Edinburgh’s Community Greengrocers Dig In

| Rachel Berry

The idea for Dig In began when a supermarket chain took over an independent deli on Bruntsfield high street. The local community thought there were enough supermarkets dotting the route from Morningside to Edinburgh Castle – but Bruntsfield is a haven for independent businesses. A group of local people decided to do something to protect that, imagining Dig In in late 2013 and opening the doors in May 2014. Today, it’s a bustling independent greengrocers supplying ethical, local and organic produce to the community that created it. 

“When we started, none of us really knew how to run a greengrocers shop,” says Isla McCulloch, Chair of the Dig In Management Committee. “It’s amazing seeing photos from the early days when there was nothing on the shelves. But there was a real commitment to ethical, local and organic produce. We work with local wholesalers and farms in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Glasgow, Fife and across Scotland . We provide an outlet for organic, good quality veg, but we’re also trying to preserve something of the uniqueness of this high street, which people feel a sense of pride in.” 

Dig In is run by four paid members of staff, as well as a small army of volunteers, including the Management Committee who are elected by the members – people who invested their money in setting up the shop. Dig In is a Community Benefit Society, which means that all profits are reinvested in the business or local community. A community share offer raised the money to open the shop. 

“We raised £34,000,” says Isla. “That’s small in the grand scheme of things, but we’re approaching our sixth birthday and we made a profit in the last three years. We’ve rebuilt our reserves so that some people have been able to withdraw their initial investment. But most people haven’t wanted to do that. They say having us on the high street is worth so much more than any interest we could have paid them, because they now have this lovely greengrocer that they didn’t have before.”

Dig In serves the local community in Bruntsfield, the surrounding areas and people from across Edinburgh who care about food. “Our community is more than the 320-odd people that actually invested their money in us and are our members,” says Isla. “You can’t make everybody happy all the time. But people are slowly realising that they can get active and involved and, if they want a certain change, such as having us stock a particular item, they can work with us to see if we can make it happen.” 

The shop’s staff are supported by a team of 30 committed volunteers. But those volunteers gain as much from the role as they give. “We offer training and they’re always supporting one of our staff members in the shop,” says Isla. “Volunteering is a two-way street; we try to think about what they’re getting out of it, too. Maybe a bit of an escape, or just good fun. It’s a way for people to use their time to contribute to their community. One of our volunteers had been asking us if he could volunteer from the age of 14. We couldn’t recruit him until he was 16 – and he joined us right after his birthday! He couldn’t wait to help out!”

This is a mark of the strength of relationship Dig In has built with its customers and community. Isla says that since the shop has opened, some customers have had children who now feel so at home in the shop that they pick food to eat off the shelves. On the day of this interview, Isla had received a picture from a customer – now a friend – of her children enjoying their Dig In dinner. The shop is a true place of connection, as high street greengrocers often are; it offers community so much more than simply fruit and veg. 

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