The Campaign to Protect Rural England published its From Field to Fork: the value of England’s local food webs report on Monday. You can download the full report here. So what does it say?
I’ve read the report and what’s striking is just how compelling the case for local food is – everything in the post that’s in italics is a direct quote from the report.
Economically the report estimates that:
- local food sales in some 750 towns across England through independent outlets (including social enterprises and co-operatives) could currently be £2.7 billion a year
- these outlets are supporting over 103,000 jobs (full-time and part time), of which over 61,000 can be attributed directly to local food sales
- money spent in local food networks will be re-circulated within the local economy for longer: it could be contributing £6.75 billion of total value to local economies
- pound for pound, spending in smaller independent local food outlets supports three times the number of jobs than at national grocery chains: outlets selling significant to high percentages of local food support on average one job for every £46,000 of annual turnover; by comparison at three national chains one job is supported per £138,000 to £144,000 of annual turnover.
There are also environmental benefits; the report points out:
- local goes hand in hand with seasonal food and reinforces an understanding of seasonality; it helps people to buy food that needs less energy to produce
- local food needs less packaging than food needing protection during long-distance journeys
- local food supports the viability of independent outlets which keep buildings in use; especially in historic market towns this maintains character, individuality and sensitive scale of use
- local food webs underpin local diversity in the scale and type of farming in the area from livestock to cheese to fruit cropping; they support genetic diversity in traditional and rare breeds, heirloom and heritage varieties not suited to large-scale processing and distribution systems.
So given how compelling the case is, why aren’t we all buying local instead of going to the supermarket? Because at the moment, local food plays a small part in our thinking. The report points out:
- local food outlets serve 415,000 customer visits weekly; nationally, across England such outlets could serve 16.3 million customers a week
- national supermarket chains dominate grocery spending (77% of all main shopping trips).
For the people surveyed in the report, the reasons are clear. We use supermarkets for their convenience (44%), proximity/location (36%) and price (24%).
So what can we do about it? The report makes plenty of suggestions, many of them aimed at national and government level. But it also offers suggestions for local food businesses and us as individuals:
- Businesses within local food networks should work together to promote awareness, access, affordability and availability of local food by developing a clearly defined ‘local’ brand, developing shared delivery and distribution services, and considering extended opening hours
- Community groups should engage in initiatives to shape their local food networks such as food partnerships, neighbourhood planning, food web mapping and community food growing
- Individuals can and should act to change the way our food system works by shopping at a wide variety of outlets, supporting those that stock high levels of seasonal local food and persuading others to do so.
We all lead busy lives and for many of us, the supermarket is the easiest option. It’s also seen as the cheapest one (whereas, in fact, very often local food is cheaper, or if not cheaper, better quality).
People won’t just choose local food just because it’s the “right thing to do”. They will choose local food because it’s as easy or easier than the supermarket and offers real value for money. If we want local food to be more successful, that’s the challenge we have to meet. We need to be making a compelling case for local food by selling the benefits, combating the myths and overcoming or solving the objections.