In the few short weeks I have been putting together the Produce & Provide website, I have been amazed at the wealth of wonderful British food available direct from producers. I know this will come as no surprise to many, as there are already other websites promoting and selling local food. However, I hope Produce & Provide will offer something they don't.
For a start we are only interested in the people who produce the food. We want to connect farmers and consumers wherever possible and cut out the middleman. My experience in running the Free Range Dairy Network has really opened my eyes as to just how little value is returned to farmers, whilst others in the chain make fat profits for doing very little.
I come across so many scenarios where a farmer produces great tasting milk, or meat and there are plenty of people who would buy it, but they are effectively blocked by an inability to turn cattle and sheep into beef and lamb, or raw milk into pasteurised, or dairy products and reach customers. Instead this wonderful food is sucked into vast pools, where it is stripped of its provenance and value. So consolidated has our food system become, by major retailers and industrial-scale processing plants that local abattoirs and small dairies have all but disappeared.
For too long our food system has been shaped by those seeking to make profit from our food on its journey from farms to fridges. As a result, the choices people are able to make when they shop for food are driven by little other than convenience and price. These are not the foundations of a healthy and enjoyable diet!
Produce & Provide is here to shift the focus in our food from price to value and to ensure that the true value is rewarded to those that deserve it most - those who planted it, reared it, nurtured it - the farmers. After all, in a perfect world, why should there be anyone else in that food supply chain, other than the producer and the consumer?
That concept, or dream, of a world in which everyone is able to buy food direct from farms seems an impossibility right now, given the dominance of big supermarkets and the distance between our farmsteads and pastures and an increasingly urban population. But I believe we can at least begin to change things and start to break the grip of a supply chain focused on feeding profit margins rather than people.
As you will see from our website, a growing number of farmers are now taking matters into their own hands. The explosion of milk vending machines, for example, are like the first rounds of fire in an agricultural insurgence into big food business territory. Sneaking behind enemy lines, planting a flag for real food and using quality, provenance and a friendly handshake to capture some of their customers. These farmers are slowly winning a David & Goliath battle and giving others the confidence to join them and even up the sides.
We should not fear one another. Our foe really isn't the man 5 miles down the road marketing lambs boxes like ours, or setting up a milk vending machine only 20 minutes drive from our own. We have a population of almost 70 million people in the UK - a country which is now said to get half of the calories it consumes from ultra-processed food. There is so much scope to free them from the drudgery and ailments inflicted upon them, if farmers collaborate and celebrate each other's success.
Farmers are incredibly resourceful and innovative and the ideas and innovations that are now spawning from farm yards across the country are building new ways to deliver what people want. Barriers to winning the recognition and reward farmers deserve, are being broken down every day. The revolution is under way!
Our mission is to support and drive that revolution. We will work to win the hearts and minds of consumers by helping them to find you, connect with you and make the great British food you produce, more widely available. So as well as promoting what established producers and providers offer, we want to grow our army by helping others to process and sell direct.
My vision is for Produce & Provide to grow a network of like-minded farmers, whether you be organic, regenerative, free range, no till, or grass-fed, all with one aim - to put real food back on the plates of British families. I am already seeing some good signs of unspoken support for one another, with so many of you liking and applauding the efforts of others on Instagram. I hope we can build an even stronger sense of community through Produce & Provide.
As passionate as I am about all this, I cannot achieve the vision I have all by myself. My experiences in setting up and running the Free Range Dairy Network have taught me that collaboration is key. So here's what I plan to do next:
Ask as many farmers who already, or are planning to, sell food direct to local customers, to register on the website (currently just £9.99 for 12 months), in order to drive more food lovers to visit the site
Engage selected industry partners, who can help more farmers to produce and provide food direct to customers - these include equipment suppliers, finance providers and others who can give help with things like website design and branding.
Raise awareness of our mission through social media channels (we are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter)
Create new opportunities in regional locations to promote the food they offer collectively.
Produce promotional materials for registered producers to tell people more about what Produce & Provide is here to do
Finally, if this wretched Coronavirus ever goes away, exhibit at regional shows and events with local farmers and their products!
If you are proud to already Produce & Provide great tasting food, please join us. If you are thinking about making the step from producing to providing please join us too. Together we can tackle the real enemy that is denying so many people the chance to enjoy wonderful, local food today.