Norwich organic food firm helps care for planet
Two young Christian entrepreneurs are trying to care for both the planet and for people across Norfolk through an online organic vegetable and fruit box scheme they launched during the pandemic. Keith Morris reports.
Former youth worker Matthew St John and environmental scientist Joshua Smith took on the running of online food company Goodery about five months ago, based in an industrial unit in North Norwich.
They believe that by encouraging local organic growers and making it easier for consumers to access the premium produce and “make the good choice” they will not only help care for our shared planet and its natural resources but also care for its people.
The company was launched at the start of the pandemic by the duo and their friend Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Ellison who moved from Colorado to Norfolk five years ago.
Matti is the son of parents who were missionaries in China but who had to visit Hong Kong from his Stalham home before he found a Christian faith for himself. When he came back from his travels he did two years of youth work with St Thomas Church in Norwich before lockdown hit. Josh meanwhile had come back from running a coffee shop abroad when lockdown was announced.
The original idea for Goodery came out of the particular circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic when John wanted to supply fresh local organic vegetable boxes to NHS staff who were renting some of the properties he managed in Norfolk so they could isolate from their families while working in hospitals etc.
Matti and Josh were in from the start delivering the boxes to key workers. “There was a real need,” said Matti. “Other people would pay for a box for a key worker but very quickly people were saying I would also like a box for myself.”
After two months, Goodery bought out an established organic vegetable supplier Arthur’s Organics.
“The vision was to connect people with their food and where it comes from,” said Matti. “We believe that God has asked us to both care for our planet and care for its people. For us it is a Biblical mandate. We want to create relationships with our customers, farmers, growers – there is a whole community that is so passionate about organic growing here in Norfolk. Just to be part of that community is just incredible.
“Over the lockdown we were dealing with hundreds of customers every week and lots of them were quite elderly and hadn’t been going out much if at all or speaking to anyone else,” said Matti. “Having a conversation with them was one of the highlights of the lockdown for me.”
Josh said: “Our journey has made it clear that what is going to make the longest-term difference is deepening relationships with our growers and suppliers here in Norfolk and Suffolk.
“For us that means focusing on protecting the soil, reducing people’s impact upon the environment through their food and building relationships and sharing God’s life as we see it with this very committed community. To be good stewards of our part of the earth in a uniquely Christ-centred way.
“We feel that the church really should be taking the lead in environmentalism and in many cases it is. For us it is God’s call but it is also what we must do as a race to survive on this planet.”
Looking ahead to the future, the company plans to set up its own market garden in South Norfolk and start to grow its own produce and provide work for one or two people.
“The conventional way of growing food is by definition destructive for the planet,” explains Josh. “It destroys top soil, emits a massive amount of CO2 into the atmosphere and pollutes our rivers with excess nitrogen due to fertilisers. Organic agriculture does the opposite, it works with rather than against nature and can therefore be used to build up soils and improve soil health and to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere.
“That’s the reason that organic matters so much and chimes with the call to protect the environment. When talking to customers about why organic is such a premium, but often more expensive product, we try to communicate the hidden costs in the supermarket model. The hidden cost is to the soil and to the environment which makes it exceptionally expensive in the long run for us and for future generations.
“Many people know that organic is the best choice as they become more aware of the environmental impacts of their food shopping,” said Matti. “What we try to do is to make it as easy as possible for them to make it with the convenience of organising vegetable and fruit boxes and direct home delivery which, with our use of electric vans, is carbon-free. The more the organic movement grows and the more people that join it, the cheaper it becomes for everyone.”
In the summer there are plenty of local crops such as tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and cucumbers for example. Into the autumn there are leafy greens, kale, squashes and root vegetables. Winter crops are things like parsnips and Brussel sprouts. In the spring, Goodery does have to bring in produce from the West Country or Europe though.
“The current awareness of environmental concerns surrounding the Glasgow climate talks means that it is a key time to get the message across,” said Matti, “and it is amazing to see how in the last two or three years the climate movement has massively grown across the whole world.
“We feel that the church should be involved in this and we would be really up for starting conversations with churches who want to know more about how they and their members can reduce their carbon footprint and have a positive climate impact.
“For most people food represents about one third of their carbon footprint from growing it, transport, buying, packaging and consuming.
“It is a massive area in which by making a small change you can hugely reduce your carbon footprint,” said Matti.
Goodery also supplies other high quality locally-made items such as roasted coffee, fermented goods, whole foods, refillable wine containers.
To contact them email firstname.lastname@example.org, tel 01603 577971, or visit goodery.co.uk or @goodery_uk
Pictured above are Matthew St John, left, and Joshua Smith with some of the local organic produce
they sell at Goodery.