By Charlotte Hawkins
One of True Food's most important principles is that we source as much local food as possible. Several small-scale suppliers provide us with vegetables from South Oxfordshire and bread from Berkshire, but it is not just the super-fresh foods that are local: some of our dairy products and store-cupboard staples such as cheese, honey flour, sauces, pasta, chocolate, soap, chickens and apple juice come from local producers.
Why is this so important? Ask most people, and they will mention the environmental cost of "food miles": the use of fossil fuels to freight foods around the world is a huge contributor to climate change. Of course, that is a very good reason just by itself to buy local produce, but supporting local suppliers is about so much more than that.
Buying local food is a way of supporting your community by providing employment to local people. Traditional and small farms support the countryside too, which in a population-dense area such as the South East can easily become yet another housing or industrial estate. Many farms reciprocate, by holding events such as "Open Farm Sunday" for families and educational tours for school children. True Food will also benefit from this hospitality with a tour of "Greenshoots" at our AGM on Sunday 7 March.
By getting our food from local sources, we know where our food comes from. True Food's staff know personally the people who provide it, and have been satisfied that the production methods meet with True Food's ethos. Through having a direct relationship with the producer, mutual respect develops between supplier and purchaser, enhancing community relations. It also cuts out unnecessary intermediaries, who not only take a slice of the profit that would be better going directly to the people who did the work in producing it, but who inevitably become large and powerful enough to squeeze suppliers' profits so tightly they can no longer afford to do business. To survive, farms become monocultures, thus compounding the environmental challenges posed by lack of crop diversity, and increasing the distance food has to travel. Supermarket supply chains are evidence of this in action, but by buying food at True Food, you can choose to opt out of this damaging system.
Having a better understanding of what we can grow in our local area at different times of the year encourages us to eat seasonably, which gives us a more diverse diet and is less costly to our pocket and the environment. Why buy out-of-season summer vegetables when there are so many nutritious winter crops available at a fraction of the price? The recent iceberg lettuce and courgette crisis has illustrated how much our society expects year-round availability of produce which would have rightly seemed bizarre and unnatural a few decades ago. Buying local produce puts us back in touch with Nature, which is good for our mental as well as physical health.
All these altruistic reasons aside, perhaps the most motivating reason to buy locally produced food is the taste. Fresh food can be picked at its ripest and most flavourful as the journey time from farm to consumer is minimal. At True Food I've been able to buy parsnips in winter, broad beans in spring, tomatoes in summer and apples in autumn that have been picked the day before I've eaten them. In my view, short of growing things in my own back garden, you can't get better than that!