"BY typical, modern standards I’m completely mad."

So says Mark Stay, who runs a small, organic farm in the village of North Aston near Bicester.

His farm specialises in certified organic, locally-sourced vegetables boxes, delivered to over 290 households.

“We deliver down to Oxford, up to Banbury, and across from Bicester to not so far west from here”.

Mr Stay started his business in 1998.

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“I knew I wanted to grow organic vegetables, but as the agricultural land prices were already rising sharply back then, we were looking for a place in Wales, Ireland... even Canada. Finally, we decided to stay here, in England, where our families and friends are.

“Then I met Jeremy Taylor, who owns land in North Aston.

"We found common ground, as he wanted to diversify the usage of his land, and thought that industrial agriculture was a problem as fewer people were working on the land. It was a happy meeting and we’ve rented land from him.”

North Aston Organics covers about seven acres.

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“We have two organic certificates – one as a producer of food and the other covers what we buy from other organic producers and redistribute, so we are sure that all vegetables, fruit and eggs we sell are organic and have the lowest possible carbon footprint."

Remaining organic requires the farm to undergo a number of requirements.

“We do most of our work by hand; use of machinery is as limited as possible. We do not spray our crops, except for liquid seaweed, which is permitted for nourishment.

“Once a year we have a visit from the official, who examines the farm and goes through our documentation. He might say ‘I see you’re growing this variety of cabbage, so please show me the invoice proving that seeds were organic’. We can also be surprised by an unannounced visitation.”

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As a reseller, the company has not only a strict organic policy, but also makes sure that imported vegetables and fruit are not being transported by planes.

Vegetables are delivered in cardboard boxes, which are returned by customers and reused by the company 'as long as possible'.

The same applies to fruit bags and egg boxes.

“Most vegetables are put loose into the box; mushrooms and tomatoes are delivered in paper bags.

"We still have to use plastic bags due to food safety requirements and lack of reasonable substitution allowing us to preserve moist of salad leaves and spinach.

"Plastic is a big issue for our customers and we’re looking forward to the moment when we’ll be completely plastic-free as much as they do.”

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In villages surrounding North Aston, the company delivers to clients’ doorstep, while in larger towns clients pick their boxes from collection points – except for Oxford, where company cooperates with a cycling couriers’ company, using cargo bikes to deliver boxes to clients’ doorstep with no emission at all.

“There is a lot of interest in what we’re doing, clearly as. When we started, veg box schemes were becoming popular and we caught that wave.

"Now, as sustainability is becoming more and more important, we need to decide how much more we can do. Our van, which delivers boxes to Oxford, is nearly completely full every week, and buying a larger van and employing a new driver is a major change in a company of this size. But sooner or later we will have to do it."