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“Everyone should be able to afford good quality fresh fruit and vegetables,” says Toni Dipple.

“Organic food shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, it should just be food.”

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Toni, 32, is on a mission to make the mantra a reality with a new food co-operative – Organic Ilford.

Launching this month, the group will be offering seasonal, chemical-free produce at cost price to Redbridge residents and even plans to start its own farm.

The project is the first of its kind in the borough, where founder Toni believes it is needed more than ever.

She said: “Although there’s a proliferation of pound-a-bowl shops in Ilford, you don’t know where the fruit and veg is from and it’s often very old.

“Seasonal eating is more varied and produce has more flavour and nutrition.”

Toni learned to grow food as a child at home in Mayville Road, Ilford, where her parents kept chickens and rabbits in their back garden and had a plot at Goodmayes Allotments.

She returned to the area two years ago after years away and decided a green revolution was needed.

Toni, of Wanstead Park Road, said: “There were so many betting shops and chicken shops – I was just so shocked at what had happened to the area.

“It was dirty and there was no real community spirit any more.

“If you want a place to change, you need to stay and change it.

“I thought – there’s nothing like this in the area – let’s make it happen.”

For Toni, Organic Ilford is about building community spirit as much as the food.

As the project gets more established, she plans to start a farm in Redbridge where people can volunteer and schoolchildren can be taught how to grow their own.

The group’s first step is starting a box scheme to distribute organic produce from Essex, Norfolk and even a farm in Dagenham.

For a monthly fee, people will receive a mixed bag of six or eight seasonal vegetables that they can pick up weekly from collection points across Redbridge, 
including Redbridge Central Library in Clements Road, Ilford.

Toni said all fruit and vegetables will be picked the day before delivery and will usually include potatoes, onions and whatever is ready to pick at the time.

The cost varies between £34 and £50 a month depending on the size of the order but the group plans to drop prices when it is able to start its own farm.

Toni believes the higher prices associated with organic lines in supermarkets are unnecessary and put people on lower incomes off chemical-free food.

She said: “I’m fed up with how much it costs in the supermarket when they make so much profit from organic food.

“Buying organic apples from New Zealand in plastic doesn’t do anyone any good.

“Four per cent of all food in the UK is certified organic but 100 years ago, that’s just what food was.”

Anyone using the word “organic” has to be certified by Trading Standards – a lengthy process that costs Organic Ilford £700 a year.

The price can make it difficult for small businesses and farmers to sell chemical-free food.

Organic Ilford only buys from small farms in London, Essex and Norfolk, keeping so-called “food miles” down.

The group aims to leave a low carbon footprint and 
improve air quality by having fewer vans and lorries on the road.

Organic Ilford wants to go beyond selling its own fruit and vegetables by inspiring people to grow their own.

Toni said: “It’s helping people re-engage with their food and teaching people how to grow it in their back gardens.

“It’s easy when you know how, anyone can do it.”

A team of eight is currently running the project but more volunteers are wanted to help with marketing, planting and building.

n To muck in or find out more about the box scheme, visit www.organicilford.com.

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