Food Writer of the Year, Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Awards 2015
Shortlisted Food Journalist of the Year by The Guild of Food Writers 2015 Awards. This article was published in Red Magazine, March
opposite is by kind permission of the Soil Association and was taken at Swillington`s
Community Supported Agriculture chicken plot.
You will find lots of useful links at the end of the article.
Thanks to a growing network of ‘food webs’, you can source most of your
weekly shop from within 30 minutes of your fridge. Sybil Kapoor is now determined to change her
Every week, as I push my trolley up
and down the supermarket aisles, I get frustrated by the lack of locally-grown
– or even British - produce. I resent
being offered Dutch rhubarb, New Zealand lamb and Mexican honey when their UK
equivalents are being sold in the farmers’ market down the road. Why then, am I
shopping in the supermarket? I’m ashamed
to admit it’s out of laziness and convenience, even though I know that buying
imports means British farmers struggle, jobs decline and rural and urban
populations lose their heart. So I was
encouraged to find, while researching my latest cookbook, that sourcing local
food is not just easy, but can plus us into our communities and change how we
All around the country, new schemes
are popping up to help make it more convenient to buy local food. Community-supported micro-dairies, such as
Maple Fields Dairy in Hampshire put local cheese and milk on the table, while
Plymouth has become one of several ‘Transition’ trying to create a sustainable
system of local food production and become self-sufficient.
They are all part of a new structure
of ‘food webs”, a term coined by an influential 2012 report,
From Field To Fork: The Value Of England’s
Local Food Webs, published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
The report describes the results of a five year project to map the network of
links between people who buy, sell, produce and supply food within a 30-mile
radius, in 19 locations. It found that if local food webs are nurtured, they
create vibrant cohesive communities in both town and country.
Bridget Neame, a member of Transition
Faversham in Kent challenged herself to find out how viable eating locally was.
“For a month, I tried to source nearly everying I ate from within 30 miles,”
she says. “My diet was limited but very healthy.” Neame allowed a few imports
like tea and coffee, but for everything else , careful thought was
required. Web researched word of mouth
proved essential. “Local rapeseed oil and flour were not sold in the shops, but
I found a farm and a couple of windmills who sold it from their doors” she
says. She even discovered someone
growing quinoa in the area. Since the trial, Neame has relaxed the rules and
allows herself imports like rice and spices, explaining “It’s more realistic to
aim for 80% local, 15% within 100 miles and 5% from overseas.”
For anyone with similar eat-local
aims, Lucy Drake, a member of Transition Ipswich in Suffolk, says start
small. “If everyone buys just two more
local things each week, it will make a big difference to the local economy.” In her area, imports have led to the demise of
most dairy farms. Beer, however, is
plentiful, as is Silver Spoon sugar which processes East Anglian sugar beet.
Tracking local food is surprisingly
social, with tips being passed at the school gate, via Twitter or at farm open
days. And local food maps posted online
help to increase awareness of the links.
Caroline Ford, who recently organized
the food mapping of Bishops Waltham in Hampshire, suspects that the internet
could be the savior of small producers.
“So many people now order their groceries on-line – it won’t take much
for us to turn those habits away from the supermarkets,” she says. “Why not try
looking on the web for local producers who deliver instead of just getting
everything from Ocado?”
Of course, eating locally isn’t
restricted to shops and markets. You can
grow your own or join a Community Supported Agriculture scheme (CSA), where a
local group produce food themselves or pay a farmer to grow and deliver food to
them. According to the Soil Association, current CSAs include vegetable, fruit,
meat, milk, bread and honey production. It’s
just a case of seeking them out online and making contact. An easy first step for us all.