It is a sign of our increasing separation from nature that we are losing sight of where food comes from and how it is produced. The way we buy it adds to this alienation.
In praise of local food webs by Monty Don
Friday, 08 June 2012 14:31
Food, once at the heart of towns and communities, integral to their rhythm and reason, is often now a side show. It is sold in big boxes on the edge of town. Much of what we buy is highly processed, over-packaged, branded but anonymous, transported from anywhere available at any time. It is hard to remember that these ‘food products’ come from plants and animals, and are a result of myriad complex interactions of seasons and soil, and from the toil of real people.
Diverse and distinctive
An important message of CPRE's new national report, and its companion reports from across England, is that this direction of travel isn’t complete. It doesn’t have to be a final destination. There still remain networks of producers, store and stall holders established in their communities supplying the best fresh, local and seasonal food. These ‘local food webs’ keep alive links to the recognisable places and landscapes where food is grown, raised or made. The businesses they support keep towns and nearby countryside diverse and distinctive. They are rooted in place and linked to real, meaningful landscapes.
The 800 retailers and more than 1,700 producers identified in this project show the diversity of these networks and the abundance they offer: from Cheshire apple juices to Sussex fisheries, from Kent hops to Northumberland vegetables, and from Cumbrian lamb to Devon beef. They, and many more such networks and thousands more such businesses, are supplying food in ways which bring people closer to the land through community farms and farmers’ markets, school meals and urban food growing, as well as in traditional shops and markets.
Battling the supermarkets
But this report is an urgent call for action. In too many places these networks are struggling to survive. The odds are stacked against them. They must compete against the dominance of the big supermarkets, the erosion of town centres with the corresponding loss of diversity of outlets and small-scale producers and the disappearance of food from living streets. These trends continue to change and challenge the way our towns and countryside work and feel and the way our food is produced. They threaten the diversity of the farming system and they force up the scale at which farms can survive and rewrite how the land is managed.
There are many recommendations here of how we can support local food. Government must fully support these food networks in its policies and guidance. Equally local councils must build partnerships with businesses from retailer to producer and their customers to nurture and grow local food webs. But we too, as individuals and as consumers, make important choices which shape the food system where we live.
Local food is a powerful way to form our own connections to the land, landscape and nature. It is a chance to enjoy seasonal produce, to discover the best, most wholesome and freshest food around and the most distinctive varieties and tastes. It is our chance to support a food network that is rich with variety and diversity and meaning. It is a chance we need to seize.
Monty Don, from the foreword to CPRE's national report.