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  • Writer's pictureLiz Kameen

Everybody loves having a local greengrocer!

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

There's a real nostalgia around the local High Street greengrocer, and there's an article here which talks about the demise of / benefits of a local greengrocer. Along with a good butcher (and fortunately Denbigh isn't short of these), it's seen by many as a key indicator of a thriving town / community. We all say that we'd love to see a local greengrocer nearby and that we want local / fresh vegetables.

But (always a but!), there's often a big difference between what we say we want / will do and our actual behaviour.

For example, we say we want to get fit but the reality of what that involves (making the time, actually getting the trainers on in the first place) often means it doesn't happen - or at least not as fast as we'd hoped for in our heads.

We say we want to recycle more / throw away less - but having a reduced bin collection is a real pain in the b^m as it means we are suddenly forced to reduce our waste before we've committed to do so, or before we even know how we're going to do it.

We say we want to reduce our impact on the environment but that's such a big mission, it seems overwhelming. And day to day we get tempted by little mini-decisions that add up to something that's not quite what's in our head but that we can justify ('I'll just do it this time, then I'll get myself organised', 'I'll get the veg wrapped in plastic because it's what's here but next time I'll go somewhere else, etc). I suspect we've all been there.

There are so many barriers in our everyday lives that stop us doing what we actually want to do. The more I know about it - and the reasons why, which will vary for each of us - the more it blows my mind, it's really fascinating.

When it comes to fruit & vegetables, supermarkets have put up a big challenge to smaller suppliers, and it's a well-known fact that it's been tough going for the High Street greengrocer, hence many of them have disappeared over the years as people's habits have changed. Supporting a local greengrocer is far more effort than going to the supermarket where they conveniently put everything you want for your week in one place, where they offer big discounts and where your car is waiting just outside (even if it is a place that you want to spend as little time in as possible and can't always get the best products). Eating seasonally has become quite tricky when there are all those aisles full of produce from elsewhere in the World.

In some parts of the country, farmer's markets are often the best way for smaller veg suppliers to sell these days, as there is a captive audience of people who have made the effort to go there to buy local / fresh produce and are not necessarily looking for the cheapest option / best variety but rather want quality and provenance.

But there's no farmer's market near to Denbigh, and it's clear that many people still really do want to buy local / seasonal / UK veg, and that they if they understand a bit more about the different ways that veg can be grown, that they prefer veg that they know isn't damaging the soil or insects / grown without using chemicals, and veg that isn't always covered in loads of plastic packaging unnecessarily.

So, this got me thinking, how do we help ourselves to get our hands on those locally grown / seasonal / grown without chemicals / less packaged veggies and put our money where our mouth is, as it were? ;)

There's been a lot of work around the power of habits and routines, and how these enable us to commit - and this commitment is often the thing that gets us across that line of actually doing what we say we're going to (ever notice that when we commit to something by telling other people suddenly it feels much harder to get out of? It's why asking for sponsorship can sometimes be quite daunting as you know once you ask you're committed!). When we develop a habit it also makes it easer for our brain to get on and do other things as it knows that, for example, we brush our teeth every night before bed and don't have to spend brain power thinking about it.

Our Eat Your Greens veg box customers have effectively 'committed' by signing up to a box. Even though you might get a box some weeks which isn't full of your favourite things, you still work your way through it. And when you stick with it through boxes that you don't like as much, you get the reward of the ones you do. That's one reason why the veg box model works so well - it involves commitment, and once you're in and signed up you tend to stay.

But for customers who don't / can't get a box (or who get a box and want to top up), having to make the effort to come into a shop that is only open on a Friday morning is a massive barrier. Especially if you work full time / can't park outside / have to queue / don't have cash. We completely understand the vast number of barriers in place, especially as we are open so infrequently and on a steep road with no parking! [Note - we're only open on a Friday as it's just not possible for us to grow and harvest the amount of veg we do - without chemicals - and to pack/deliver the boxes and run the shop through the week. And the business cannot support employing someone else to run the shop.]

Despite the many barriers in place, we do still get a high number of returning customers to the shop, which is fab and so rewarding. We get lovely feedback about the produce and know that it's much appreciated. But we know there are many more potential customers out there for whom it all just feels too hard! If this is you, read on.

If you're someone who would like to get into town more and into the supermarket less, here are some ideas:

  • decide which local shop(s) you want to support/what's important to you (eg it might be that having local meat is the most important thing for you, in which case prioritising the butcher is key, or you may really love UK veg and regularly complain about the fact the supermarket doesn't sell the best quality produce)...and make the decision to commit to those shops for a period of time - eg one month

  • make the effort to understand what the shops you are supporting are about -what's their story, what's important to them and check this resonates with you (you're more likely to be able to commit if you really believe in what the business is about)

  • make space in your diary to do your shop - book it in, plan a time you'll go, set a reminder on your phone

  • commit to the time - treat it like a hair or medical appointment, frame it as something that cannot be moved easily

  • plan how you're going to get there - where you plan to park, make sure you have access to wheels

  • plan how you're going to carry your goodies home - bags, boxes, wheely bag

  • make it into a shared /enjoyable part of your week - arrange to meet a friend & combine with going for a panad, and/or frame it as your opportunity to support Denbigh rather than seeing it as a drag

  • if you're a list-maker then when you do your list for the week think about what could be bought outside of the supermarket / in local businesses and don't include those items in your weekly supermarket shop

With our shop, although we're only open on a Friday we do try to be as flexible as we can to help people get the veg you want. If you're in a big rush or want something specific, you can ask us to put aside some veg for you. You can also buy veg and pick it up later. If you can't make it in for some reason, perhaps there's someone you know who could shop for you. We send out a weekly email update letting you know what we have in that week, which also serves as a reminder that we are open.

If there's something else we can do to help, please let us know and we'll do what we can but it's worth remembering that if you do want to eat more seasonally you may need to make some changes to your cooking habits too, as you have to pick/choose from what we have in stock which is always going to be more limited than the supermarket and may mean you need to be open to trying new/ different things. That's a topic for another time!

If we all made a commitment to visit locally owned shops once a week that would become the habit/default behaviour, and our reliance on the supermarket would diminish as a result. Yes it takes more effort, yes it might cost a little bit more in the end (we all know supermarkets offer discounts that hide true prices - but also don't we sometimes end up buying things we don't actually want or need as a result, so maybe it all evens out). But it comes with a feel-good factor because you're supporting a business owned by people in the local community, and the knowledge that the produce you're eating is better in some way, i.e. more local, more organic, more packaging free, more fresh.

[Written by Liz Kameen, co-owner of The Vale Grocer and also freelance behavioural science consultant]

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