Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

From seed to plate

Fresh, local and seasonal. Sounds like the chef’s special. But these are the watchwords of a new local venture that specialises in matching earth-friendly farmers with customers who know – and care about – nutrition.

It’s called The Farmbox Project, and it collates and delivers veggies, fruit, eggs and even freshly-baked bread direct from the farm to your door. It’s not a new idea, given that the UK and the States have been running similar efforts for years now. But, here in Cyprus, it’s still a pretty novel notion – and The Farmbox Project has the most unique spin of all…

A locally-owned, Cypriot-run venture, this project focuses not just on getting farm-fresh goodies to your door, but on a real connection between the small producers and conscious consumers: a circular economy, in which producers and consumers get to know each other, and wastage is eliminated.

“There are three reasons why I started The Farmbox Project,” explains Stelios Nikolaou, the man behind the venture. “Firstly, unfairness towards farmers and growers, as well as consumers. Secondly, education of consumers concerning what, where and how their food gets to them and how beneficial it is. And thirdly, food waste – which is a big issue on the island: perhaps 20-25 per cent of all produce grown goes to waste before it even gets to the consumer’s table.”

Operating out of a small neighbourhood corner store, Stelios (who has worked for NGOs and in sustainable farming, and has a background in food and beverage hospitality) and his helpers are proud to be part of an environmentally friendly company. “There’s no waste – everything is packed in recycled or reused wooden or carton boxes; we operate on a subscription style delivery system; we support local farmers and businesses; and all our produce is both local – which reduces our carbon footprint – and seasonal.

“There are two sides to Farmbox,” Stelios continues. “First, you’ve got the small producers – people who grow or farm sustainable, earth-friendly produce. Now, what usually happens is producers are forced to sell to big outlets, which won’t pay for goods they don’t sell, often don’t reimburse the producers for months, and throw out anything they can’t sell. So there’s a pretty unfair system of payment going on there, along with a lot of wastage. And that certainly doesn’t benefit the people trying to grow fresh, healthy, nutritious foods.

“Then,” he continues, “there are the consumers – those of us who want to eat well. Did you know that as soon as a fruit or vegetable is cut from the plant, it starts losing nutrition? Anything that takes a week or so to get from the ground to your table has basically lost all its goodness and is probably coated with chemicals to help it last. So to eat well, to consume nutritiously, we need to be eating fresh produce that’s untainted by chemicals and pesticides, and has come straight from the farm.”

Purchasing from varying producers, depending on what’s available each week, Farmbox sources goods direct from small growers, farmers’ markets, stalls, and speciality farms – ensuring that everything is fresh, healthy and customised to the household’s dietary requirements: a sustainable cycle of seed-to-plate which also provides local farmers with a regular customer base.

Among their producers are the Arkaios Natural Food Farm in Ayia Varvara, a not-for-profit, volunteer-based outfit which works with ‘nature-based cultures and garden methods’; Agroktima Odysseos in Polis, whose passion for nature and its protection means only environmentally-friendly treatment of pests is used on their citrus orchards, vegetable plots, olive groves, and exotic fruits and herb gardens; and Stone Castle Farms in Paphos, a speciality outfit which focuses on microgreens and edible flowers, and highlights community work, permaculture and sustainable living.

“Our producers work really hard to get the food to your table – they’re passionate about what they do and grow,” says Stelios. “So by building a community of like-minded growers and consumers, we’re creating a regular demand for fresh, healthy produce. It’s been amazing to meet so many wonderful people through this venture,” he adds. “From producers to artisans to customers, the amount of people willing to help and support local businesses is astounding. Customers have been introduced to vegetables they would never have thought of, purchasing produce they didn’t know could be grown on the island! And they’re also benefiting from a personal connection with their producers; from fewer hands on their produce; and the boosted health which results from going local – because locally grown produce has been proven to be far better for your gut flora!”

While Stelios is always on the lookout for long-term partnerships with producers who share the ‘earth friendly’ Farmbox mindset, consumers are currently at capacity. “When we launched six months ago, we were covering maybe 30 or 40 households a week. The current measures have changed all that,” he notes with a smile. “Now, we’re at capacity, working at about 140 orders a week. There’s been a huge increase in demand and that has,” he continues, “pushed us to overcome all sorts of obstacles. We’re managing fine, but we do have a long waiting list of households. I think the current crisis has changed the way we think: there’s a huge movement towards eating more healthily, consuming produce that is local, seasonal and grown sustainably. And that’s exactly what we, at The Farmbox Project, do!”

 

To find out more about The Farmbox Project, visit or message the Facebook page ‘The Farmbox Project’ or call 96 025463

 

WHAT’S IN A FARMBOX?

Boxes come in 2 types (‘Veg Only’ or ‘Fruit & Veg’) and 3 sizes:

  1. Little Farmbox – €15 (1+ persons)
  2. Standard Farmbox – €20 (2+ persons)
  3. Big Farmbox – €30 (4+ persons)

Each week produce changes according to what’s available and in season. Here’s an example of what you might expect in late May, early June: Carrots, Tomato, Garlic (Fresh), Mushrooms (Large White Button), Peppers (Green), Peppers (Red), Cucumber, Summer Squash, Green Beans, Tomato (Cherry), Onion (Fresh Harvest), Spinach, Parsley, Lemongrass, Spring Onion, Melon (Ogen), Oranges (Valencia), Apricots (Kaisha)



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