The future of food and farming post-Brexit was, without doubt, centre stage during the Oxford Real Farming Conference earlier this month. Debates about the likely allocation of subsidies, the drive for efficiency and scale possibly becoming less relevant, and the potential regulation of land-use and animal welfare were all thought provoking, and worrying in equal measure! On an optimistic note however, there was a good deal of positive talk regarding the contribution sustainable farming can have in reconstructing this productionist landscape, and a rallying call from Professor Tim Lang to put the food system at the forefront and aim for ‘sustainable diets from sustainable food systems’.
So where does local sourcing fit in to this narrative? Within the Good Food Oxford network, the relationship between farmers and growers and the food businesses that they work with is vital in maintaining a supply chain of like-minded individuals, absolutely committed to contributing to just such sustainable diets.
Although constraints such as our unreliable climate can regularly put the kibosh on consistency and the quantity of local produce, chef Will Pouget from The Vaults and Garden highlights how things work for him; “We are very fortunate to a run a very flexible and simple menu which uses seasonal produce, particularly vegetables and fruit”. This ability to work with a wide range of fresh ingredients that might arrive on any day of the week is his key to success. It means that the farms who supply Will’s kitchens know that they can grow a variety of produce throughout the year that will be well received, and gives them a better chance of coping with poor weather events, such as early or late harvests. At the ORFC evening reception, Will worked with Sandy Lane Farm (supplying almost 300kg of fruit and veg!), Wytham FAI eggs, the Oxford Cheese Company, Windrush Goats Cheese, Worton Organic Garden, the Natural Bread Company, the Wild Meat Company, the Cotswold Curer, the Bath Pig and Infinity Foods. He could clearly go further afield for his ingredients, but values the provenance of these producers and as such, has built resilient, mutually beneficial relationships.
Relationships like these will hopefully be enhanced by a future landscape that will undoubtedly require a much less dislocated food system, and greater diversity of production. The potential for this reality was highlighted at the ORFC by a range of organisations, including Shared Assets, demonstrating the value of local food networks that build the case for food and economic resilience. As consumers we can also contribute to increasing the demand for local food through our purchasing decisions, as well as where we choose to eat out. The Open Food Network is an innovative platform offering support in connecting food hubs and selling and distributing food.
Sustainable diets are not necessarily more expensive diets, but reflect the true cost of production, including animal welfare, environmental impact and fair pay for labour and distribution. If this is a food future that we want to see flourish, we can collaborate at a local level and look forward to the reward of healthy, attractive food that is available and affordable to everyone.
Thanks to Vic Sims for writing for us. Follow her at @Cinnamon_Vic