From farm to fork: get the food chain on the school curriculum!

An interview with Gareth Wyn Jones, part 2 of 3

Gareth Wyn Jones: Farming - the biggestjob on earth" - Buy Local Gwynedd

Hill farmer Gareth Wyn Jones knows a thing or two about shopping locally. He ought to; after all, he was the subject of a three-part BBC Wales series about the Welsh food industry, “The Farmer and the Food Chain”, which aired in September 2015.

In the first part of our interview Gareth explained how farmers and other producers could communicate better and create ‘food hubs’ where they could sell their produce to customers who might otherwise find it difficult to source locally produced food. Gareth’s idea is certainly very interesting: imagine being able to order your meat, fish, fruit and veg at the local pub on Monday, and popping in on Tuesday to collect it all. Could this be the future of shopping locally?

We talked about my options for shopping locally – a handful of very small shops scattered around a fairly wide area, which, despite selling fantastic quality food, are spaced too far apart to be a viable shopping option for all consumers.

Gareth Wyn Jones and his pop-up shop - Buy Local GwyneddShops selling local produce exist, then, but shopping at them is still not really what you’d term ‘convenient’; for some, it still means going out of your way to visit half a dozen different shops, and resorting to the likes of Tesco for all the things that aren’t produced or sold locally. I like Gareth’s idea of a food hub very much; but that doesn’t stop my mind wandering towards daydreams of winning the Euromillions and opening a huge indoor market where producers, farmers and crafters can come together in a sort of year-round food and crafts fair so that there’s very little need for consumers to visit supermarkets and discounters at all, saving such visits for dull-but-necessary purchases like dishwasher tablets and pet food. I’m thinking of Gareth’s pop-up shop, but on a much larger and more permanent scale.

“We need to shop and eat seasonally again, like we used to,” says Gareth, interrupting my reverie with his sage observations on Britain’s shopping habits (there are many more of these to come; he’s clearly done his research). “Too much is sourced abroad, year-round, and we’ve become a throwaway society; food is too cheap.”

The UK’s lowest earners might be inclined to disagree, I suggest. Gareth isn’t so sure. “People on low incomes… I don’t know, broadband and Sky come before food – there are kids with better phones than me but low earners complain about the cost of food!” I tell Gareth about Jack Monroe, AKA “A Girl Called Jack”, who rose to prominence a few years ago by producing a blog about feeding a family on a virtually non-existent budget [warming – there is some quite colourful language on Jack’s blog, so please don’t click the link if you’re offended by swearing]. This is news to Gareth, and he tells me he’ll check out Jack’s website. Even so, he says, “we need to be less of a throwaway society. We need to go out and buy fresh fruit and veg, cook our own meals, and buy less meat but better quality so that it lasts 3-4 meals instead of just one.” I tell Gareth that that’s how we tend to do things in our house: have a big cooking spree once every couple of weeks and fill our 6ft-tall freezer with home cooked meals in convenient ready-to-reheat portions. “Exactly!” he says. “You can shop on a budget and still eat healthily. All these ads on telly for what is basically cr*p food – you could be making it yourself!”

Food prices and expenditure

Food prices rose 11.5% in real terms between 2007 and their peak in June 2012 as measured by the Consumer Price Index, following a long period in which they had fallen. Gradual price reductions since 2013 have reduced that real terms increase to 8.0% compared to 2007.

In the past 12 months food price inflation has fallen in real terms by 1.7%.

A rise in food prices is more difficult for low income households to cope with because those on low incomes spend a greater proportion of their income on food – a rise in food prices has a disproportionately large impact on money available to spend elsewhere.

The relative affordability of food can be measured by the share of the household budget that goes on food. Low income households are of particular concern as they tend to have a greater percentage of spend going on food.

Food is exerting greater pressure on household budgets since 2007 when food prices started to rise in real terms.

Averaged over all households 11.1% of spend went on food in 2014, 0.6 percentage points above the 2007 level.

For households in the lowest 20% by equivalised income 16.4% of spend went on household food, 0.2 percentage points above 2007.

In 2013, the average UK household bought 3.9 portions of ‘five-a-day’ foods, per person, per day. In lower income households, only 3 portions are bought. In Wales, from 2012-2014, the average was 3.5 portions per person per day, and purchases of fruit were lower in Wales than anywhere else in the UK.

Source: UK Government, The Food Statistics Pocket Book 2015 (PDF)

Gareth Wyn Jones - Buy Local GwyneddGareth is just as passionate about food as he is about the industry which produces it. Clearly a man who enjoys good, wholesome, home-cooked meals, Gareth hits the nail on the head when he talks about the typical Brit’s attitude to shopping, cooking and eating. “Food has become a chore,” he laments. “It should be a pleasure to cook food and enjoy it with the family. Sunday lunch is special in our house; it’s a family meal, where we eat meat I’ve raised, veg I’ve grown – we spend an hour and a half around the table chatting and eating.” I can imagine him shaking his head in dismay as he tells me that by eschewing meals around the table in favour of TV dinners, “families are missing out”.

Children are key, Gareth reckons, when it comes to securing the future of Wales’ food industry. “There’s no education for kids about where food comes from,” he says. “Kids need to go on farms and understand where their food comes from. We could save the government millions by educating – Wales could be at the forefront of a farming and food revolution! We’re feeding the next generation – educate that generation about how and what to eat, how supermarkets work, how farmers are squashed [by supermarkets]. How you’ll have a healthier life by changing your eating and shopping habits, and how this will save millions for the government in health costs. It’s an investment in the next generation, in every sense. Get it on the school curriculum! Get schoolkids drinking milk again – milk is good for you!”

In the third and final part of our interview with Gareth, he reveals some uncomfortable statistics about the UK food industry and suggests that the government could do more to help. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to find out when part three has been published.

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