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How this West Leeds community fruit and veg box seller is promoting healthy eating to families

Food and health champions FoodWise Leeds and Zest delivered an interactive competition for families as part of the #Vegrocks campaign to promote eating and growing vegetables during April and May.

Growing Better CIC were approached as not-for-profit food growers and fruit and veg boxes sellers to provide awards to children taking part in the competition. Community reporter JOSIE ARMITAGE interviewed CEO Dorota Hajdukiewicz.

Activities at Beech Hall Nursing Home in Armley.

How did Growing Better CIC start?

Growing Better CIC was established by Robert Moores in 2016, as a small project growing baby leaves in a polytunnel. Soon after, the operations shifted to one of the indoor units in the Sheepscar area of Leeds.

I joined the organisation in August 2018 to lead on business development, taking full responsibility for running of the business in March 2019.

In the following month, we decided to move to the West Leeds Activity Centre in Armley and shift our production to a shipping container and the allotment, where we are now.

Since then, Growing Better has engaged some 150 volunteers and youth groups in various projects, including NCS Challenge engaging young people in delivering projects in local areas. 

We chose to work with the Beech Hall Residential Care Home in Armley, where the group spent a day with elderly residents bringing a lot of cheers and smiles, as well as improving the surrounding of the home by creating a small nature reserve outside!

How has Covid-19 and lockdown affected your business?

The lockdown has encouraged us to look at different areas of the business and focus, as well as to come up with new ideas to ensure the survival of our organisation and a space for people to engage with us once restrictions are eased.

Indeed, as the lockdown was being announced, we received government-backed funding (Key Fund) to help us grow the business and to continue to work with the community we operate in.

We have not only changed what we grow and sell, since the restaurants were closing or reorienting their businesses, but also developed good relationships with other local producers and suppliers to provide fruit and veg boxes, that are good value for money, as well as providing discounts to all the Key Workers.

What are the main areas of your business?

As a community interest company, we support people living with mental health challenges and those with learning difficulties by providing employability training and volunteering opportunities in our urban farm, based in West Leeds, where we grow highly nutritious micro herbs and micro veg hydroponically, as well as other products using traditional methods on our allotment.

We also engage school children in nature conservation activities, such as planting native trees and wildflowers, litter picking and organising nature walks.

Why did you want to be involved?

We were thrilled to be given this opportunity to engage with kids and promote eating healthy fruits and veggies, as well is growing their own micro greens.

This opportunity is exactly what we stand for, and a chance to go out there and provide the most colourful products helps us deliver our social mission.

We decided to not just provide the boxes and grow kits, but also to promote the competition and to take on the logistics distributing those, which was one of our proudest moments and rewarding experiences, and a highlight of why we exist as an organisation.

Growing Better held a stall at Leeds Kirkgate Market.

What are the best things about running your own business? 

The most rewarding thing about running your business is seeing the positive effects of the decisions you make, such as community engagement activities, new products launches, or growing the organisation. Building your own team you fully trust and look after is also one of the best things any business owner should appreciate.

If you’re lucky to do what you love, you never feel like your job is done and you want to continue to improve and bring new ideas to life – the sky’s the limit!

What are the challenges of running your own business?

Running your own organisation is a continuous steep learning curve that may put many people off, as it may feel like a lonely place at times when you aren’t surrounded by people you trust and who want to be part of your organisation and support your efforts as a team.

You quickly realise that you cannot do everything on your own and having a team of like-minded people is critical to overcoming any challenges!

What’s next for you and Growing Better CIC?

Growth! Having recently secured a government-backed funding, we are now looking to expand our production by establishing new polytunnels and more outdoor growing space, that ultimately will be able to accommodate more training and volunteering opportunities for vulnerable people.

It also means that we will deliver more of our own produce, free from any nasty chemicals, grown and sold to Yorkshire people!

Get involved in engaging or supporting us

There are many ways anyone can engage or support our business – from purchasing our products, to volunteering to sponsoring some of our programmes.

We would like to hear from:

  • Volunteers wanting to help on our allotment
  • Schools looking for extra-curricular activities for pupils (on and off site)
  • Organisations working with vulnerable people wanting to engage in outdoor activities or looking for employability skills training and work experience opportunities for persons they work with
  • Organisations looking to provide perks for their employees, or to engage in local sponsorship programmes
  • Community groups and businesses wanting to partner with us on various projects
  • Local producers and craftsmanship who want to feature in our online shop. We always welcome collaboration opportunities with other like-minded organisations.

Please send any queries to hello@growingbetter.co.uk or contact Dorota at 07857238678.

Follow us on: Facebook: @GrowingBetterCIC Twitter: @Growing_Better Instagram Growing_Better or look at our new website: https://growingbetter.co.uk/.

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