Features Deputy Editor, Heather Jeffrey, takes a look at The Tree and speaks with St Andrews’ Transition. Shares how people in St Andrews can utilize The Tree to be more sustainable.
At the beginning of this year, like all St Andrews students, I sat down to complete the University’s sustainability module. Although most of it was pretty straight forward – using less water, making sure to recycle, reducing your carbon footprint – one slide in particular caught my eye: The Tree.
The Tree is a sustainability initiative set up by St Andrews’ Transition and allows its customers to order a range of local products online that are then delivered from farms around Fife. From fresh fruit and veg to homemade breads, from sustainable toiletries to frozen berries, not to mention the famous VegBags (mixed veg bundles), The Tree is the perfect way to transition to a new healthier and more sustainable diet.
Having now read about this initiative as part of the Sustainability module, I was surprised I hadn’t heard of The Tree before and couldn’t wait to give it a try. My flatmates and I checked out the website and selected a mix of different products to get us started. Orders need to be made by 12pm on Mondays and can then be collected on Wednesday afternoons outside the Union, so a couple of days later I went along to retrieve my treasures from The Tree pop-up stand on Market Street. The smiley volunteers presented me with a brown paper bag filled with goodies alongside my very own VegBag.
The bundle contained seasonal vegetables including onions, carrots, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, and kale. And each week is different! As the nights draw in and we get further into winter, my flatmates and I have been warming ourselves up with homemade soups, stews, and various creations inspired by our weekly VegBag. In the freezer, we now have frozen berries to have with our porridge in the morning, and sometimes we’ll treat ourselves to one of the homemade olive breads. Our first experience with The Tree proved so successful that we now use it regularly.
Intrigued by The Tree and wanting to know more about this incredible project, I reached out to St Andrews’ Transition who filled me in on why it was started and how it’s been developing over the past five years.
In summer 2015, two students from St Andrews’ Transition started fundraising outside the Careers Centre, selling smoothies and dutch-pancakes to passers-by. From there, the groups expanded, setting up new relationships with local producers, encouraging further interest in local food networks, and finally establishing the weekly shop cycle that exists today. According to The Tree team, “It took a few years for the idea to crystalize and emerge as a project, involving many volunteers who helped shape the actualization of the initial idea. The Tree has been running a handful of years at this point and seeks to provide St Andrews residence access to affordable, local produce and organic food items. We have collaborated with various small, local businesses as well whose collaboration has allowed us to become a platform for community exchange”.
There is certainly something very wholesome about cooking and sharing a meal that you know has been sustainably sourced, supports local producers, and is good for both you and the environment.
The Tree is run entirely by volunteers, most of them students, and is supplied by 3 local Fife farms: Lochaber Farm for bread, Pittormie Farm for vegetables, fruit and eggs, and Bellfield farm for the famous VegBags. But it’s not just the weekly basics that the online shop offers. There are always different fun and interesting products available, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on what has recently become available. “Over time, many different suppliers have sold their products through the Tree, allowing us to offer a range of amazing goods including vegan sweets and cakes, apple juice, local Christmas trees and, of course, Veg bags!”, explains The Tree team. And they are always looking for new products to add to their shop, encouraging “local producers to speak to us about how they can get involved. You might only be selling a few jars of jam or special vegan cakes but if it’s local and low on packaging then we would love to work with you”.
Like most businesses, The Tree has been affected by the recent Covid-19 pandemic, although, unlike most, some of these effects have been largely positive. As supermarket shelves were emptied by stockpiling, individuals looked to alternative food sources and local initiatives such as The Tree, meaning that orders majorly increased, both in number and in size, over the past 9 months. A delivery service for orders was also introduced while pick up points were made impossible under Covid restrictions and, in-keeping with The Tree’s efforts to contribute to local sustainability, a cargo-bike was used as their mode of delivery.
The Tree is but one of the incredible projects that St Andrews’ Transition is involved in. The St And Re-use project collects household items, such as bedding, from halls at the end of the semester and then offers them to incoming students. And, The Green Corridors project uses The Tree to distribute trees! In an attempt to enhance habitat, The Tree, in collaboration with the Botanic Garden, Fife Council and the University, delivers wildflower seed and small trees to local homeowners to increase native planting and support pollinators. Grocery shopping via The Tree website is the one of the many ways to get involved with and support St Andrews’ Transition. Simply by making use of their weekly delivery service, you’re supporting local producers and contributing to the sustainability of the town as a whole. Plus, the food is delicious.
I was also interested in finding out if other students, like myself, had discovered The Tree thanks to its inclusion in the University’s sustainability module at the start of the year. Had there been a sudden peak in student demand? Were other students making use of this fantastic service? “Yes, we have seen an increase in orders!”, The Tree team told me, “Especially the first few weeks of this semester were quite a challenge, as the orders almost tripled compared to average orders we were dealing with last year. It has been really exciting for us to see such support for this initiative and we are happy more and more people are keen on local veg!”.
So, it seems, plenty of students are getting involved and keen to eat more local and sustainable produce. With all the mayhem that 2020 dutifully continues to bombard us with, what better way to combat the chaos than a return to the simplicity of eating fruit and veg grown on nearby farms? What better way to soothe the soul than to prepare a fresh bowl of leek and potato, carrot and coriander, or lentil soup for you and your household? And what better to get you through the long winter ahead than some hearty, local fruit and veg? The weekly pilgrimage to collect the goodies, the sacred process of discovering what’s inside the VegBag, and the ritualistic act of transforming its contents into pleasurable and nourishing dishes, allow for brief moments of calm in the storm that is 2020.