A social, environmental and economic evaluation
This evaluation suggests that for every £1 spent by customers on veg box schemes or farmers’ markets, a further £3.70 is generated in social, economic and environmental value.
Growing Communities is an organisation that aims to harness the collective buying power of their local community and direct it towards those farmers who are producing food in a sustainable way. NEF Consulting, with Soil Association, conducted an evaluation of the impact of Growing Communities’ two primary consumer offers: its weekly veg scheme and its farmers market for the financial year 2019-2020.
We considered the impact of these operations on consumers, farmers, food processors, employees, ‘food eaters’, and the environment.
Over the twelve months, Growing Communities’ core operations cost £1,688,600. 54% of this was borne by veg scheme customers and 40% by farmers market customers. The average veg scheme customer spent £641 per annum, while the average farmers market customer spent £837 per annum. These customers are individuals who purchase food directly from Growing Communities but the food often also feeds household members, forming a larger group of ‘food eaters’ or consumers.
Growing Communities’ core operations generated an estimated £6,294,000 in social, economic, and environmental value:
- Around 60%, went to veg scheme customers and their households, who received £3,836,000.
- Farmers market customers and their households received £1,638,000.
- The environment was the next largest recipient, with over £508,000 in value annually.
- Farmers, employees, and food processors received £312,000.
The average customer received £2,461 in benefits for their households, while generating £228 of value for the environment, £76 for farmers, £52 for employees of Growing Communities, and £13 for food processors.
For veg scheme ‘food eaters’, the value of improvements in health (£631) were more significant than the value of food received (£301). We estimate the social element of the veg scheme as creating £310 of value in social interactions and £60 of value in sense of community for veg scheme members.
For farmers market customers, the estimated value of health improvements generated were lower but still significant at £398. Though more people gather at a farmers market than at veg scheme collection points, the social benefit of the farmers market is slightly smaller, creating an estimated £245 per customer in value in social interactions and £74 in sense of community. Additional value was created in terms of improved knowledge of food and reduced food waste.
The greatest benefit for farmers was wellbeing – the feeling that their work was more appreciated. They also benefited from being able to manage better financially and felt more secure in their job. The value of reduced pressure to scale up their operations was also significant at £625 per farmer, as was the increased autonomy over what they can produce.
The most significant value created by Growing Communities for its employees is to enable them to manage better financially, worth an estimated £1,077 per employee. Reduced commuting time, was the next most valuable contribution to its employees, worth an average of £994 in time and £45 in costs per annum. Reduced childcare costs were significant at an average of £868 per employee, while physical health benefits were also significant (£207).
Growing Communities’ work supports significant environmental improvements, the largest of which was in improved levels of carbon sequestered within the soil, estimated to be worth £413,000 per annum. However, there is considerable uncertainty around this estimate, as the benefits from adoption of organic farming approaches tend to stabilise after the initial period.
In the Growing Communities supply chain, more environmentally friendly farming practices create £478,500 of environmental benefit. Shifting patterns of consumer behaviour results in additional value worth £29,700.
Our analysis estimates that Growing Communities generated £6,293,700 in economic, commercial, social, and environmental value from £1,688,600 of costs giving an overall cost-benefit ratio of £3.73 of value generated for each £1 of costs. The cost-benefit ratio remains high even when the focus is just on food eaters. For each £1 spent by consumers they, and their households, receive an additional £2.46 in benefit.
Where considerable uncertainty exists, we have made conservative assumptions to ensure that the findings presented remain robust. The most significant of these is around the value of environmental production benefits, many of which have not been included. The findings can therefore be viewed as a conservative estimate of the value created by this model of food production and distribution.