding over 200 people."
Greener Greens efforts didn't stop there, however, and they were able to provide a further 12 senior citizen bags to the local community. 115kg of fresh produce was also sent to Redhill for the Voluntary Action Reigate & Banstead (VARB) Festive Feast – an event aimed at providing a place for people to go who otherwise may have spent Christmas Day alone.
"Our produce fed over 140 people and the guests were mostly elderly people who would have otherwise been on their own.
"We couldn’t have done it without our customers – it was their donations that made this year such a successful one," says Jill. "In fact, it's been so successful that we have considered attempting it at other times of the year for homeless shelters and other charities. One step at a time, but we are so, so proud to be able to have helped so many people this Christmas."
A health kick
The current incarnation of Greener Greens has been providing biodynamic and organic vegetables, fruit and herbs sourced directly from independent growers since 1995. Ill health led former city worker Jill to consider some changes in her lifestyle and career.
"I began reading much more about the affects and consequences of our diet, and it dawned on me that without even realising it I had become largely dependent on supermarkets for my fruit, veg and other shopping. I decided to buy a veg box from Abel & Cole and, while I enjoyed it, it led me to seeking out an independent alternative a bit closer to home.
"One thing led to another and I eventually took the company over and then bought another company in the Redhill area called Greener Greens, before rebranding them under that banner."
When she took the companies over, she immediately expanded their network of growers to ensure she was able to source the very best quality produce available. It means that these days she has a network that provides everything Greener Greens requires, but with room for further expansion when the appropriate time comes.
"New customers usually come in the form of people seeking out biodynamic vegetables, often to improve their diets due to their own health issues," says Jill.
"Firmly on trend, people also prefer that Greener Greens veg boxes come without plastic packaging. We don't need it, as what we sell doesn't face the same contamination that organic produce in supermarkets can.
"Watch this space for some great purple sprouting broccoli, which is always a treat and really popular, and our cauliflowers and Savoy cabbages, which are superb at the moment. We've actually just launched a juicing box too, so we look forward to see how that goes with customers."
With a new online shop ready to roll featuring whole foods, dairy etc, as well as fruit and veg, and continuing appearances at Horsham Farmers' Market and the relatively new Ham Parade Market near Richmond ("which was just awesome ... we completely sold out!"), it promises to be an exciting 2018 after a charitable Christmas period.
Some might say that you reap what you sow...