Paul Smith is a second-generation fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Despite a short stint in the city “trading people’s futures”, fruit and veg is what he knows. His two partners are third generation greengrocers and, together, they aim to change the way you get your greens.
Starting in Kensington, and then – literally! – rolling out to the rest of London, Fresh Carts is an innovative project which will supply fresh, sustainable produce from mobile street carts.
It all began when Paul heard about the Green Carts project in New York. Green Carts was introduced as a part of a city strategy to put fresh local fruits and vegetables on street corners. The aim was to make healthy food accessible to the estimated 750,000 New Yorkers who live in food deserts.
Paul Smith saw a great opportunity for our own capital city, and so hopped straight on a plane to New York on a fact-finding mission with his business partners: “What we found out in New York was that the scheme has to be centralised. There’s no point in giving out individual licenses to stallholders because there’s not very much profit in fruit and veg,” he says.
Fresh Carts is a business, and therefore profit is obviously important. However, Paul says, this doesn’t have to be a dirty word. The ethos behind Fresh Carts blends business and sustainability, profit with social conscience, and it seems to be an easy marriage. From the produce, to the transport, the packaging, to the cart itself, Fresh Carts has lofty ambitions of being “good for you – better for everyone”. As well as providing convenient access to healthy produce, the project aims to provide benefits to the producer, to local communities and to the greater environment.
So how exactly does he hope to achieve all of this, least of all rolling out 200 carts to the Greater London Area in three years? Careful planning, consultation and partnerships have played a key part in getting the ball (and cart!) rolling. As well as his involvement with the National Farmers Union, which helps to create a network between sellers and local growers, Fresh Carts is also entering a working partnership with the government’s Change4Life project. It seems like a natural union for Paul: “We all want people to eat as properly as possible, and do as little damage as possible - it’s not rocket science. People have got to eat, and if we can find a good way for them to do that, then that’s great news for us too.”
Fresh Carts’ main approach to sustainability is to focus on local produce. “Within a year we want 22 per cent of produce on the kiosks locally sourced - within a 50 mile radius. It’s cheaper to buy apples from Kent than from France, and people like to buy locally.”
Even the kiosks themselves are being made within 50 miles of London, explains Paul, and the packaging is going to be made predominantly from bamboo. “I can’t find it any greener,” he says. “Although it does have to be imported, it is biodegradable, and I am using a London based company.”
The produce itself will be bought on a ‘grow-to-ripe’ basis, negating the need for expensive and energy–intensive preservation processes. Where produce is from outside the 50-mile area, Fresh Carts will only buy from suppliers who meet strict production criteria.
Making fresh, ripe, sustainable fruit and vegetables readily available on the streets in communities could strike a blow at the control supermarkets have over our buying habits, something that Paul feels passionately about. “The supermarkets have such a grip in our country. We want to give people the confidence to buy from street sellers again.”
If Fresh Carts goes to plan, it will demonstrate that being sustainable and making a profit do not have to be mutually exclusive. “There’s such an incentive to be green and sustainable,” Paul says. “It makes good business sense to fill your lorries as full as possible, and get your produce locally, as you have to pay less for delivery. But the other benefits really make it pay off.”
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