The local food movement, often referred to as the ‘farm to fork movement’, is a fundamental shift in the way we think about and interact with our food.
Globally, there’s growing interest in local food production, and its many benefits to people, planet and community — but this isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a movement with sustainability at its core, and one that’s here for the long-term.
New research by RSPCA Assured shows that 70% of adults in the UK care about the origins of their food. While several studies reveal a growing interest in ethical, sustainable food options, and transparency around ingredients. People want to know how their food is grown, where it’s come from, its environmental impact. Naturally, more of us are making efforts to purchase and eat locally grown produce.
What is meant by local food?
Local food refers to food grown or produced close to home, or within our region or county; typically this is accessed through local farm shops or farmers markets.
Whilst some regions of the UK, such as the Midlands and South West, have a rich diversity of produce, other areas of the country need to get their produce from further afield. Supporting our local farmers, and new methods of regenerative agriculture, is important for putting money back into the industry, and addressing the impacts of climate change. As consumers, buying local food is a vital form of climate action. But what’s more, it’s helping us live healthier.
Here are five key reasons the local food movement matters, and how we can embrace it…
1. Reduced carbon footprint
When you buy locally grown food, it travels shorter distances from the farm to your plate, and requires less processing, handling, packaging and storing. All of which reduces carbon emissions.
If we all ate with the seasons, and tailored our diet around the produce that’s readily available within our local area throughout the year, we wouldn’t need to depend so heavily on accessing overseas produce. Our demand for year-round access to out of season fresh fruit and vegetables leads to longer and more complex supply chains, and comes at a high carbon cost.
Just under half of the actual food on plates in the UK is produced within the country — but of what we do produce, the majority is grains, meat, dairy, and eggs.
2. Supporting local economies
Buying from local farmers and producers strengthens the local economy, creates jobs and supports small businesses. When you choose to buy from local farmers and producers, you’re not just picking up fresh produce or locally made goods – you’re investing in the heartbeat of your community.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes are community-based organisations that help connect people with their local food sources. CSA farms allow consumers to buy directly from them, cutting out the middleman. Memberships, shares or subscriptions available to the public means food can be purchased on a regular basis, and potentially becomes more affordable. It also ensures the farmer gets to see more of the profits from their produce.
3. Freshness, taste and nutrition
Local food is generally fresher and tastier, as it’s harvested at its peak and doesn’t spend days or weeks in transit, or undergoing processing and handling. Not only does this lead to better flavour but also, nutritional value.
The moment a fruit or vegetable is plucked from the vine, it starts to lose nutrients. Eating locally minimizes this nutrient loss, ensuring you get the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Eating seasonally takes this further, as produce that’s grown in the right conditions, at its natural time of year, has higher nutritional content.
4. Preserving biodiversity
Local food systems that support a wide variety of crops and animal breeds, helps maintain biodiversity and protect endangered species. It’s like having a toolkit for dealing with different challenges. Some plants might be better at resisting pests, while others can handle specific weather conditions. This diversity acts as a sort of insurance policy for our food supply, making it more resilient to changes in the environment and diseases.
5. Community Connection
By purchasing local food, consumers develop a deeper connection with their food sources and the people who produce it. This connection fosters community. As a consumer, you’re a participant in a local story, where every purchase is a vote and an expression of the values you believe in.
Amid global supply chain issues, sourcing more of our food domestically is the goal, but not always straightforward — with challenges including soil degradation, drought and flooding, diseases, risks to fuel and fertiliser supplies, changing labour markets, rising food costs and the economic viability of farm businesses.
Long term, we’re faced with worsening climate change impacts, which are likely to have a negative effect on the proportion of high-grade arable farmland available. How we treat our land and soil, and how we support our farmers to enhance our food security is key to our future health and that of the planet.
Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) have partnered with ITN Business to produce news-style programme ‘Farming a Greener Future’.
The programme aims to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of livestock and the role it has to play in feeding the population.
Livestock agriculture is perceived to be one of the biggest contributors towards climate change and pollution but could hold the key to creating a sustainable food system, with a positive impact on the environment. By 2050, the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion, and to meet dietary demands food production must increase by 70%.
The programme will be anchored by journalist and news presenter Duncan Golestani from ITN’s London studio and will look at the benefits and solutions provided by livestock farming. The programme will showcase the role that livestock has to play in providing food security globally, with some of the most nutritious foods and supporting livelihoods for some of the world’s poorest people.
The programme will explore key themes including:
- The environment and the role livestock has to play in supporting a sustainable food source
- Dispelling the myths around livestock agriculture
- Food security, health and nutrition
- Education and skills, encouraging the next generation