5 September 2014

Apples, Avocados, Blueberries, Beetroot, Cherries, Cauliflower, Lemon and Lettuce – no, this is not a Sainsbury’s advert but rather a list of some of the fruits and vegetables currently on offer from the organic food scheme From The Ground Up (FGU) in Kingston. 

The scheme delivers organic vegetables, fruits, dairy products and baked goods to customers in the Kingston and Surbiton area started up in 2010 with eight local families on the customer list.

Today, they are delivering organic food to about 400 families in the area. Points of collection alternate every other week between Canteen at YMCA Surbiton and the Kingston Hill Scout Hut in North Kingston.

With the scheme about to start up again for the autumn season, we met with founder Steph Hofielen for a chat.

Not just a luxury for the few

From The Ground Up was founded in March 2010 by a group of people with ties to Transition Town Kingston”, Steph explains.

With FGU, we wanted to sell organic food below market prices, making it affordable to most, not just a luxury for the few”, she says.

From The Ground Up is entirely run by volunteers and by Steph, who oversees every aspect of the scheme, making sure the quality of the produce is always top notch and that orders are correct.

On Mondays I look at the prices my suppliers take for their produce, and I update the web shop with products that are in season and that I believe will be popular.

Then I send out an email to my subscriber list, announcing the shop is open. The online shop stays open until Wednesday, giving the customers time to browse what’s on offer this week.

Midweek I place an order to my suppliers, and on Friday I go out to the warehouse to go through the order, making sure the count is right and the quality is good.

On the Saturday morning the food is then delivered to the pickup points, in time for volunteers to sort and pack the orders for the individual customers for when they come to pick them up between 11.30 and 12.30”.

Affordable and flexible

In addition to being affordable, From The Ground Up is also very flexible.

The scheme is different from other ‘Box schemes’ in that it allows customers to buy as little or as much as they wish. In other words, you don’t have to buy the whole box”, Steph explains.

There is always room for more volunteers to help out with the Saturday collections at YMCA Surbiton and the Kingston Hill Scout Hut. By helping out on a Saturday morning packing orders, volunteers currently get £7.50 off their next purchase of food from FGU.

Volunteering is a really nice way of spending a Saturday morning”, Steph says. “If people want to help out, they can email fgu@ttkingston.org or look us up on Facebook”.

As local as possible

The food offered by FGU is “as local as possible”, Steph says. “This means that it is from the UK or nearby Europe, however, although I try to keep it seasonal, people do want particular veg and fruits year round, making it difficult to find producers solely in the Kingston area”.

However, we do have a couple of local suppliers. Our honey we get from a bee keeper in New Malden, and also from the lady who keeps bees in Richmond Park”, says Steph.

We also partner with Cultivate London, which is an urban farm and social enterprise based in Ealing and Hounslow that provides training opportunities and jobs for unemployed young people aged 16-25 in practical horticulture”, Steph explains.

Big thank you to the YMCA

Steph is also very happy with the partnership From The Ground Up has with YMCA Surbiton:

As a token of our gratitude for the great arrangement we have with the YMCA, we give them a box each week with food for the Canteen café”, she says.

I really have to say that the YMCA staff is great. For instance, we once organised a Collection day here on the day of Christmas Eve, and my biggest nightmare came true when the food, which people were counting on to cook their Christmas dinners, was not delivered on time. However, Allison Whittle from the YMCA was really helpful and with her help, a crisis was averted”.

Sutton Community Farm

From The Ground Up currently only sells their produce in the Kingston and Surbiton area. For organic food lovers in Wimbledon, however, there’s another excellent option at hand.

The Canteen at YMCA Wimbledon, located on 200 The Broadway, is currently the pickup point for the popular vegetable and fruit boxes from Sutton Community Farm, which just like FGU is community-led and not-for-profit.

Read more about Sutton Community Farm and how to sign up for their Veg and Fruit Box scheme here.

Enabling access to affordable organic food

Jules Hammonds, Head of Catering Services at YMCA LSW, is very pleased to see Canteen at YMCA Surbiton and YMCA Wimbledon working in partnership with FGU and Sutton Community Farm. He says:

By being a distribution point for ‘From the Ground up’ at YMCA Surbiton and ‘Sutton Community Farm’ at YMCA Wimbledon , YMCA LSW are enabling everyone in these communities, especially those on limited means, to have access to affordable, good quality, organic fruit and veg, on a regular basis and so contributing to the health of these communities.

Partnering with not for profit organizations also gives YMCA LSW opportunities in other areas. At present we are developing a YMCA Wimbledon resident volunteering and learning day out at the Sutton Community Farm.”