More farmers & more local food for 2019
It's that time of year for reflection and setting intentions for the year ahead. I find it's a great practice to review what was achieved, what didn't go to plan and get clear about things you want to do better in the coming year. And also don't forget to acknowledge what went right as well and celebrate the achievements, because these can easily get overlooked.
Every year we review how well we did on delivering on our values of local, sustainable and ethical food. One of the ways we measure this is by monitoring the amount of money we send with each of our suppliers in each different region. (We categorize our regions and base our sourcing policy on the Growing Communities Food Zones model - check it out if you want to geek out on local food systems theory).
How local is local?
Two main considerations are how much we source from as nearby as possible. We consider anything within 60 miles of us as local.
This is where we sourced our produce last year:
6% from urban growers. That's 50% more than the year before! Thanks to the efforts of London Grown and Edible London, who grew amazing salads, tomatoes, aubergines and cucumbers just across the yard from us at Wolves Lane.
8% came from peri-urban area (outskirts of the city) – that was all from Forty Hall Farm in Enfield
40% came from our farmers just outside London, we call the rural hinterland – that's Sarah Green in Essex and Ripple in Kent (both within 45-55 miles)
22% came from our wholesaler, who sources produce all over the UK from 30 - 200 miles away.
24% came from Europe – mainly Spain & Italy
1% came from outside Europe. That was pretty much all Fairtrade bananas from Peru & Dominican Republic
Against the Food Zones model, we're doing pretty well. If we are to meet the challenges of climate change and resource depletion and make our food and farming system fit for a low-carbon future, we will need to reduce our imports by 10% and increase our peri-urban supply by 10%. That's a tough one in London as there's very few peri-urban growing sites left, and of the ones that do exist, very few of them will actually be growing commercially.
Another key goal is to source as much as possible direct from farms. Buying direct enables us to trade as fairly as possible. If there's no middle men then we can be sure all the money we spend goes straight to the farmers, and the farmers are in control of setting the prices, ensuring they get the income they need to survive and thrive.
Last year 54% of our produce was sourced directly. This is the much the same as the year before.
Buying direct also means we can be assured of good working conditions for farm workers. The farmers we buy direct from – mostly Sarah Green, Ripple Farm and Forty Hall Farm – we know well and are completely sure they're farming sustainably and treating their workers well. This is important to us because agriculture is the most common industry where you'll find modern slavery, even in the UK. We want to make sure your money is funding great farms that are good for your health, the health of farming communities and nature.
We're not against buying European produce but we want to contribute towards reducing the carbon footprint of our food and improving the UK's food sovereignty. However, it's so important to have good links with European farmers, especially from Italy and Spain, who have a much longer growing season and many more hectares of organic farmland. They help plug the gap when our local farmers don't have much to offer.
Last year 76% of our produce came from the UK – this is streets ahead of the UK average. Government figures show that only 57% of veg and 16% of fruit consumed in the country is grown here.
The year before we did a little better on this front, sourcing 10% more from the UK. This was down to the tough weather we had this year. Remember the Beast from the East in March with the sub-zero temperatures and excessive snow and rain? That really scuppered the start of the growing season. And that led swiftly into the really hot dry summer – the drought had a huge impact for our farmers. Whole fields of leeks, lettuce and sweetcorn were wiped out and everything else took a lot longer to grow because of the lack of water. We were seeing the impact all the way up to Christmas with Sarah's Brussel sprout yield being massively diminished as the stalks grew shorter, meaning less sprouts on each plant.
All this means we had to look further afield for produce to fill your bags with so we ended up sourcing a bit more from Europe than usual. All our European produce is shipped rather than air freighted, though, to help keep our carbon to the minimum.
As for setting intentions, well, we can't predict the weather but we're hoping that the climate will be a lot more stable this year enabling us to get our UK produce back up to 82%. We'll continue to support our urban growers to produce more food, and we're hoping to increase our urban and peri-urban produce this year. We also want to increase our direct trade so we're looking for another farm within 60 miles who can supply us regularly to increase our direct trade will smallholder farmers. It's not only more sustainable but the produce is fresher and tastier that way. This is easier said than done as the trend over the last 30 years has been farms going out of business or scaling up and intensifying to meet the harsh demands of the market. But we're on the hunt!
What ever you plans and goals are for 2019, we wish you all the best and look forward to providing you with the nutritious fruit & veg to fuel your year!