A weekly vegetable box, delivered to your door: lovely idea. No more desperate purchases of road-weary carrots. Beetroot in unusual colors, kohlrabi which you've never considered before. What's in the veg box this week? Ah, swede, cabbage, kale. Next week: more kale. Soon you are casting a weary eye over the latest arrivals and you ask yourself, is that all there is to a vegetable box?
I ditched mine in a fit of pique after a long winter which was by turns monotonous and challenging, vegetable-wise. But now I miss it: we have our groceries delivered by a supermarket but buying vegetables from there feels like a betrayal. We buy meat from a farm a mile down the road but with fruit and veg we just wing it. The box was delivered from Woodlands Farm in Lincolnshire and a couple of weeks ago I went to see the proprietor Andrew Dennis, to see whether he could tempt me back.
N.B.: Wondering what to do with all that kale that arrived on the doorstep this morning? See What's in Your CSA Box? (And How to Eat it).
Photographs by Theodora Wayte, except where noted.
With winds blowing in from the North Sea, Lincolnshire is cold and completely, utterly flat. It has exceptionally fertile soil and is bristling with growers who have long been in the habit of taking their produce to market beyond Lincolnshire. So a box delivery scheme made perfect sense for Andrew Dennis when he converted the family farm in 1996 to the organic way. Only 4 percent of the land mass in the UK is used for organic farming and Andrew is something of an anomaly in these parts. And then 10 percent of this organic farm is biodynamic so he's a brave soul.
It's a very successful farm—Andrew was named Best Farmer in the UK at the BBC Food Awards—and the biodynamic element is a key to its success. Animals are required in the biodynamic picture, and this gives the box scheme an edge: vegetable boxes with excellent meat. The breeds here are local: Lincoln Longwool sheep (top), Lincolnshire Curly Coat pigs and Lincoln Red cattle (below). "The cows are at the core of the farm," says Andrew Dennis. "They provide us with the fertility to grow the crops." Horned cattle are the thing, as anyone versed in biodynamics will know. The biodynamic preps also give vegetables a richer color, allegedly (see Bounty from a North London Allotment).
Andrew drives me past rows of brassicas near his farmhouse and he seems particularly pleased with them. Red kale, curly kale, black kale followed by white then purple sprouting broccoli. It's too muddy for us to walk around but I get the picture.
How, I find myself wailing, can I re-instate my box delivery without feeling dismayed by its contents? “This is the challenge we face,” sighs Andrew. “An expectation that everything is available all the time.” Winter does last for almost six months every year. “You can design your own box now,” he says, brightly. Up to 10 "dislikes" are permissible on one box label. “The packing staff have to follow instructions and they will improvise.”
An artisan baker has been persuaded by Andrew to source organic flour from the local windmill and make bread and pastries for box scheme customers. The bakery is seven miles away and croissants are left at the farmhouse at two in the morning before the box deliveries begin. A bread-of-the-month will be rolled out, to tie seasonal ingredients in with traditional feast days. For Andrew, the added extras at the farm are about engaging with the customer: "We are reminding people of the stories in the place where we live."
Pasta will be arriving soon from biodynamic monks in Italy, followed by olive oil and vinegars. It's beginning to feel like spring. "We are attempting to enrich the whole experience of eating," continues Andrew. "To re-connect people with the land."
The medium-sized winter vegetable box is a reasonable £14, including delivery costs. Clockwise from left: parsnips, cauliflower, fennel, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, celeriac. Eat your greens and you will have treats: I'll take half of that and will request to have the other half filled with sourdough bread, pain au chocolat and a quarter of Lincolnshire lamb. Photograph by Kendra Wilson.
Want a weekly vegetabale box delivered? If you're in the US, see Local Harvest for a list of farmers near you.