Recently I spent an enjoyable morning at the Bramley Apple Festival, in the small North Nottinghamshire town of Southwell. The locals are proud of their famous fruit – the first Bramley’s tree grew from pips planted by Mary Ann Brailsford when she was a girl, in her garden in Southwell in 1809. The name Bramley came from Matthew Bramley who later purchased the cottage and its tree.
Southwell Minster, an imposing building built in the twelfth century, was the grand location of the Festival for local producers of food and drink and when I arrived was buzzing with visitors. I have been to the festival many times and it has always been busy with people eager to buy the produce, ranging from bison to beer. But what is it that makes so many of us as keen to buy at this type of market, rather than travel to a supermarket, where products are often cheaper?
I spoke to some of the stall holders, to try and find out what makes local produce so appealing.
Ruth Wakeling, of Bouverie Lodge, producers of Bison and Venison said:
The good thing about buying from us is that the customer can ask about where their meat comes from and exactly how it is produced. The bison are raised and slaughtered on our farm so the animals live a quality life and suffer less stress than if they travelled miles to an abattoir. The meat travels only short distances so it is fresher and tastier.
The leaflet for the company also states that customers are welcome to visit the farm and see the animals in their surroundings.
Will Smith, from The Barn Bacon Company, emphasized that local producers provide customers with the “traceability” factor. His meat products, including bacon and sausages, are all produced from animals at a farm in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and Will told me that the animals travel only five miles to the abattoir, meaning less stress on their final journey. And a shorter journey means less fuel and less pollution in our already fragile environment.
Of course, being the Bramley Apple Festival, I had to talk to an apple grower. John and Helen Hempsall had plenty to say about their Heritage Orchard in East Markham! Impressively, they currently have 300 varieties of apples growing in their orchard. John told me:
I decided in 2000 that I would create an orchard to try and preserve as many apple varieties as I could for the next millennium. Starting locally I grafted two trees of each variety from neighbours and friends and more and more people contacted me about their trees, resulting in the orchard now having over three hundred different kinds. Hopefully, this will continue to increase.
In addition to selling the apples at local markets, John and Helen sell the windfall, or fallen, apples, to local cider produces so there is almost no waste. I was certainly tempted by the display and tried a few varieties, including the Adam’s Pippin, dating back to 1826 and the Isaac Newton, dating back to the 1600s and yes, apparently from the famous orchard where Newton discovered gravity.
But in addition to traceability, welfare, lower mileage and less pollution, a huge benefit of buying locally seemed to be taste – something about the plastic wrappers and the shiny, perfectly shaped apples in supermarkets now feels, to me at least, even less appealing.
But there is a downside to wanting to buy locally. This year the weather has been particularly poor for our apple growers, which means fewer apples. And this has a knock on effect of higher prices. So local becomes less attractive to the customer.
The customers at the festival seemed unperturbed, buying happily. Mrs. Croft, ’over 70’, from Newark, said: ”I come here every year. The food is fresh and tasty and the stallholders are always happy to talk to me about where the food comes from. You never get that in a supermarket.” Mr. Richards, 52, from Birmingham, told me that this was his third visit to the festival and that he comes only for the apples: “I can’t find as much choice anywhere else that I can actually see and taste,” he said. Although I did wonder whether he had thought of the miles he had travelled to get here.
I looked up information on supermarket websites to see how, if at all, they are rising to the challenges of local versus global. The information was not easy to find – I trawled the websites before eventually finding statements. Tesco have this to say:
We will strive to develop and improve our standard to ensure we continue to meet and exceed your expectations on quality and environmental standards. Our partnership with our growers will enable us to rise to any future social or environmental challenges.
We are committed to establishing long-term partnerships with local suppliers to support local businesses and vibrant local economies and are proud to take the lead on making locally sourced and produced goods available in every one of our stores. We have 500 local producers supplying ASDA with over 5,000 local products. 90% of the meat and fresh produce ASDA sells already comes from British farmers.
Sainsbury’s take this approach:
We know buying British is important to you, so all of our Sainsbury’s SO organic chicken, beef, eggs, milk and lamb comes from British farms. We also have a tempting selection of organic British cheeses, like our handmade Sainsbury’s SO organic Cheddar, made by the Alvis brothers on their farm just seven miles from the village of Cheddar, Somerset. We source as much of our Sainsbury’s SO organic fruit and veg as possible from right here in the UK because we know you don’t want to buy lots of organic food from the other side of the world.
Okay, so there are advantages to supermarkets. Parking is easy and prices are often lower, which in today’s dire economy is an issue. There is a huge choice, although not always a good thing in my case, as I often buy far too much. But take a look at those apples; are they really that shiny when they are on the tree? And how did that chicken, or that cow, or that lamb, live and die? And how far did everything travel to get there?
Here is a final thought: Professor Jules Petty and his colleague Tim Lang from City University say that people should try to buy food from within a 20km (12 mile) radius. They calculated that if all foods were sourced from within this radius, environmental and congestion costs would fall from more than £2.3bn to under £230m, due to the reduction in transportation or “road miles”.
Sources and further information:
My thanks to the following people for their time and enthusiasm:
John and Helen Hempsall of The Hempsall Heritage Orchard, East Markham, Nottinghamshire. Tel: 01777 870214
Ruth Wakeling of Bouverie Lodge, Nether Broughton. Tel: 01664 822114. Website: www.bisons.org
Will Smith of The Barn and Bacon Company, Kneesall, Nottinghamshire. Tel:01623 862210 Website: www.barnbacon.co.uk