Other than at times of crisis when its frailties are exposed for all to see, most of us have little insight into how the modern-day food supply chain works. It is generally perceived to be incredibly efficient, supplying huge quantities of cheap food across a nationwide network of supermarkets and other outlets.
The current logistical challenges brought about by a lack of truck drivers, have already caused widespread panic buying and rumours of empty shelves at Christmas will almost certainly fuel another hoarding frenzy. Yet, the food is out there. British farmers have not turned off the taps in their milking parlours, mothballed their beef cattle, sheep and pigs, neither have they told their turkeys that Christmas is cancelled. Chickens have not been plugged to prevent the expulsion of eggs and vegetables have not been deliberately starved of the water and nutrients they need to make them grow.
The point I am trying to make here is that there is no shortage of food on farms today and so, at this point, there really is no need to panic. However, should the day arise when our farmers declare their animal numbers and crops are dwindling, we start to get concerned. Because ultimately it is our farmers who feed us.
This is why the National Farmers Union is calling on the government to commit to keeping UK self-sufficiency at 60% or above. This is the current level of all the food consumed in the UK that is produced by UK farmers. Thirty years ago, the figure was 75%. Similarly, the self-sufficiency figure for ‘indigenous’ food (food which we can produce in the UK) was almost 90% in 1981 and has now fallen to around 77% (Source: DEFRA).
Whilst food generally appears to be abundant and affordable, we must treat our food security seriously. If we continue to let our level of self-sufficiency in food decline, we run the real risk of having more and more events like those we are witnessing now. We are seeing just how difficult things can become in getting food grown in our own soils to people, when the supply chain breaks down. Imagine what might happen if the majority of the food we need, came from overseas.
For too long, our farmers have been squeezed by a food system dominated by big retailers and food business, who have confined them to the role of raw material producers. This has led to thousands of small family farms disappearing from our landscape, leaving many of those who remain with no option but to get bigger and build increasingly larger and more intensive farms, in an attempt to supply more for less. Our farmers are feeding a system that often pays them less than it costs them to produce the food.
I am not highlighting the above figures to inject more fear and make people rush to their nearest supermarket, but similarly to climate change, we need to take action now to avoid really big problems in years to come. Fortunately, unlike halting climate change, safeguarding our food system doesn’t require you give up anything. You can still enjoy all the home-produced food you buy today and visit the supermarket for things you need. But, wherever possible, we need you to buy your food direct from local producers, or failing that, local shops.
Before this all begins to sound like too much of a chore, let me assure you, the rewards for sourcing more of your food direct from local farms are huge. Not only will you have the satisfaction of helping to ensure Britain’s amazing family farms can continue to feed us for generations to come, you will also enjoy great tasting food. What’s more, you will forge a connection with producers that enables you to really understand how your food is produced and how your choices can benefit your health, animal welfare, the environment and your local community.
Produce & Provide is working to support farmers who are already selling meat, milk and dairy products, eggs, fruit and vegetables direct from their farms and empower others to do the same. We believe that turning more producers into providers is key to building a healthy and resilient food system for Britain.
At the same time, that system takes lovingly produced food, from farms where farmers know and care for individual animals and fields and transports it hundreds of miles, mixing it with food from hundreds of other farms along the way, stripping it of its taste and provenance. And in a world where we now consume half our calorie intake in the form of ultra-processed foods, so much healthy, real food is rendered totally unrecognisable. In reality, the true value of much of the food we eat is lost the minute it leaves the farm.
Together we can grow our food self-suffiency and beef up (pun intended) our food security. British farmers can deliver what we all want and need, but they need your support to change their role to that of providers as well as producers. Produce & Provide wants to connect you with farmers near you and those further afield who can deliver via courier and other means. Please take a look at our website and you will get an idea of just how good life can if you make that connection.