On Dec 12th PECT organised a public forum in the John Clare theatre on the subject of local food. The meeting was quite well attended, with PECT, the Green Backyard, and Peterborough in Transition all represented. As well as all these usual suspects there was a sizeable (and vocal) contingent from the Newborough Young Farmers club, as well as several other people involved in farming and other agricultural businesses. The meeting began with an outline of various ideas and targets from Ben Middleton, designed to increase the availability and consumption of locally grown food in Peterborough, with the long term goal of having the majority of Peterborough’s food locally grown by 2030. Ben also mentioned the idea of one planet living, pointing out that if everyone in the world lived like the average European we would need three planets, and noted that the world’s ever growing population would pose difficult challenges for farmers. Ben’s opening presentation was followed by a very lively discussion, with most of the audience having something to say. The YFC contingent emphasised how the loss of 900 acres of prime agricultural land to the proposed energy farm was hardly consistent with the goal of growing more of Peterborough’s food locally.
One of the attendees runs a local food website called BigBarn, which is a social enterprise aiming to help put producers and buyers of local food in touch with each other. The website has a local food map allowing users to find local food producers and retailers in their area. You can try it using the form on the right.
There was also discussion on what the council could do to help small independent food shops compete with supermarkets. One speaker pointed out that business rates for supermarkets were generally much lower (on a per square foot basis), then the rates paid by small shops, and that far more of our food was grown locally thirty or forty years ago than is now. I suggested that one possibility might be to charge lower rates to businesses based in Peterborough. A representative of the NFU stressed the need to set achievable short term goals, such as persuading schools and hospitals to use more locally grown fresh produce. The same speaker questioned whether a “local food mark” (analogous to FairTrade, Organic or Red Tractor logos) would be a good idea, pointing out that the work involved in satisfying the criteria for farm assurance schemes was often difficult for smaller farms. There was also a discussion about “Food Deserts”, and I questioned Ben’s claim that Peterborough had few such areas. Melanie pointed out that many poorer people lacked access to cars, and that most existing farm shops were inaccessible to many people. Someone expressed the wish to see a “local food hub” somewhere in Queensgate. Another topic was food waste, and how supermarket requirements for visually perfect fruit and vegetables meant that much of what farmers grow is difficult to sell.
At the end of the meeting Rich and I spoke to some of the Newborough YFC contingent, and invited them to send a representative to our February meeting. At least one of the YFC members is also planning to visit the Green Backyard in the near future, so useful links were made. Possibly the YFC had expected us to be keen supporters of the Energy Farm proposals, but I said that I did not think this was the case at all, and that we wanted to see things like solar panels sited in appropriate locations, not on land that is currently used to grow food.