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The UK’s first eco-local reward card

“Human health relies on nature’s wealth” – exploring eco-localisation

 More and more shoppers are becoming conscious of saving the high street and the planet, while local businesses are only too keen to reward local custom. Be Local is a brand-new initiative that supports the growing trend that is “eco-localisation”. To help us understand a bit more about what this means, we spoke to local food and agricultural expert, Sarah Calcutt.

Welcome, Sarah. In a recent article, the UN, WHO and WWF claimed that pandemics such as coronavirus are the result of ‘humanity’s destruction of nature’, and that the world has been ignoring this stark reality for decades. Would you agree with this statement?

It’s certainly true that humanity’s destruction of nature is leaving it more susceptible to pandemics, but it’s more complex than that. I’ve been reading several pieces about intense population issues, poverty and population health. I’ve also been participating in a number of seminars discussing quality of lifestyle and our diet. For example, do we have enough time in our lives to recover from illness when needed? But also, are we putting the right things inside ourselves? There are increasing issues with gut health and its effect on the endocrine system, and how that might also leave people unable to deal with stress, and more vulnerable to illness.

We have a huge challenge in the UK; a massive population, which we’re struggling to feed, and yet we have put in place policies which reduce our farming capability, therefore putting pressure on other nations in a drive for cheap food. So how can we feed our population in an economically sustainable way that benefits both our population and farmers?

Villages originally sprang up because the ground was really good, so you could actually support all of the inhabitants of those villages. The challenge we’ve now got, is how do we stop houses being built on fertile land, so reducing our capacity to grow crops on it? We need to look at planning policy to stop good ground being built on, as that’s a massive problem in the UK right now.

Again, it’s hugely complicated, but if you look at the issues surrounding deforestation, we can’t just start growing these crops in the UK right now. We have an amazingly diverse diet, but it does very much depend on imported produce. If we only ate UK-grown food from today, we’d probably have enough to feed the UK for two months.

Is this political, or is it consumer choice? Are we just used to exotic foods? And is that stance wrong – is it time to say “hey, what’s wrong with sticking to a locally-grown diet?”

Unfortunately, it’s too late to revert to a solely ‘local produce’ diet from tomorrow (I could go on and on about this issue!). Basically, if we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to be almost fully self-sufficient, we would suddenly realise that we’ve paved over much of our land – which we need to stop doing.

We need to look at modern farming techniques, what we farm and how we farm, and focus on the crops that we’re really good at growing with great nutritional benefit. There’s also an element of re-education around what we eat, because there is a big educational piece that is needed to explain about seasonality – asparagus within its UK season, for instance, instead of from Peru in July! We should be appreciating other fruits such as apples and pears. They store well and are grown in this country, so they have a much lower carbon footprint than importing produce from the Southern Hemisphere. We can’t grow all of the varieties our consumers want in our climate, but we grow very similar varieties which are often better tasting.

I think it’s wonderful that we embrace dishes from all over the world, such as a Mediterranean platter or a curry perhaps, but we can make most of these dishes using local produce. For example, if you’re making a curry or a similar dish, in which you might use fruits such as tamarind or pineapple to help tenderise the meat, then you can easily substitute with apples, which have the same effect. These fruits all have malic acid, which breaks down tougher meats, making a dish more succulent.

So, in this sense, food actually becomes the issue, because people aren’t healthy enough to have a robust immune system, and because food is expensive, they work so hard to afford a decent grocery shop each week, and then they’re so tired they can’t build a robust immune system. And then if they don’t work, they can’t afford good nutritious food, because we’ve got such a pressure on food that it makes it really expensive. And so, we end up with this hideous vicious circle in which we start to search for the cheapest meal possible, which may not be any good for us nutritionally.

Lord Krebs and the Food Foundation have recently published a report from which a key recommendation is that Universal Credit be re-costed to allow for a healthier diet rich in fruit and vegetables. The Government’s ‘Eat Well’ plate has been used as the costing example.

Core to the ethos of Be Local, we describe eco-localism as: “the economic sustainability that we achieve when we create a locally more self-reliant community. Focussing on the positives of self-reliance and the negatives of long-distance trade, eco-localism draws upon locally-oriented collaboration, experience, knowledge, skills and compassion to enable our community and environment to flourish.” Would you agree with this description, or is there anything else that should be included?

It is absolutely right, and it really applies to food as well. We are really fortunate round here, and I think our house prices will probably go up as everyone discovers how lucky we are! In Cranbrook, if you go to Wilkes the butchers for instance, he can tell you where every piece of meat has come from. He buys his chickens from down the road, and he buys his beef and his lamb from a lovely man called Chris Bishop who farms in Cranbrook. Spratsbourne represents true eco-localism; it’s long term, well managed grass pasture, which is an amazing carbon sink. They’re producing high-welfare, really intense protein at the most beautiful farm, with gorgeous rolling fields, lovely trees and happy lambs wandering around. It’s idyllic!

Another great place is Cranbrook’s Hartley Coffee House and Farm Shop. If you look at their deli and at the amazing amount of British cheese, and their meat counter, they can tell you where everything comes from. And the fish comes straight from the coast! So instead of going to the supermarket and buying a piece of fish wrapped in plastic that will have been caught, filleted, frozen, defrosted, wrapped in plastic, shipped, and carted in a box made of plastic to the supermarket, it will cost you no more to buy the same piece of fish from the fishmonger, because their fish will have been caught this morning with none of the packaging and shipping costs.

Other great outlets include the award-winning S W Doughty Family Butchers in Doddington, who supply the best sausages in Kent! Not forgetting Frankie’s Farmshop in Staplehurst, and also Macknade Food Hall in Faversham.

For my shopping this week, I went to Wilkes and bought sausages, bacon, chops, chicken and steak costing £56.00. This is enough for a family of three for just over two weeks. The rest of my shopping came from the fishmonger and farm shops, where I was able to buy local cherries, local strawberries, local salad and local potatoes. I did have to buy some imported stuff, but predominantly, I was able to buy British.

 We agree. Because of lockdown and supporting local, we’ve also decided to buy more local fruit from now on; spend maybe £5 more on a big box, which will then last for the week. It’s good for everyone; straight from the farm, just picked and really local, keeping income in our local area and supporting local.

The problem is, the less income you have, the harder that is to do. Even for two-income families, it’s still hard for many to shop local and to live comfortably in an affluent area like this, there are many people across the Weald and nationally who cannot afford to support local all the time. Everyone would benefit from a recommended national diet, or national ration-type diet (or joining the Be Local scheme, of course!). Perhaps many have lost sight of the calorific and nutritional values of what is on their plates.

So, with Cranbrook and the Weald in mind, what can we do to support eco-localisation within our own communities?

Love where you live, so think about where you live first. If you want a day out, you can pack up a picnic, pick up a map from the Vestry Hall and go on an adventure. Find the ponds where you can go pond dipping, learn about the local wildlife or go for a walk and appreciate an amazing view. When you think about what you are going to eat, and when you are writing your shopping list, think about where it’s coming from.

When you buy a present, again, love where you live; appreciate there are beautiful people like Happy & Glorious on our high street. Why do you need to go on Amazon? You actually don’t need to go on Amazon now that Cranbrook has re-opened. You can find everything you need; the bakers, fishmonger, farm shops, chemists, banks, and not forgetting Cranbrook DIY with the very knowledgeable Andy.

We’re so lucky in Cranbrook, we don’t need to go anywhere else. There’s loads to do; we can go swimming, play tennis and we have loads of sports facilities. We’ve even got a brewery (Larkins), and then there’s The Hive, which serves local produce in their restaurant as well as stocking a range of local drinks at the bar.

We need to buy into these local initiatives (such as Be Local), as many of us have become dependent upon our online providers during lockdown. We need to remind people there is a safe and positive shopping experience right here in Cranbrook. And hopefully, people will commute less because we’re all going to be able to ask to work from home more, as we’ve proved it works. We don’t need to be in the office every day!

So, let’s all support local a bit more, love where we live, and learn to appreciate it!

 To find out more about how you can get involved in the Be Local scheme, contact us at:

 Having worked through the entire supply chain, Sarah knows a thing or two about the issues local communities are facing. Sarah has grown, picked, packed, technically managed, promoted and sold produce crops for over twenty-five years, and today she wears many hats including Chairman of The National Fruit Show, Operations Director for Great British Apples, and Founding Partner of Partners in Produce.

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