Section 2 – The Benefits of Local Food
Defining local food
In this consultation local food is defined as food that has some or all of the following features:
- it is produced locally (this includes your town, region or elsewhere in Scotland)
- it has short supply chains (there are fewer steps between the primary producer of the food and the person who eats the food)
- it is sustainably produced (ie. produced in a way that is better for the natural environment than large scale industrial production)
- it is produced in a way that places an emphasis on building better relationships of trust, information, fairness and support between local food producers and the people buying and eating their food
This definition reflects the fact that local food means different things to different people. In the minds of Scottish consumers, there is no single interpretation of what is meant by 'local' (my region: 40%, Scotland: 39%, my town or city: 18%, UK: 3%). The Scottish Government celebrates this diversity of views, and aims to make sure people can enjoy local food, whether that means it was grown in their garden, their town, their region, or elsewhere in Scotland.
A further element of local food is allowing for shorter supply chains. This means that there are fewer steps between the primary producer of the food (eg. a farmer) and the person who eats the food. The concept of local food is also commonly linked with a focus on food that is sustainably produced (ie. produced in a way that is better for the natural environment that large scale industrial production), and with an emphasis on building better relationships of trust, information, fairness and support between local food producers and the people buying and eating their food.
Benefits of local food
The Covid-19 pandemic has been hugely challenging and recovery work is ongoing. It is an opportunity however to do things differently - to rebuild our economy with wellbeing, sustainability, and fair work at its heart.
As a practical and outcomes focused approach to local economic development, Community Wealth Building (CWB) can play a central role in this recovery and support the delivery of a wellbeing economy in Scotland. CWB requires us to think about how we can restructure our economic system in a way that allows citizens and communities to own more – delivering actions that give the people of Scotland a greater stake in our economy and shared wealth, making it work better for us and our planet.
Case Study A: Why does local food matter? A locally focused emergency response
Like everywhere else in the UK, Argyll and Bute Council's catering service was disrupted by the effects of Covid-19. By the beginning of June, the Council was sending out approximately 3,000 fresh food parcels and 2,000 ambient food parcels a week. By making an effort to source the contents from local suppliers as much as possible, the council were able to support the local economy, while providing local residents with quality, varied fresh food. Through supporting local businesses, the Council found an incredible ally in providing their emergency response, with Christine Boyle, Catering and Cleaning Officer at Argyll and Bute Council saying of local suppliers "They have been absolutely unbelievable. Whatever we need, they have fulfilled the ask and more. The suppliers aren't just supplying our food. They're supporting us and the whole project."
Increasing the proportion of food that is grown, processed and consumed locally will keep value within local, regional and national economies, supporting jobs across agriculture, retail, tourism, manufacture and hospitality.
There are many benefits to encouraging greater consumption of Scottish food, as part of a balanced food policy. We will never be in a position to produce all our own food, nor would it be wise to do so – countries that engage in trade gain significantly from doing so, and being reliant only on domestic production makes a country poorer and more exposed to risk (for example from failed harvests). In considering the future direction of Scottish food policy, we need to take into account areas of production where Scotland has particular strengths rather than aiming to meet all food needs domestically, and consider the differences between what Scotland produces and what Scottish people enjoy eating, as well as the seasonality of Scottish production of certain products.
A thriving and accessible local food and drink sector can contribute to wider public priorities such as national and household food security and our diet and healthy weight objectives.
Sourcing food locally can provide better returns for local communities. For example, Food for Life Scotland (FFLS) encourages local authorities to use local, organic ingredients and estimates that every £1 invested by FFLS certified local authorities over 3 years can yield social return on investment of £4.41 in value in the local economy. A UK case study indicates that £10 spent on a locally sourced organic produce box scheme generated £25 for the local economy (24km from the farm), compared with £14 generated for the local economy if that £10 had been spent in the supermarket.
Case Study B: Why does local food matter? Bringing people together
Forth Valley Food & Drink's growing network includes a diverse range of organisations from farms, breweries, restaurants and cafés, to producers, social enterprises and community growing projects. In 2020, Forth Valley Food & Drink were awarded funding from Scotland Food and Drink, which helped to support network activities including the running of their annual Food and Drink festival. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the two week festival in October 2020 was a great success, including a daily programme of online and socially distant events: from foodie podcasts with Forth Environment Link and pumpkin picking at Arnprior Farm, to online kitchen medicine workshops with Trossachs Wild Apothecary and family friendly cook-alongs, including meatball making with Stirling's Mamma Mia restaurant. During the festival, over 2300 people also tuned into two cook-alongs were broadcast live on Facebook from Bannockburn House.
Where food is produced within Scotland, we can have confidence that it has been produced in a way that complies with Scotland's high standards for sustainable production. Buying local means that we are not exporting our environmental footprint to countries with less sustainable methods, or different pressures around resources like water. Local food systems can allow for shorter supply chains meaning that are fewer steps and less 'food miles' travelled between the primary producer of the food and the person who eats it.
The act of growing food brings health benefits, as well as the benefits from consuming the food produced. Scottish qualitative research with people who have engaged in urban farms reports health benefits in the form of increased physical activity, greater intake of fruit and vegetables, as well as the ability to grow a greater variety of vegetables which are fresher than those available in shops. Community gardening projects across Scotland have been associated with mental health benefits.
20% of food waste in the UK is associated with food processing, distribution and retail. The Scottish retail sector has been estimated to generate approximately 31,000 tonnes of food waste annually. Interviews with UK retailers found that the majority of food waste outside the home occurs through retailers rejecting produce, poor stock rotation, and inflated orders of produce to make store shelves look more full. This research suggested that shopping local can reduce food waste by removing steps in the supply chain where waste occurs.
Reducing barriers to food
Our response to and recovery from the COVID pandemic has provided further momentum for integrated local food system design that supports us to be able to eat more of what we produce, produce more of what we eat, and in which factors such as age, disability or income is not a barrier to being able to eat well.
Designing local food systems so as they are accessible to those facing the greatest barriers will maximise the benefits for all. Partnership working across sectors and services can help to overcome barriers through a shared and coherent ambition to make good food accessible locally. The knowledge and experience of community food organisations and social enterprises are a valued part of our local food landscape. Employment in local food can provide households with sustainable and secure incomes, preventing poverty and hardship.
Scotland's geography and the specific needs of remote areas
The geography of Scotland means that there is enormous diversity in how easy it is to produce or obtain food. Islands and remote rural areas, for example, face acute challenges, including higher costs for food, predominantly because of transport costs. This means that the cost of a standard basket of goods on an island can be substantially higher than on parts of the mainland. This situation can be further impacted by reliance on fragile transport links and dependence on ferries to get main supplies, the unavoidable breakdowns, bad weather and capacity issues on ferries can also heighten these challenges. Delays impact not only on quality and freshness but also on basic supply.
Encouraging local production is a potential mitigation for this, although agriculture also faces challenges in these areas - getting food supplies on, and food products and animals for slaughter off the islands, as well as having limited access to specialist help, including things like machinery repairs, is a challenge at times, particularly in winter.
However, 'produced on an island' has the potential to enhance the appeal of a product, adding something special to its story. Of the 14 Scottish products protected under the EU protected names scheme, 5 are from our islands, which shows the importance of these areas to the Scottish food landscape.
Local food in Scotland
Scotland's local food scene has gone from strength to strength, with the North Sea and Atlantic surrounding our country and its lush rolling hills, fertile soil and farmland and varied weather, the building blocks are in place for produce of unrivalled quality and, importantly, to have more and more people championing and using the fine produce available. No longer seen as niche, the interest in and demand for local is now mainstream. Scotland's diverse range of producers, with stories, heritage and passionate people behind them, are all around us, and make up a crucial part of the country's economic, social and cultural fabric. These products and people, in all their regional diversity, tell a story about Scotland itself and provide a 'taste of place' for visitors and locals alike.