Hello, and a warm welcome to the new issue of the Voice for Arran! It’s a chilly start to March but signs of spring are arriving, with the days lightening, green shoots are emerging, and the birds are waking me at dawn again. And I am happy for the reassurance these natural markers provide, as news of precarious global situations also keep coming. Not least, as we have seen over the past weeks in the national press and local social media – and also in the empty spaces on the supermarket shelves – the state of our fractured food system.
From different perspectives, a number of the contributions this month have food as their focus. A couple of pieces look at the wider political and economic reasons for the fresh food shortages. Others bring details of events and activities on Arran that highlight the diversity of production and consumption we have on the island. It has been heartening to hear of these in the midst of the broader problems, and see reflected back into the dominant agricultural model the solutions needed if we are to find a more sustainable way forward.
Patricia Gibson writes on events in Westminster last week, and the exchange with conservative minister Therese Coffey who said we might be ‘eating turnips’ at this time of year, rather than the cucumbers and tomatoes we have become accustomed to. Clearly it is Brexit, and the increased bureaucracy this entails (rather than bad weather?), that is wreaking some havoc with issues of supply. Yet there are deeper problems such as lack of financial support for UK producers, which alongside rising costs, means many are ceasing to trade.
These issues were echoed in local social media, the lack of eggs being a case in point. While one organic farm, Woodside Arran, has been working flat out to keep their buyers (and amazing vending machine in Brodick) in stock, as Clair Reeves of The Bay Kitchen and Stores said, “The most serious impact on all producers is years of margin pressure from big supermarket buyers”. This has “meant little resiliency from smaller producers first, and now bigger ones are starting to topple too. The real reason for egg shortage is cost. Hen feed (up 250 percent for our local supplier), electricity, packaging.”
The need to buy local, eat seasonally, and support a diversified local food system is clear. In his article, In Defense of Place and Season, Mike Small advocates a wholesale change from the dominant paradigm of agricultural monocultures, to one which is small-scale and multi-varied. He says at the moment, “’local food initiatives’ are dwarfed by mainstream Scottish food policy”. But, “There are hundreds of community projects, farmers, cooks and gardeners up and down the land who…are actively engaged in creating the system we need.”
It is news of these sorts of innovative and diverse initiatives that fill this issue – there is a Cordon community garden open day, Zero Waste Cafés with Eco Savvy, some foraging adventures with Wild Food Arran, and information about NAC’s recently established Seed Library. We hope you enjoy finding out more about these projects in the following pages, and can connect to some of the many ways we can be part of the changes needed to help a sustainable system to emerge. Wishing you all well in the weeks to come, Elsa