Top Devon producers launch British Food and Drink Fortnight with ‘buy local’ plea

Cheese maker Mary Quicke with some of her dairy cows

Cheese maker Mary Quicke with some of her dairy cows - Credit: Archant

Major Devon Food & Drink producers and backing local buying for British Food Fortnight

Devon-produced smoked fish from Blakewell Fisheries

Devon-produced smoked fish from Blakewell Fisheries - Credit: Archant

Seeing an ingredient that was grown or made in Devon listed on the menu of a London restaurant will always bring a smile to the face of Barbara King.

Barbara is well tuned in to the county’s food and drink scene. The managing director of The Shops at Dartington, she is also chairman of Food Drink Devon, a not for profit membership organisation that promotes high quality and sustainable Devon produce, both within the county and beyond.

Her work often takes her to the city where she says: “I love it when I go into a restaurant and see Brixham crab or Red Devon beef on the menu.”

It’s a shared feeling she believes. “Anyone who works and lives down here wants the county to thrive. We have such great food here, coming from a unique climate and ideal growing conditions.”

Barbara King, Managing Director of the Shops at Dartington

Barbara King, Managing Director of the Shops at Dartington - Credit: Archant

From 19 September to 4 October a campaign called British Food and Drink Fortnight is underway. It’s run by Love British Food, an organisation which aims to promote the UK’s produce both among members of the public and in national businesses and institutions. This year the event comes at a key time, with Brexit around the corner and new challenges facing British farmers.

Farmer and cheesemaker Mary Quicke is on a mission to inspire people to become what she calls ‘conscious consumers’.

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We all have the power to buy and eat food which is grown or made to ethical and environmental high standards, she says. Prior to Brexit, British farmers were paid EU subsidies to maintain these standards, but they were also paid simply because they were farming and occupying land. In future, farmers will only receive public funding if they are doing something for the public good – whether that’s improving soils, air quality, biodiversity, animal welfare or through education, for example. Just producing food will not merit getting funding.

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“If farmers want the money – and they will need it – we will be required to be farming to a much higher standard,” says Mary.

Which is good, but the danger she says is that Brexit changes will also mean many foods from outside the EU, which don’t share the same high standards, will appear in our supermarkets and will no doubt be cheaper.

Mary says: “The US food industry is so vast, and so fed on the carbon-stripping activities of American industrial farming.

“Farming from around the world will be completely capable of providing us with food within the letter of the law, but it will be to much lower standards.”

We all go for a cut-price deal in the supermarkets, but this is the time to understand what is happening, be informed and take stock before making a snap decision, she says.

Locally and responsibly grown food, which is good for both personal health and the planet, can often be more expensive, but “buying local supports the economy, that means it’s about keeping people in jobs,” says Barbara.

Devon’s food and drink is hugely popular among tourists, who buy products, visit restaurants and enjoy food festivals and special events.

But, she says: “When winter comes and we have no tourists, there will be job losses, which is why supporting local producers is so crucial.”

Everything is interdependent, says Mary and we need to buy food that supports local networks. “If we want vibrant communities, we want money circulating in those communities.”

When challenged by people who say eating local is too expensive, Barbara says: “It may be more expensive, but I say to people to taste it and see why. And it’s better to buy less and buy well. Buy a smaller piece of lovely meat and make it last, and fill your plate with lovely vegetables.”

Mary says the gap between rich and poor must be addressed. “In this wealthy nation, how can we have people who are paid so little? Good quality British food should not be so expensive that you have to be middle class to afford it.”

She adds: “It’s not about justifying British food at any price. We must be cost effective and large enough so that food is affordable. We can’t guilt-trip people in to buying food.

Ever the optimist, she says: “Let’s embrace this new world with a food system that works for everybody – and the way we do it is to engage with it.

“Shopping and eating is a powerful act and we can determine the planet we live on. We can all be conscious consumers.”

Supplying the nation

“I’m very proud of providing a North Devon product,” says John Nickell.

John and his brother Richard run Blakewell Trout Farm and Smokery in a beautiful valley on the outskirts of Barnstaple.

John says around 15,000 tons of trout is produced and eaten in the UK each year and Blakewell is in a prime location for farming the high quality fish, which live in water that flows straight through the valley down from the hills of Exmoor. This is what makes it a unique product.

The wholesale business, supplying cities across the country, is vital, says John, but the smokery, which has been developed over the last 30 years, allows them to produce a hand-crafted product which can be bought directly by the customer, from shops, or as of this winter, from the farm’s own online store.

Reflecting on British Food Fortnight, John says it’s not a simple case of only buying British. Although a “phenomenal” effort to grow more following the war was incredibly successful at feeding the nation, further intensification of the land to meet the needs of a growing population is unsustainable, he says.

“We will need to buy an element of food in,” he says. “But there will always be food coming from our countryside and it’s important to support our producers – so I’d always say ‘buy British’.”

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