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ARIANE BURGESS: Local food is at heart of all things good

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Holyrood Notebook by Ariane Burgess

Highland Council wishes to promote more local food growing intitiatives like this one in Thurso. Picture: DGS
Highland Council wishes to promote more local food growing intitiatives like this one in Thurso. Picture: DGS

Over the past few weeks, we've been hearing about the cost of living crisis. Our energy bills are soaring, and the cost of basic foods like eggs and milk is set to rise.

The cumulative impact of Brexit, the coronavirus and now the war in Ukraine puts pressure on all of our lives. Underlying all of this is the urgent need to tackle the climate and nature emergencies.

When faced with a series of crises like this we must make the way basic needs are met resilient for everyone. The good news is that in Caithness, community groups are already acting on one of our most fundamental needs: food.

With projects like Thurso Grows initiated by the Thurso Community Development Trust and supported by Highland Council’s Growing our Future – Highland Community Food Growing Strategy, people are getting going growing their own food.

This is heartening as over decades we’ve drifted away from eating well. In the move to convenience, big chain supermarkets undercut local producers yet much of the food on supermarket shelves is filled with sugar, fat and salt – those more-ish tastes that keep us going back for – more. These products developed by multinational companies are often empty calories, lacking any real nutrition for us but ensuring profits for shareholders.

Increasingly more of us are realising that what we eat has an impact on both our physical and mental health and our ability to enjoy a good quality of life. And we are encouraged to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. That’s why growing our own is a great way to look after our health and the planet too.

The challenge is making nutritious food available and affordable for everyone. Not everyone has the access to resources, time or inclination to grow their food. That’s where the idea of the local Good Food Nation plan comes in – by working through our public kitchens in schools and hospitals, for example, it’s possible to ensure everyone regularly has access to genuinely nutritious meals.

In parliament, I've been involved in scrutinising the Good Food Nation bill at committee. This bill, if it were to become an act, would require the Scottish Government, local authorities and health boards to produce Good Food plans. The purpose of these plans, ideally, would be for the public sector to procure and provide genuinely nutritious, locally produced food through our public kitchens.

Well conceived Good Food plans could give more people access to good nutrition. The plans could also build resilience by shortening supply chains and removing our dependency on food being shipped from around the world. With locally produced food we can tackle the climate emergency by reducing carbon-food miles.

Procurement through public kitchens could support local crofters and farmers to sell their produce at a large enough and consistent scale to make their business viable. And with the game-changing Polycrub growing fruit and vegetables in quantity in the north of Scotland becomes possible as the structure offers protection from high winds.

The local Good Food plans are where Highland Council and the Highland health board come in. Supported by local producers and organisations like the Highland Good Food Partnership that support good food producers across the Highlands, well thought through local food plans can be developed to ensure everyone has access to real, nutritious, locally produced food.

While there are hurdles to overcome if public kitchens procure locally produced food, this will give the confidence needed for Caithness producers to invest in their businesses and everyone benefits from having good food on their plate.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess.
Green MSP Ariane Burgess.
  • Ariane Burgess is a Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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