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What’s in a veg box?

From its supermarket-defying beginnings, to Asda's wonky offering, there are many benefits to veg box schemes.

We look at what a veg box is, organic options, and where to find local fruit and vegetable box schemes.

What is a veg box?

A veg box is essentially what it says on the tin: a box of mixed vegetables (and some include fruit).

There are an estimated 500+ veg box schemes in the UK. They take many different forms, for example, they may offer only local veg, only organic veg, or just the cheaper wonky options that a supermarket might not otherwise sell. 

In the beginning, veg boxes offered a way to make the livelihoods of small-scale organic growers more feasible. It created a direct relationship between people and where their food comes from. 

This meant that more of the profit went straight to farmers and helped them build their markets. It was about reducing food miles, decentralising the market, and bringing about wider social and economic change. Most veg boxes still focus on this.

The wonky supermarket vegetable box is a different story. Launched by Asda in 2016, and more recently picked up by other chains like Morrisons, it does attempt to address mounting food waste concerns by promoting ‘ugly veg’. But it is certainly not about decentralising the market or supporting the organic movement. 

The popularity of the veg box shot up at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with sales more than doubling.

Origins of the veg box

Veg boxes were only popularised in 1991 after a pair of successful growers near Dartmoor had a TV programme made about them. 

Tim and Jan Deane of Northwood Boxes found an opportunity to build up their own customer base.

Previously, their vegetables had travelled 50 miles to their regional organic co-operative, then 200 miles on to a retail depot, only to end up in a supermarket 10 miles from home. They might also be sold at more than four times the price they themselves had made.

They set up a veg box scheme and within two years they had 200 customers and a predictable income.

What are the benefits of a veg box?

Supporting more environmentally-friendly farming practices

Farms that are trying to do something different often offer veg box schemes. Some veg box schemes are 100% organic, while others also have a social aim, providing a growing space and social support for disabled people or people with poor mental health.

Growing Well in Kendal runs a ‘Crop Share’ veg box scheme, whereby local people can commit to buying part of the harvest each week. The veg is grown by those facing mental health challenges alongside experienced therapeutic growers, and profits from the veg box scheme help to support this work.

Veg box schemes can give farmers more options to invest in more environmentally-friendly forms of growing or trial new approaches, because they have a reliable income that is not tied to supermarkets’ price cutting demands.

Veg Box People deliver organic veg, which has been grown in the north west of England, to sites around Manchester. Most food comes from nearby farms including from a local FarmStart scheme, which trains new growers in organic techniques. The veg box provides a market for the produce and helps to fund the training scheme.

Box schemes also generally use a lot less plastic packaging, either using paper bags for some delicate items like mushrooms, with other produce loose in the box.

Supporting farmers

Supermarkets dominate 70% of the fresh food market. But working with them has pushed organic growers into a mass production system which favours monoculture, and wastes up to 30% of produce for being the wrong size or shape. Risks and costs have been pushed onto the grower and many have faced bankruptcy.

Veg boxes – particularly if purchased straight from one or a group of local farmers – ensure that more of the profit goes to those growing the produce. Veg boxes can cut out retailers who take a disproportionate share of the retail price, and avoid the punitive contracts sometimes forced on them by major supermarkets.

Lots of veg boxes run by subscription. You sign up to buy a box every week or every fortnight. This provides farmers with a steady, predictable income. It also shares risk over the year. At times of glut, your veg box might be brimming with produce; in down-seasons you may get a bit less. But you pay the same price all year round meaning that both you and the farmer split the costs over time.

Who offers veg box schemes?

Local farmers often offer veg box schemes. We discuss below how to find them.

While most local box schemes have a few hundred customers at most, Riverford and Abel & Cole have around 50,000 customers each. Debates have raged about whether they have done a great thing bringing organic veg to the masses, or have undermined the livelihoods of hundreds of other small-scale producers.

However, if you compare them to any supermarket where most people buy their veg, they both score much better on our tables for their ethical and environmental records. In fact, Abel & Cole scores double the highest scoring supermarket, and Riverford scores three times as well as the highest scoring supermarket.

Are there vegan organic box schemes?

Vegan organic growing is increasing, with the most established scheme being Tolhurst Organics in West Berkshire. They run a successful box scheme of produce grown organically, and by vegan methods, that is, without any animal-based inputs like manure, blood, fishmeal, bone. All produce is grown to the Stockfree Organic standards, certified by the Soil Association and the OF&G.

What’s in season?

With a box of locally grown veg, you are more aware of the seasons. But many of us are used to having year-round availability, and it's common to hear veg box customers (like allotment holders) struggling with seasonal gluts.

Luckily, many schemes include recipe ideas, or you can find them online (search for veg box recipes). If there are one or two types of vegetables no one in your household will ever eat, most schemes allow you to make a couple of exceptions.

To keep their customers happy, many schemes will also import some produce, especially fruit, if it is not available locally. In this case they will often draw the line at air-freighted produce, and will probably prioritise produce from Europe.

The Vegetarian Society has a list of seasonal food for the UK.

Wicker box with various vegetables

Are veg box schemes affordable?

Veg boxes are often a cheaper way to buy environmentally-friendly produce, because they cut out the need for supermarkets – which sometimes push up prices on organic and unpackaged goods. They may not be as cheap though as buying non-organic, monoculture grown products, which come at an unviable low price.

To keep delivery costs down, some schemes have started dropping off to community hubs, rather than all the way to your door. Some are teaming up with other producers to broaden their range of veg and other groceries. A few even have pay-it-forward schemes, or price by income, which means that those who are richer pay more and those on lower incomes are ensured a more affordable price.

In the summer, Windmill Hill City Farms sells veg boxes of produce grown on their sites in Bristol. The farm acts as a community space and offers therapeutic growing. You can also select a pay-it-forward or solidarity box, sending veg to a local family that needs it.

Soul Farm is a Community Supported Agriculture scheme in Cornwall, offering agroecological heirloom veggies. It operates on a sliding payment scale, and says “those who join the ‘upper’ and ‘higher’ income brackets will help us fund shares for people experiencing food poverty in Cornwall.” It asks for between £9 and £30 for a full veg box, depending on your income.

Box prices obviously vary from scheme to scheme, so check what would be value for you before buying.

Many veg box customers are looking for value beyond simply the price of the box. They are actively supporting a different food system. They might want to know that more of the price will go to the growers, rather than to highly paid execs or shareholders.

Abel & Cole VS Riverford

Both companies sell organic fruit and veg. They both also sell meat: Riverford only sells organic and free range meat whereas Abel & Cole sells some meat and fish that is non-organic but ‘higher welfare’ or free range.

Both companies operate regional schemes. They are both in our guide to supermarkets as well and are both registered as B-corps.

Abel & Cole

Abel & Cole grew from selling potatoes door to door in 1988 to an organic veg box scheme which, in 2007, was sold for nearly £40 million to private equity firm Phoenix. After a series of buyouts and a few difficult years, the company is now owned by William Jackson Food Group.

Abel & Cole lost a whole mark for anti-social finance as WJFG paid its highest earning director over £2 million in 2020. WJFG also owns an insurance company based in Bermuda and operating from Guernsey, both of which are known to be tax havens. It scored middle ratings for carbon management and reporting, and palm oil sourcing, and a worst rating for environmental reporting and supply chain management.

Currently, their fresh boxes are delivered to England and Wales.

Abel & Cole website


Guy Watson started the vegetable-growing business at Riverford in 1986. Riverford is a family farm, which started moving towards less intensive farming in the 1970s. Since 2023, the company has been 100% employee-owned, "benefitting all Riverford employees equally.”

Much of its produce still comes from its own farms in Devon, Peterborough, Hampshire and France. Other products come from its group of organic growers and producers.

In October 2014 there was a 48 hour boycott of Riverford after a fox hunt was spotted on land supplying its dairy. Riverford responded by banning fox-hunting on all Riverford land, not just the land run by the organic veg company.

Riverford scores better on the table as Abel & Cole loses marks due to its parent company. Riverford receives positive marks for being 100% organic and employee-owned, and a best rating for palm oil sourcing. It received a middle rating for carbon management and reporting and environmental reporting.

To find out if Riverford delivers to your area enter your postcode into their search box.

Riverford website

Finding box schemes and local veg

There are lots of ways to access local veg, from box schemes that support new entrants to farming, to mobile veg vans. Here are some useful websites to find an option near you:

Not all schemes are organic, and directories are not always up to date, so do a local search too and ask questions. Some box schemes may also have a minimum order price, and some may allow swaps to be made on some items. You may also find local producers at weekly or monthly town/farmers' markets.

The Soil Association directory has schemes that operate nationally, as well as a search for regional/local schemes.

New models are springing up, but read the small print as they do vary. For example, an ‘Amazon Fresh’ delivery service now operates in an area of south-east England, and Amazon is not the most ethical business available.