Friday, 4 September 2015

A one man crusade to get Wales to Go Local

Gareth Wyn Jones is a Welsh Hill farmer and three generations of his family works the land.

He believes that the Welsh have lost touch with the beauty of seasonal, local produce that brings reinvestment in the local economy; creating jobs and reinvigoration to the rural areas. In this series he seeks to redress the balance between corporations that pretty much run the food industry and bringing the local producers to the forefront so people can choose a more sustainable and ethical way to buy food.

In the last fifty years the way we purchase our food has changed. The visits to local bakers, butchers and green grocers have been replaced by the one size fits all supermarkets. Yes it is convenient to have all we need under one roof, but at what cost? The community element of shopping is all but gone.

 I have fond memories of going to the butchers with my Grandma and her having a conversation about what was "good" this week. She would get sausage meat or chops or a nice joint at the exact amount she wanted. Getting three chops in the supermarket today would be nigh on impossible. She would also buy off cuts or offal like hearts to give to the cat ( or visiting dog) a treat.  Even the Supermarkets have realised that the personal touch attracts custom so they sell on their " baked or prepared in store" and call their fresh section "Market Street" but there is still an awful lot of plastic and uniformity that suggests that fresh baked, is fresh baked from frozen.

100 billion pounds a year is spent on food and drink. When you buy in your local supermarket, that money does not stay in the local community. One pound spent in a supermarket is worth half as much to the local community as that same pound spent in a local shop.

Gareth seeks to redress this and to test the demand for local produce he launched his Farm2Fork initiative with his plan to open a pop up shop on Bangor High street for one day. Selling only local products direct from the producer and setting himself a limit of Forty miles from which to source his stock, goes out in search for suppliers.

First is Shaun Williams a peninsula fisherman who takes him in search of Lobster and Crab.  The Welsh fishing industry is in decline with the fleet being reduced to half the numbers of boats thirty years ago. Much of Shaun's catch will go abroad. Three quarters of what is caught ends up on plates in Mainland Europe. This seems like a real shame as they are freshest straight from the sea and surely the cost to export will be detrimental to the fisherman when a Welsh Mouths could be gobbling them up. This is reinforced when Shaun tells Gareth that most of his brown crab goes to China whose economic upturn had increased demand. Flown by air freight, it takes two days to get them to Stanstead Airport ( the airport most local to me in Essex!) before being flown out to the Orient.

It seems Wales is not a nation of seafood consumers and of the seafood which is eaten, seventy percent is imported from abroad. That is truly crazy! Give the fresh caught crabs to British folk and save the transport costs, everyone wins!

Phillip Adcock is a consumer expert and Gareth invites him to the farm for some advice. He rather bluntly tells him that his message might not be well received by people fed on an advertising diet of "low cost and convenience"  and that the easiest way to sway Joan Bloggs in inner city Cardiff is not to push the quality aspect of the food but the benefit to the local economy, it is thought that £10 spent with a local retailer, will actually mean a £25 investment in the local community, creating local jobs and protecting jobs already in place.

Back in Bangor an empty shop is selected, although there were a fair few to choose from as the out of town supermarket is tough business opposition to smaller shops. Online shopping with free delivery has also taken its toll on local high streets.

The food is out there to buy, the Welsh Food industry is worth £17 billion , so by creating a direct link between producers and consumers Gareth hopes to help both ends of the food chain. Preserving the rural way of life and even preserving the Welsh Language.

His next stop is Chris Jones who grows 80 different varieties of  fruit and vegetables. His acreage is too small to sustain grain crops or livestock so he added to the veg grown on a much smaller scale by his Father to support his family's table and extended the range to enable a  boxed to order service direct to the customer. All the crops are harvested, processed and delivered by Chris.  The customer receives a different selection weekly, rotating with what is in season and freshest that week, prices for a box vary from £5 to  £14 which as Gareth Observes ,when weighed and sorted as individual elements will be much cheaper than buying the same selection in a supermarket. He wonders how he can profit, but by delivering and dealing with products personally he cuts out many third party overheads.

Gareth starts to worries he will not be able to fill his shop so calls in a favour from a breeder of Pigs. Rare Breed breeds are a delicate business, to breed from a sow, it must have certain number of viable teats, so those piglets  that are suitable, are tattooed to distinguish them from those that will be meat yield. Older pigs are sent to the Abattoir on a Wednesday, meat is delivered back on a  Thursday and it is in sausages ready for selling to the consumer by end of Thursday . This is the pinnacle of freshness for Pork products.

Little hands help with the piglet Wrangling and with the average age of a farmer in the fifties it is vitally important to keep people in the industry or to attract them from youth into an agricultural career. It is hard work daily and many move to the cities to seek more regular and certain work. 

Almost all of us shop for our weekly groceries in a supermarket. The local retailer is being priced out of the market by food that is packaged just so, but looks identical. Mass production and European Union edicts demand uniformity no matter what the taste! Gareth worries that he might not get the custom.

Good  Value is actually different than the lowest  price, otherwise premium retailers like Waitrose or Marks and Spencer's would not survive the competition from the discount brands. If food is deemed to be of better quality or the shopping experience is enjoyable, then consumers will continue to go there.

 Waitrose is a good example of how local and national concerns can meet amicably. Their food is considered high quality, their stores offer free coffee to members and they always stock local ales and produce where possible, but it is still a huge company coming under the John Lewis family Group and this is why they can afford to supply 1000 little green tokens at the till at every store that represents a £1 for the local charity of your choosing ( from the three offered) the joy of making your choice on Mr Lewis's dime outweighs the few extra pence on a few staple goods but it is still not a truly local store however beautiful the hanging baskets at the entrance

Gareth has managed to cobble together enough suppliers to fill the shop. He now has twice vegetable growers, two cheese producers a lady who dresses the Crabs that Shaun catches and a butcher to deal with the ubiquitous lamb and other meats. He needn't have worried the shop is thronged with people who want a dirty bent carrot with the tops still on or a sausage where every ingredient can be traced to a thing occurring in nature. As an allotment ever myself I appreciate a misshapen tomato or forked carrot !

The people realise that through cutting out the middleman they can afford to buy locally produced food of a higher standard produced as a artisan product rather than in mass production.

The producers get lots of orders for food for Christmas or increased demand for vegetable boxes, Chris has added forty people to his delivery route!  It is an unequivocal success.

I have always been an advocate of local produce and think farmers Markets are a great way to be sure that you know exactly where your food is sourced so I am pleased as punch that the people of Bangor agreed that local is best!

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