How can we make ‘Local Food for Everyone’ a reality?

Fruit and veg in shop

The Scottish Government is currently on consultation overdrive, but 4 key consultations fit so closely together that it’s almost impossible to respond to one without referring to the others. In the words of Scottish Government:

Each of these consultations feed into each other – how we replace the Common Agricultural Policy will impact on how we can deliver any local food strategy, which in turn defines how Scotland can feed itself in a way that has a positive impact on its communities, economies, and environment.

Nourish Scotland is currently running a series of workshops across Scotland in support of the ‘Local Food for Everyone’ consultation, closing on 2nd December, to find out what local food means to people in different parts of the country and give the opportunity to explore in detail what a good local food strategy could look like for where they live. But what is ‘local’ food and how can ‘everyone’ access it equitably whilst protecting the planet? In our workshops we ask 3 very simple questions that we believe policy makers should also be asking themselves when developing our local food strategy:

  • How can we grow more of what we eat and eat more of what we grow in Scotland?
  • How can a local food strategy improve the health and wellbeing of everyone in Scotland?
  • How can a local food strategy make the maximum positive impact on our environment and biodiversity?

However, whilst these questions help to frame our thinking the consultation itself is split into 3 main ‘pillars’, with a section also asking for opinions on vertical farming. In the development of our own response we have identified some key ‘asks’ of Scottish Government in each of the sections that would pave the way to make ‘local food for everyone’ a reality. You can find our full consultation response here but here are a few of our top ones for each section:

Pillar 1 – Connecting People with Food.

We need to grow more food to feed people in Scotland which involves a) making land available and b) supporting growers. There is a specific role for Local Authorities to identify good quality land that can be used for growing at all scales, ensuring that sites have adequate facilities to enable food production, e.g. running water. Support should be provided for community and small-scale growers to become commercially viable, including secure tenancies to allow them the confidence to invest time and resources into their operations. However, with an ageing population of farmers Scottish Government must also invest in the training and financial support for new entrant farmers, whilst also promoting and supporting the use of agroecological farming techniques to minimise the use of chemicals and protect biodiversity from soils to sea. We must also recognise the role of seafood when we talk about local food. Seafood is diverse, low carbon and a healthy source of protein, and both our fishing communities and marine environment are very important to our Scottish culture.

For there to be ‘local food for everyone’ we need to reduce the geographic and financial barriers to people accessing healthy and sustainable food locally. Work being undertaken at Local Authority and Scottish Government levels to maximise incomes through social security and other financial supports will help to address financial barriers, though it will take public, private and third sector coordination and collaboration to make local food the easiest choice. If there is to be ‘local food for everyone’ we must recognise the role of local food in the realisation of the right to food and incorporate it within the future development of the Good Food Nation Bill.

Pillar 2 – Connecting Scottish producers with buyers.

A good local food strategy will need to foster short and circular supply chains. With regards to public food procurement and beyond, creating short supply chains by connecting Scottish food producers with public or private buyers in local or regional markets requires investment in the establishment of efficient distribution networks and adequate processing facilities for Scottish produce. The development of regional distribution hubs would connect local producers with supply chains and help manage the uneven spread of food production across Scotland, with gluts and gaps being more efficiently managed. Furthermore, implementing more innovative models of procurement, such as Dynamic Purchasing Systems, can facilitate the incorporation of smaller producers into the often-large public food and drink contracts. This not only allows for fluctuation in supply due to producer capacity but also helps take advantage of the seasonal changes of supply.

There must also be a role for smaller scale alternative supply chains, e.g. support for the establishment and running of farmers’ markets that are accessible (physically and financially) to all, support to veg box schemes and models such as Community Supported Agriculture.

Pillar 3 – Harnessing public sector procurement.

Public sector food procurement has the potential to shape supply chains that benefit local economies, communities, and the environment. Strengthening the ‘local’ unique selling point in food procurement frameworks and setting a minimum % of locally and preferably organically produced food to be procured, public institutions will ensure that local food is a priority. To do this, Scotland’s Local Authorities must have the secure budgets to buy locally and sustainably produced food, even if these priorities come at a higher cost. This ‘cost’ must instead be reframed as an ‘investment’ in local economies, communities, and environments.

At the same time, the capacity of local producers to compete in the tendering process should be strengthened through training and the process should be simplified as much as possible. Both production and processing of the food and food products required by the public food service must be available locally for local food producers to benefit from meeting demand. For instance, learning from other EU countries and exploring new solutions to the issue of finding local abattoirs such as modular abattoirs with remote vet monitoring. Again, the development of dynamic procurement systems and regional distribution hubs will help shorten supply chains but requires investment in procurement expertise and capacity at the local level.

Prioritising locally produced food in Scotland’s public food service also provides the Scottish Government with the opportunity to shape local food systems which benefits food workers and their communities through fair wages and employment security, thereby taking one step closer to the realisation of the right to food in Scotland.

Vertical Farming

Vertical farming in its current form is only suitable for a very limited range of food crops. Its growing trays are generally not deep enough to grow roots, nor spaced widely enough to grow grains, and the use of pollinators has not yet been developed enough to allow for soft fruit. As such we feel they have a very limited role to play in ensuring that Scotland eats more of what it grows and grows more of what it eats. In addition, they are also very energy intensive and create very few employment opportunities.

We would instead encourage that Scotland revitalises its glasshouse sector which is a tried and tested technology to lengthen the seasons and the range of products we can grow, making Scotland less reliant on imports and generates high-quality jobs and economic value for rural communities. Glasshouses can be heated with our abundant renewable energy supplies and lends itself to adding value to a localised food system and builds on community resilience. This sector is very highly developed in Europe; indeed, it supplies Scotland with a very high proportion of the food it currently imports. This is thanks to many years of experience and millions of Euros in government investment, something that Scotland could make great use of through shared learning.

Overall, for us at Nourish the key element is that Scottish Government recognises the critical role of Local Authorities in the success of a good local food strategy; after all, it is Local Authorities that are best placed to work at a local level and much of the heavy lifting in the delivery of any strategy will fall within their remit. However, to do this they will need to be adequately supported and resourced to do so. There is a once in a generation opportunity to do this through agricultural transition in the post-BREXIT reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. We would recommend allocating a percentage (5% minmum) of the CAP replacement budget to Local Authorities to allow them to invest in local food systems and deliver on a comprehensive national food strategy.

The role of food partnerships, such as the Sustainable Food Places network, and proactive engagement of Local Authorities in them is also crucial to bringing together stakeholders from across all sectors of the food environment, engaging directly with food citizens in their communities and formally linking the food and climate agendas. 

If we are serious about there being ‘local food for everyone’ then Scottish Government’s manifesto promises in the form of the Good Food Nation bill and Universal Free School Meals already offer real chances to explore what this could look like in reality. Indeed, we’re starting to see opportunities for some truly ground-breaking changes to how we do food in Scotland – these consultations should help us write the menu, but only time will tell what ultimately gets plated up.