Growing appetite for locally-produced food
Browsing farmers’ markets for artisan loaves, spelt pasta and fresh-from-the-soil purple carrots is an occasional weekend pursuit for many of us. But for a growing number of people in the UK, eating local produce is a way of life. Locavores avoid supermarkets in favour of small producers and choose locally grown beetroots rather than imported avocados.
Aiming to eat produce grown as near to home as possible, locavores go the extra distance to avoid food miles. They believe consuming local food connects them to the land, brings communities together and helps growers and producers get a fair price for their goods.
The term, invented in 2005 by San Franciscan chef and food writer Jessica Prentice, caught on in the US and had a positive impact on small food businesses. The US Department of Agriculture says the number of small farms in the country grew by 20 per cent in six years, reversing a century-long decline.
Now the movement is spreading rapidly through the UK, and not only in rural locations but in towns and cities, as people get a flavour of organically produced, locally grown food. This is partly because it just tastes so good, according to recent convert Wendy Natale, from Penge, south-east London. She now buys 80 per cent of her groceries via the Penge Food Assembly. Launched in March last year, it sources from producers within 150 miles of the suburb. Customers collect weekly from a local pub, often meeting suppliers.
“I know personally the cake-baker, the bread-maker, the farmer who brings the meat and dairy, the honey producer, the biodynamic fruit, veg and eggs producer,” says Wendy. “John from Kennington Bakery brings the bread on the bus. Once you’ve started eating proper sourdough bread you can’t go back to supermarket stuff. People who come to the assembly recruit friends and leaflet neighbours. It’s almost evangelical.”
Help for struggling farms
Selling via food assemblies can have huge benefits for producers, as it brings their goods to a wider market at fair prices and, because sales are usually guaranteed in advance, it minimises waste.
For small businesses and farmers that have struggled financially in recent years, the increasing popularity of local food offers scope to diversify. NFU Mutual, which has its origins in farming, understands the importance that providing assistance can make to farmers in this situation.
As Chris Walsh, NFU Mutual farming expert, says: “From those setting up delivery services and bringing the freshest veg to customers’ doors, to greengrocers opening cafés, producers are finding new ways to stay afloat and connect with nearby villages, towns and cities.”
Park Farm in Kelston, Bath, opened a café and began making cheese to support its core dairy business, taking three golds at the International Cheese Awards this year. Model Farm in Ross-on-Wye now sells organic beef and lamb directly to customers in Bristol, London and Birmingham.
Ben Pugh is a co-founder of online marketplace farmdrop.com, which supplies produce boxes in London. “Our mission is to provide consumers with the best, freshest food at a competitive price to the supermarkets and with the same convenience, yet also provide producers a greater share of that retail price,” he says. “We developed ‘click to harvest’ technology, meaning your order is only picked, cut or pulled from the ground once you’ve ordered it.“
We’re experiencing eight times the number of monthly orders compared with 2014, with six times more people signed up to the service. People are realising they can eat great local produce without it impacting on their busy lives. More people now ask where their food has come from.”
Starting a revolution
Glasgow Locavore is also on a mission to connect farm and plate – one veg box at a time. The non-profit social enterprise aims to “start a sustainable food revolution” in Scotland by making local food more available and steering people away from supermarkets. “The idea is to build a local supply chain,” says managing director Reuben Chesters. “It connects people with their food and where it comes from, and keeps money local. We vote three times a day with what we eat.”
Steph Wetherell runs a blog, thelocavore.co.uk, about her passion for local food. Returning home to Bristol after a few years’ farming in Canada, she looked for ways to connect town and country. She says: “When I eat, I think of the farmers who grow my veg, raise my meat, make the cheese. That brings the food alive for me.”
Ways to be a locavore
You can join the food revolution in five easy steps
1. Visit a farmers’ market
Most towns and cities have regular markets where shoppers can buy directly from producers, cutting out the middleman and introducing different foods.
2. Track down a local CSA
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programmes link farmers with consumers – you invest in small farms in exchange for a share of food. Check out communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk for schemes near you.
3. Quiz your supermarket
Chat to the manager at your supermarket about where produce comes from. The more people voice their concerns, the more likely retailers are to stock local produce.
4. Get a little experimental
Before going full locavore, choose two or three foods you could buy from local producers, such as meat, veg or dairy. You may be surprised how easy and tasty it can be.
5. Make a trip to a farm
Get closer to your food by touring a local farm. The NFU has a list of farm attractions at nfuonline.com.