We’re fortunate to have a vibrant High Street with shops that stock a vast array of locally grown and processed foods. Local shops support local business – farmers, bakers, staff, cleaners, IT services. The perfect example of a circular economy, where the money spent keeps moving locally. Food is a commodity we can provide for ourselves locally; one of the few where this is still the case. Clothes, with raw material grown, processed and sold locally, is possible – particularly using wool – but it’s rare (and usually expensive) to find such an item. It’s possible to use locally sourced building materials, but again this is not the norm and, as far as engineered products, electronic goods and packaging go, sourcing local is not an option.
Grown in Totnes attempts to set a standard for ‘local’. Is it enough that a local restaurant purchases meat from a local butcher? It’s a start, but we would like to see that butcher sourcing meat from within 30 miles to follow the concept through the whole chain. This is based on the Campaign for Rural England’s ‘Mapping the Local Food Web’ report definition of ‘local’. Where possible we want to bring all the stages of production, marketing and delivery of locally appropriate crops back home.
Transition Town Totnes recently carried out a piece of research called the Economic Blueprint. This found that £20 million was spent in the town’s two supermarkets on food and drink annually. In comparison, we spend £10 million in the 60+ independent food shops in and around the town. The research showed that relative to retail spend local food outlets support three times more jobs than supermarkets. This trend is mirrored down the food chain, with those producers that provide for local markets employing on average 3.4 full-time jobs compared to the regional average of 2.3 per farm. If we could encourage people to shift just 10% of their food spend away from local supermarkets this would bring £2 million into the local economy.
Why Grains and Pulses?
We asked ourselves what does a local diet look like? The answer is that it doesn’t look good for your arteries! It’s a diet rich in red meat, particularly beef and lamb, and rich in dairy. There are some local vegetables and fruit grown in the area, principally by the Riverford co-operative, but a relatively low amount. And the majority of these are not available from January to May during the ‘hungry gap’ – when the previous season’s vegetable supply has run out and the new season’s crops are not yet ready for harvest.
Nearly all of the grains grown in the area are fed to animals for the production of meat and dairy produce. This is not an efficient way to create food to feed humans. Clearly it makes much more sense to use land that is suitable for production to grow crops that are supported by local climatic and geographical conditions for direct human consumption. Grown in Totnes is particularly interested in those staple crops that can be dried and stored; these principally include grains and pulses, including the many varieties of peas, lentils and beans. We have at least five independent shops in Totnes selling a range of health foods, however, very few of the dried goods sold are sourced from the UK, and none are sourced from the South West. This is where Grown in Totnes comes in.
Grown in Totnes aims to ensure that farmers are paid a fair price for their crop and also to create local processing infrastructure to shorten the distance a crop travels before getting to our shops and on our plates. We don’t aspire to compete with the efficiencies of scale afforded by the massive, centralised processing plants of the globalised food economy, but to provide local skills in the engineering of small, appropriate-scale, processing technologies, owned and used by the local community through collaboration and cooperation. Only then can we secure our own local food supply, offer full traceability, create a relationship with where our food comes from, work with the land on a sustainable level, know the face of our growers, offer local jobs and skills, keep money circulating in the local economy and create a real sense of pride in our food.
Starting With Oats
We know oats grow well in the damp, warm climate of the South West and we know oats are enthusiastically consumed locally. You may have seen fields of oats but these will all be harvested and fed to animals. At present, all grain for human consumption (excluding a very small amount of wheat) is processed hundreds of miles away in one of only three processing plants nationwide. We are working with a local farmer who will be growing four acres of oats on his land. The harvest will be processed using community-owned facilities and the produce sold in our local shops from winter 2015.