04 July 2007, 19:00 PM
  • This month, Deborah Richards at Crellow explains why the term 'local' is still alien to many

I’ve just got back from a week in the Lake District/North Yorkshire Dales and coming from Cornwall was fascinated by the similarities and differences of the two food economies. There is an historical and socio economic similarity, tourism dependent now that farming is in decline so many food producers have evolved. I went to a number of farm shops and local produce outlets, curious, and nosey!

I got talking to one or two of the owners of these places about the ‘issues’ involved. They were saying, yes there has been a huge increase in the interest in local food, and they, like the retailers I supply in Cornwall, felt food publicity had reached something of a critical mass, but that many people felt local food was for tourists, not locals.

This is an issue we find in Cornwall too and trying to communicate to consumers that local food is not treat food but day in day out food is very very difficult. What local food businesses need, no matter their size, is a consistent committment to buying local food regularly, otherwise they are strangled by seasonality before they can become established. There is a widespread feeling that somehow local is too special for everyday. Some of this is due to the perception that local must be expensive, but by the time the costs of getting to the local food - less petrol and parking - is added in and the quality and provenance accounted for this is frequently not the case. There are wider green issues here too of course.

There is research to show that a very high percentage of money spent on local food stays within the area’s economy, strengthening communities and economic diversity. If everyone could buy one item locally the effect would be fantastic but it takes a bit of time to see these results.

I also got talking to a hill farmer who had suffered catastophically from foot and mouth. He had often toyed with the idea of going into cheese production - he was a dairy farmer - but was unwilling to take the risk. Having survived foot and mouth, just, he was very very uncertain about becoming dependent on the tourist trade for his income which if he produced an interesting cheese he would be because locals wouldn’t buy it! I would be naive to think that this in itself was a reason, but it did highlight another point, which is to increase respect for all of those who are part of the food chain and try to ensure that those at the start of the chain are shown the gratitude for the work they do in both food production and landscape preservation.

Speciality food might have reached a critical mass but the details still need to be understood by all of us.