Shopping in your own backyard

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 2014.

The photo 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 supermarket habits.

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 live.

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.

How to eat locally

*Find out about local community-supported food schemes at http://www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk  

* Learn about their food maps and download the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Toolkit for mapping your own area at http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources 

* Directories of your nearest producers and food webs are at http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture 

* It can feel hard to find producers in cities, but http://www.sustainablefoodcities.org  

has lots of information on where to shop in urban locations around the UK.

* Get lots of tips on how to grow your own ingredients at http://www.sustainweb.org 

*  For further practical information, see http://www.foodmatters.org 

 

 

 

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