10 Ways to Eat Local

Eating more locally produced food doesn’t mean shutting out the wider world – it’s about reducing transport costs and impacts in production and shopping, supporting local economies and jobs, keeping more of the profits in the hands of producers rather than multinationals, reducing packaging and preservative usage, avoiding exploitation, eating fresher food, eating seasonal food, and ultimately reconnecting with where our food comes from.


More and more retailers are appreciating people’s increasing desire to know the origin of their food, and to buy more locally. Many of the supermarkets now have a number of local suppliers and product lines in their stores, usually being clearly promoted as local produce. The golden rule is if it’s not labelled as being local, then it probably isn’t.


Farm run shops source their stock directly from local producers, usually including a number of attached farms. If you’re not sure where your nearest farm shop is, check out a number of directory websites, including Free Index, LocalFoods.org and Information Britain.


Over 450 farmer’s markets now exist across the UK, meeting weekly, fortnightly or monthly, and providing an opportunity for local food producers to sell directly to the public. Bringing producers and consumers together, most sellers will be more than happy to answer questions about the food they produce. Most of the produce will have been produced within 30 miles of the market – significantly reducing transport impacts. Find your nearest farmer’s market on LocalFoods.org or via your local Council.


A range of community supported food schemes exist across the UK – from meat and vegetable box deliveries, to wine, breweries, dairy products and bread. The Soil Association maintains a list of community supported agriculture schemes and delivery arrangements.


There are an increasing number of local artisan food producers interested in producing high quality local food, and better connecting local communities with the food they eat. Community bakeries, breweries and many other projects have been set-up in various parts of the UK, either selling directly to the public, or via a range of local outlets. The Transition Towns network provides a range of information aimed to support community food producers.


As with the supermarkets, many local cafes and restaurants have realised the increasing appetite for locally produced food, and source many of their ingredients locally. It might be worth making enquiries at your favourite local eatery to see where they source from, and if not already local, perhaps encourage them to consider if they could.


In many areas allotment plotholders have come together to share and exchange their various crops between themselves, effectively creating micro community farms. Some have proved so successful they also sell surplus produce to the public, via local stores – which is perfectly legal so long as the allotment is not being run primarily as a business.


Something perhaps a little more ambitious than the rest of this list – there is increasing interest in turning areas of otherwise underused and derelict land into community orchards. Done well, a community orchard provides not only a source of food for local people and wildlife, but also an attractive community outdoor space. Contact your local Council to enquire about any suitable sites you might be aware of and see what support they might be able to offer.


At certain times of the year the UK’s hedgerows and woodlands are full of blackberries, wild strawberries, nuts, wild garlic, mushrooms, and a wide variety of nettles and leaves. Of course it’s important to know what you’re picking, but numerous books and guided courses are available for those with an interest in free food.


Of course you can’t get more local than your own back garden, greenhouse or window box. Try out your green fingers, and discover how satisfying connecting with nature and growing a proportion of your own food can be.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in the ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo from BazzaDaRambler via Flickr

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The View from the Observation Car

A guest post by Rob Elliott, food writer, traveler and co-proprietor of the green, organic, real food B&B Aspen House in picturesque rural Herefordshire, where they pride themselves on the locally produced, seasonal, organic food they serve. Rob’s books The Food Maze and How to Eat Like There’s No Tomorrow are available from Real Life Publishing. Rob also blogs on Food, Life and All That.

Around five years ago, the new social movement of Transition Towns sprang into life.  Its stated purpose was to raise awareness that human society faces two enormous challenges – peak oil and climate change.  Its vision was to create resilience at a local level in order to move from where we are now to where we need to be.

Five years on, and the Transition network has grown dramatically.

According to their website there are 382 official initiatives, with a further 458 about to fledge, across 34 countries.  There is also a growing library of Transition books.  The movement is obviously on a steeply ascending graph and it can’t be denied that it is indeed a brilliant idea.

Yet for me it still doesn’t quite hit the spot.

Having been involved with several local Transition initiatives from their inception, I observed that steering committees are quite often set up by self-motivated individuals keen to promote their own agendas, leaving other would-be Transitioners feeling disconnected and lacking in motivation.  Maybe the problems of peak oil and climate change are simply too overwhelming and remote.  None of this seems to be a problem in Totnes, Stroud, Lewes, Fife, Machynlleth and a handful of other places that have been promoting an alternative world view for decades.  But what of the others?  Perhaps many of them are only holding together because of the dedication of their hard-working steering groups.

As with any organisation, the 80/20 rule applies, with 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people – but Transition is supposed to be different.  At the very first meeting we attended, the organisers made it clear that as a ‘steering group’ their role was going to be a handholding one in the early stages, and that the responsibility for bringing the spirit of Transition into the community would soon involve everyone else in the room.

Unfortunately not so – there was no gush of egalitarianism, no devolution across the board – in fact, no apparent willingness on the part of others to take on any responsibility at all.  This shouldn’t perhaps come as a surprise – most people prefer to be told what to do and have an innate fear of taking the initiative.  So those few stalwarts who set up the idea four years ago are still the people who make it happen today.  They may no longer call themselves a steering group, but that is still their role and, without them, the initiative would collapse.

Where is all that promised excitement, community spirit, optimism and desire for change ?

With nebulous concepts such as peak oil or climate change, it is difficult to focus and translate it into something personal.  Peak oil might be a serious issue, but most attendees at a Transition meeting will become defensive when required to think about their own use of oil. Where there should be excitement, instead weariness sets in amongst those who see nothing but a long hard road ahead of them.

To Sally and me, it seemed obvious that what was missing was the glue to bind everyone together.

We thought we had cracked it – food !

The global industrialized food system is arguably the biggest contributor to the peak oil/carbon emissions problem, but food involves everyone, so it has the potential to be the core of the solution.  Part of the Transition answer to the problem is to buy local food.  It is disappointing therefore that, in the Transition Companion, the real reason for this is not fully explained.

The Transition Companion doesn’t tell you which way to go or what your journey will look like, but suggests there will be  some especially good views along the way. I cannot see how this is helpful.  We don’t need a Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook, we need to be told exactly what is going on.  We don’t need to be told about the ‘good views along the way’, we need to see the whole picture.

Quite rightly Transition highlights all the inspirational food-related projects that are increasing in number every day – the Community Supported Agriculture, the land share schemes, the community orchards, the guerrilla gardening, permaculture smallholdings and individual garden plots.  All this is effective, essential and extremely encouraging, but still alienates those who, for one reason or another, cannot get involved in these kinds of initiatives.

How useful it would be if Transition showed us how we call all make a positive contribution to the solution simply by changing the way we shop for food, by removing our custom from global to local.

In the few minutes it has taken you to read this, world population has grown by another 1500 or so. There are nearly 16 million more mouths to feed since we passed the 7-billion milestone at the end of October last year.  A large proportion of these hungry people live in China and India, the latter adding 1.5 million to its population every month.

If the global economy goes belly up sometime in the next decade, China is a country with money in the bank and will be well placed to buy up all the commodity cash crops available.  Profit-hungry global corporations are not going to supply the bankrupt West.  They will go where the money is.

Food security is as important as peak oil and climate change, and we have too little of it - if the wheels come off the global food supply system, we too risk going hungry.

Gazing from the green observation car on this branch line at all the views along the way will only distract us from the mainline express currently hurtling towards oblivion carrying all the world’s money-mad, consumer-drugged, GDP-obsessed profiteers, the drivers partying along with the passengers.

So here’s a suggestion for all those involved in Transition groups: call a new meeting and ask the question, “If there were no supermarkets, how would we feed ourselves and where would our food come from?”  Then make a list of all your local food suppliers, open the discussion and work out how you are going to use them as your only source of food.

We can build a truly resilient alternative to the flawed global food system, simply by changing the way we shop and eat.

Photo by Loco Steve via Flickr