Scotland’s food scene is bursting with locally-sourced delicacies. As more people begin to shop locally and directly from farmers, Lorne Gillies talks to farmers about the rise of organic food and how Brexit will affect the industry.
To start off with, a certain myth must be debunked: shopping for organic food doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In fact, the food we see on the shelves is at times too cheap and flounders when it comes to health benefits.
“The price of shopping organic is not necessarily more expensive than the supermarkets. It is also better value for money because it is better quality. You’re getting nutrients, low environmental impact, no pesticides, no residue or much less residue than conventionally,” explains Denise Walton of Peelham Farm, a 680-acre farm in Berwickshire Coast in the Scottish Borders which produces meat from their onsite cattle.
Reuben Chesters from Locavore, three farms located in and around Glasgow growing fruit and vegetables, agrees with Denise: “I like to think that every time you eat, you vote for the type of food system you want and the type of economy you want. Food is huge for the economy. When you spend a pound in a standard supermarket about 5p stays in the local economy, through direct wages of people in store. With an independent shop that 5p is more like 65p. It is about making the money you spend do more for society and the local economy.”
As well as being cheaper than it is perceived to be, shopping locally is also a business of trust. Research from one of the main certification bodies in the UK, The Soil Association, revealed the UK organic market is now worth more than ever at £2.2 billion, and sales of organic produce and meat in Scotland were growing at a rate of 19.4% in 2017, and accounted for 6.5% of all UK sales.
With such high quality food, it is no wonder more of us are shopping locally.
Founded in 1990, Denise, her husband Chris and retired business partner had always had an ambition to sell direct and organic. Today Peelham Farm has an onsite butchery, visits 12 farmers markets a month in Scotland, supply to hotels and restaurants and even delivers as far afield as Hong Kong.
Certified with the Soil Association, it is monitored from the field to the plate. Such certification is not easy to achieve, but it shows that the meat they supply is trustworthy, ethical and organic.
“I think it is all about trust. The whole meat industry has a poor history of trust; not least customers’ expectations for environmental impact and nutritional quality is growing as the customer becomes much more educated and informed,” says Denise. “Knowing their meat is coming from a trusted source, which actually has got ethical principles which organic farming does instantly, and also the latest and most thorough research on organic shows it is more nutritional.”
Locavore have also seen an increasing interest in organic food in recent years. In 2018, the team have taken on three new growers to increase production and are set to open another shop in the spring. The connection between farmer and consumer is what Reuben attributes a rise in organic shopping – there is clear transparency. “It is the face on the food where you know where it came from, you know where it was produced and people recently want more and more of that. It is in part because of changing attitudes and in part because people are getting into what we’re offering, liking it, and coming back for more,” explains Reuben.
As the trend for organic is rising there is one event that may hinder, or advance, shopping locally: Brexit.
Another kick in the stomach to consumers came in November: a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (www.niesr.ac.uk) predicted a £930 hike in annual shopping bills if there is a no-deal Brexit.
“I like to think that every time you eat, you vote for the type of food system you want and the type of economy you want.
Similarly, the quality of food that will be available may decrease significantly if trading goes outwith the heavily regulated European market. Reuben says: “On one hand, if we get a trade deal with the US, we can import lots of cheap chicken to standards that are not currently allowed. That would undermine the general production sector, the organic sector particularly. On the other hand, it could be positive because the rate on the Euro importing is going up in price and that gives a bit of extra help for local production.”
“I think there could well be a benefit there,” Denise adds. “There is a very high standard of environmental and food processing regulation that we have to subscribe to through European regulation. If supermarkets are buying food that has been bought from America, or regions which don’t have the same standard of production, then the logic is consumers will want to come to more trusted suppliers.”
We are spoiled for choice with the produce coming out of Scotland. From dedicated local farmers working to bring the freshest meat, vegetables, fruit and more from the field to our plates it is no wonder Scotland is a country leading the way in organic consumption.
Organic food means fewer pesticides, no artificial additives or preservatives and the produce comes from the highest standard of animal and environmental welfare. Meaning the food you purchase is as it should be: fresh, healthy, and good for our economy and environment.
The Soil Association inspects all organic farms and manufacturers so you know that your food is being made to meet the highest standard under European law. Make sure you know you can trust your food by keeping an eye out for The Soil Association’s symbol.