WE are not uncritical fans of the National Farmers Union, which can sometimes seem to speak too much for the agri-businesses and barley barons of the eastern side of the country and not enough for the small farmers, which are the lifeblood of the West Country.
However, the NFU and its membership rose magnificently to the challenge of the floods – who could fail to be moved, often to tears, by the stories of the generosity of individual farmers or farmers groups across the country who gave fodder and silage, took in animals from flooded farms and travelled, often vast distances (some from as far afield as Yorkshire) to bring help and support to the beleaguered Somerset communities.
The NFU is also very good at standing up for British food producers and a recent edition of the Farm, Food and Countryside magazine sets out 10 Good Reasons to Eat British Food.
Ruth Kimber, who farms with her husband Paul and their family at Higher Stavordale Farm, Charlton Musgrove near Wincanton, is an active and often outspoken spokesperson for farming in Somerset and the West Country. She has chaired the Somerset NFU and is on the national dairy committee – like so many farming families they have diversified, with a farm shop and regular stalls at farmers markets around the region, in Bath, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.
So, with thanks to Ruth who loaned us the magazine and to the NFU for standing up for what we believe in – that we should all eat as much fresh, local, seasonal food as we can, and that supporting local businesses is good for the economy of our region – here are the 10 reasons why you ought to buy British food …
1. Cut down on food miles – reduce pollution, congestion and fuel consumption: carrots can be carried from, say, Cornwall where they are grown, to a distribution centre on the opposite of the country, and then back to a supermarket at Truro or Penzance. The food is less fresh; the journeys use vast quantities of diesel and add to pollution and congestion on motorways and roads.
2. Buy safe, traceable products – food from British farms is produced to high welfare and safety standards, checked and regulated, and clearly identified. If in doubt, ask where your food comes from.
3. Support great British traditions – whether it is new season’s Welsh lamb, traditional farmhouse Cheddar from Somerset, apples from Hereford, Kent or Somerset, or clotted cream from Devon or Cornwall, it is part of a centuries old tradition, relating crops to the soil and the landscape and culture of the region.
4. Support the local rural economy – farming and agricultural businesses are key parts of the economy of the region. It is not only the farmers and farm-workers, but also the people who work in the shops that sell their produce, the restaurants, pubs and cafes that serve the food, the teachers in the local schools and everyone who benefits in any way from a successful farm business.
5. Support small family businesses – an estimated 80 per cent of farms are family businesses but nearly half of family run farms have gone out of business in the past 40 years. Support family farms like the Kimbers and you will help to stem and even reverse this decline.
6. Encourage high animal welfare standards – British farmers have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. UK pig farmers do not use tethers and stalls; our beef farmers don’t use veal crates, the cattle lot systems you see in the US or the hormones used abroad; we have more free range hens than anywhere else in Europe. See for yourself – make a date in your diary to visit a local farm on Open Farm Sunday this year on 8th June.
7. Eat the view – British farmers and food producers have created much of the landscape of lowland Britain; by buying British farm produce you help them to continue to farm and care for this wonderful countryside.
8. Shop local, shop British – support your local farm shop or farmers market (see the Markets section on this website for details of farmers markets across this region). The closer you get to the point of production the fresher the vegetables, fruit, dairy products or meat and the more money the producer makes. Plus you get to meet the farmer and his or her family so there are social benefits too.
9. Good value – you get better value if you buy direct. The more you spend with your local producers, farmers, farm shops or independently owned local food shops, the more they benefit – according to the NFU, the farmer would receive just £13 from a shopping basket of food costing £37.
10. It tastes good. Nothing else to be said.