From farm to fork: the dawn of a Welsh food revolution?

An interview with Gareth Wyn Jones, part 1 of 3

 

Gareth Wyn Jones - Farming Food Revolution - Buy Local Gwynedd
Gareth Wyn Jones is a hill farmer in Llanfairfechan. His family have been farming lamb and beef in the Carneddau range for hundreds of years, and for at least three and a half centuries, since records on such things began, his family has helped to manage the Carneddau wild ponies.

In September 2015 Gareth was the subject of a three-part mini-series on BBC Wales, The Farmer and the Food Chain, which documented his efforts to reignite shoppers’ passion for shopping locally. During the series Gareth opened a pop-up shop in Bangor, selling locally produced foods. The series saw him meeting other producers from within a 40-mile radius of his own farm, including Llŷn fisherman Siôn Williams, vegetable farmer Chris Jones and pork producer Ella Roberts. Gareth examined the power of the supermarkets, discovering some uncomfortable statistics as he followed our food from farm to fork. And in the final episode he worked with schools and confronted the Welsh government with his concerns about the Welsh food industry.

Gareth Wyn Jones - pop-up shop - Buy Local Gwynedd“Feedback from the documentary was amazing,” Gareth tells me over the phone, his voice quite rightly exuding pride in all he’s achieved with the TV series, “and it was an unbelievable experience to discover how many local producers there are in the area.”

Gareth is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. Quite contagiously so, in fact. And that’s reasonable enough, given that it’s his livelihood that’s at stake. I furiously scribble down notes, filling two A4 sheets with my tiny handwriting in the half an hour that we’re on the phone. By the end of the conversation I’m almost as fired up and desperate to make a positive change as Gareth is.

“There’s not enough communication [between producers],” Gareth says when I ask him what’s going wrong with the Welsh food industry. “We need to communicate better as an industry. Social media is helpful [it’s worth noting that Gareth is very active on Twitter, with over 12,500 followers]. Let’s get people sourcing and eating locally. It helps keep our young people in the area – you know, Iaith Gwaith and all that [‘the language of work’, a scheme to promote the speaking of Welsh in the workplace which in turn protects the future of the language]. Restaurants and hotels need to source locally and tell the story of the farm, the producers: what it is you’re supporting by buying that meal. Farming as an industry is very good at producing, but very poor at selling!”

The UK food industry in numbers

  • The agri-food sector contributed £109 billion, or 7.3% to national Gross Value Added in 2014
  • 54% of food consumed in the UK is produced in the UK.
  • 3.9m people were employed in the agri-food sector in 2015 – 14% of national employment.
  • £198bn – total consumer expenditure on food, drink and catering in 2014. On average, around 11% of all household spending is on food.
  • The average UK household spend on food that could have been eaten but is thrown away is around £470 a year
  • 15 million tonnes of food and drink was wasted in the food chain in 2013 in the UK.
  • The retail price of avoidable food and drink waste from UK homes was around £9 per household per week in 2012, or 14% of the £66 spent on average each week on household food. The cost to the UK of avoidable food and drink waste in 2012 was £12.5 billion.
  • UK household purchases of fruit and vegetables were 1.8% lower in 2014 than in 2013, a reduction of 11.4% since their peak in 2006. Defra estimates that 22% of edible fruit and vegetables are wasted.
  • In 2013 6.8% of adults and 6.7% of children included no fruit or vegetables in their diet.

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

Gareth Wyn Jones - Welsh lamb - Buy Local GwyneddThe subject of what’s wrong with the food industry in Wales – indeed, in the UK as a whole – is a complex one. Farmers not working together, failing to communicate and really sell the benefits of their industry is just a small part of the jigsaw puzzle.

For one thing, Gareth would like to see more choice for consumers when it comes to shopping locally – and that’s a responsibility of not just the farmers and producers but also businesses that can offer a selling space for the food that’s produced. “Farmers need to come together and do more to create settings where all food producers can sell together,” he says. “Like ‘food hubs’ at places where people gather – for example, pubs. You can order from everyone, for example veg, meat… the food hub would hand out leaflets about the producers, so customers can really follow the story of the food and the people producing it. You’d place your order, maybe have a pint while you’re there (which does the landlord a favour too) and then you’d come back on delivery day to collect your order.”

I like the sound of this. In the busy modern world, shoppers tend to value convenience very highly; many of us find shopping trips to be rather an ordeal, and more often than not opt to have supermarket deliveries – or just visit the nearest supermarket – in order to avoid excessive travel. This is particularly the case in rural communities, where independent shops selling locally produced goods can be spaced fairly widely apart. I know from experience of my own shopping trips, trying to squeeze in the Hooton’s concession at Fron Goch Garden Centre for meat and vegetables, Pysgod Llyn in Pwllheli for fish and seafood, Glasfryn’s farm shop for frozen fruit and Y Pantri Cymraeg in Caernarfon for jams, sauces and pickles – all in the space of a couple of hours – that it can be challenging.

And if your nearest independent shops don’t have what you’re looking for that day, well… let’s just hope there’s a food and craft fair happening soon. A local food hub would be quite a godsend in my local community, of this I’m sure.

In the second part of our interview with Gareth, he talks about the decline of the family meal as an ‘event’, and the need to educate children about where our food comes from. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to find out when part two has been published.

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