Food Strategy for Gloucestershire will connect food, farming and the rural economy
Gloucestershire must have a Food Strategy that grows its economy and improves health with a mix of affordable and niche produce, professionals in the sector have agreed.
The aim of the event, organised by the GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) Agrifood and Rural Business Group, was to begin work on a roadmap to understand the value of our rural economy and boost the promotion and purchase of our own locally-produced food.
Professor Joanna Price, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU noted that better data was urgently needed on the significant economic contribution of food, farming and rural business in the county. That evidence would then feed into our local Industrial Strategy and help ensure there is sufficient long term investment and growth in the rural economy.
Prof Price said:
In Gloucestershire our food and farming businesses are already creating a number of high-end products in addition to more affordable ones. While they will have to be produced at scale for retailers, there is huge potential in our innovation agenda to produce the range that customers really want.
Together, we need to move quickly to develop a Food Strategy for Gloucestershire that can help inform the local Industrial Strategy. We can strive to do something unique in Gloucestershire that is not being done elsewhere- stopping the fragmentation between food, farming and the environment- and we can use food to build bridges between our rural and urban communities.
Martin Collison is leading the project to gather in better data to measure Gloucestershire’s rural economy.
The number of jobs connected to the food supply chain in Gloucestershire (around 52,000) appears lower than in comparable areas, he revealed. This could mean there is scope to add value.
There is potential for the rural economy to develop new lines of income and new ways of working. Consumers are concerned about a range of issues including how food is produced, the use of chemicals, animal welfare, food waste and the negative health impacts of sugar. What consumers want is changing and the sector needs to respond. Those businesses with the most investment in bricks and mortar – yesterday’s model - will be the most vulnerable.
There is also a massive skills agenda that needs to align to this. It isn’t just about young people, it is also about the existing workforce and giving them the skills to embrace change.
Andrew Callard, Chair of Forest of Dean Economic Partnership said:
I believe the economy is changing. You no longer need to be in an urban area to develop a business. Gloucestershire has an opportunity to be a test bed. We have this mix already.
Tamsyn Harrod, of BoomCircle, the second speaker, urged organisations to work to a ‘triple bottom line’ of profit, people and planet. She pointed out that 23% of adults are obese in the county according to One Gloucestershire’s Obesity Needs Assessment: “How are children being taught about food? Can we improve access to fresh, affordable local food for families in Gloucestershire?”
Tom Andrews Director of Sustainable Food Cities at the Soil Association said:
Food is a pervasive beast – there is going to be a UK Food Policy that connects all this up. Gloucestershire should also have a Food Policy and more importantly we should have a food strategy that maps what is going on and comes up with the best ways to maximise prosperity, biodiversity, health and wellbeing.
Janatha Stout, Industry liaison officer at the RAU said:
Asia is a huge growth market. The Chinese in particular are very interested in food provenance. They want a named farm - that is something we can do in Gloucestershire.
Cheesemaker Charles Martell, High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, said the county needed to revive the reputation and commercial performance of its native produce. This included the Ashmead’s Kernel apple, one of 190 varieties from the county, and considered one of the best in the UK.
The gathering of over 70 professionals working across the food supply chain came up with a range of pressing issues and recommendations for consideration. Martin Collinson’s initial report findings are expected to be published in March 2019.
Five key questions for Gloucestershire to answer in creating a food strategy
- We have a great range of large and independent producers - Stroud Market, Daylesford Organics, Ribena, Lucozade, Budgens, Mid-Counties Co-op, Cinderford Farm Shop –but how do we unite these under a clear identity and brand?
- Gloucestershire is a relatively wealthy county, but we should not just focus on high-end products; can we make food at all price points for all people?
- We have an abundance of business support and expertise; how do we join this up to support the specific needs of the food and farming sector?
- How do we encourage people to spend more time and money in Gloucestershire? Would a ‘community Uber’ help people to reach and enjoy more of it? Could a stronger link between local food and tourism play a role?
- What role does education play across the county in helping people understand what a healthy diet looks like? And how can academic, private and government organisations work together to inspire people towards careers in food, agriculture and the rural economy?