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“Norwich area ‘could feed itself'”

March 23, 2010


East Anglia Food Link has just produced a report for Transition Norwich saying Norwich “could feed itself entirely from crops grown within six miles of the city”, but despite being surrounded by productive farmland, all the food produced gets trucked off elsewhere and replaced by food brought in from elsewhere. Of course, it’s about more than just farmland and the amount of food produced – you also need to change processing and distribution networks, so you can turn grain into flour and then bread without having to take it to the other end of the country, and patterns of diet and work, eating less meat and dairy, people growing more food themselves, more smaller scale farms.

Excitingly, they are bidding for money to set up a flourmill ‘to supply local artisan bakers and wholefood shops’ and launching ‘a supply network to ensure beans and oats grown in the Norwich area can be processed locally and sold through wholefood shops’. This is my latest hobby horse (and likely to form part of the conclusion of my coursework essay) – there’s a lot of attention paid to organic/local meat and fruit and veg, and some processed foods (in the non-judgemental sense of the word!) such as bread and cheese, though these are expensive, but it’s really difficult to find things like flour and milk.

I’m interested in how, or how far, these can be part of a sustainable food system. At the moment we eat quite a lot of these things, but there are very few examples of them being commercially viable outside industrial agriculture. I suspect the answer is to grow different grains, a greater variety of them, on small diversified farms – but then they’d be integrated with livestock and other crops. Why are they being left out at the moment?

I suspect it’s because the processing and distribution systems are so centralised (the move towards a smaller number of larger abbatoirs affects local meat producers in a similar way) that sidestepping them is really complicated, and would then make your products offputtingly expensive. I do actually know of someone who buys wheat berries and grinds them herself as and when she wants to make bread, but even to me this seems above and beyond the call of duty…

Norwich is lucky that by being in what is essentially the ‘mid-West’ of Britain, it already has access to lots of grain. I wonder what the plan would look like if Aberdeen were to try and do the same.

At any rate, the whole issue is enormously complicated. Which is why coming across this in one of my course readings almost made me laugh out loud.

People in Iowa can eat only so much corn and soybeans themselves. So when Iowans decide to eat locally, rather than from the supermarket, their farmers will quickly learn to grow a few other things besides. And when they do, they’ll probably find they can give up most of their fertilizers and pesticides, since a diversified farm will produce much of its own fertility and its own pest control.

It all sounds so easy when you put it like that…

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