The surprise element of organic box schemes can put some people off. But for kids, it’s a bonus, according to Kirriemuir parent Graham Galloway. “We go through the box together and that’s fun for the children,” he says.
Two Kirriemuir schools, Southmuir primary and Websters High School, along with Southmuir nursery, have joined forces with Bee-Organic, an organic produce supplier based in Birkhill, near Dundee.
During a successful pilot project, Bee-Organic has supplied organic fruit or vegetable boxes that parents can pick up at the same time they collect their children at the end of the school day. This saves petrol and time and promotes good health, according to the organisers.
The scheme offers pupils the chance for a more direct experience and introduces them to – and allows them to acquire a taste for – varieties not usually found in the large supermarkets.
Leonie Kiely, a nursery teacher at Southmuir, says the scheme has had educational benefits. “The first time we used it I looked at the website with some children and talked about what we’d like. Now we have a regular order, which generates countless educational and dietary benefits for the pre-schoolers.
“They learn that there are different varieties of fruit and vegetables from those that we routinely see in our supermarkets. For example, the smaller pineapples which we receive in our weekly box, most children will never have seen before.”
Perhaps just as importantly, the scheme also benefits schools financially.
Up to 10% of the money spent by parents signing up to the scheme goes to the parents council. “We’re absolutely delighted,” says Claire Shaw, who chairs Southmuir parent council. “The money is being fed into a number of projects, including the purchase of playground equipment and the cost of transport for school trips.”
Funds raised have also helped to buy a poly-tunnel where pupils can grow their own vegetables.
Both parents and teachers at Southmuir primary and Websters High School are taking part in the scheme, while at Southmuir nursery there is a daily fruit box for the children to eat.
“I’m thrilled at the uptake of the schools project,” Roger Beecroft of Bee-Organic says. “The nutritional benefits of eating organic produce are renowned, but this initiative generates so many other spin-off benefits.
“Parents can educate their children on organic food when they collect it each week, enthuse them about cooking from scratch and, what’s more, the scheme is helping to fund some important school projects.”
The seasonal nature of local produce means that the content of the box will vary throughout the year, which is common in box schemes. This can help increase the familiarity of children with the benefits of fruit and vegetables.
Parents have praised the convenience factor, and the bulk delivery brings its own financial savings to the company, which allows the firm to share the benefits with the parents council.
In addition, the scheme organisers claim that the benefits to the school go beyond just a better funded parents council and include deeper and better relations with the community.
Parents become more involved, they say, and there are closer ties with the community as producers and consumers are more directly connected.
Box schemes are certainly good for organic producers. They allow for some smoothing out of the fluctuations that occur with seasonal production, and the absence of a retailer saves costs.
There is no need to grow crops to the packaging requirements of supermarkets, according to Beecroft, who says that the small blemishes and visual imperfections of organic food does not mean that the food is any less good to eat, and that the perfection required by the supermarkets has been achieved through using chemicals and by throwing away a lot of perfectly edible produce.
He argues that a more direct relationship with the consumer also means that producers are able to respond more promptly to the needs of their customers, which cuts waste.
Bee-Organic now plans to extend the scheme to interested schools throughout Scotland