How to buy local food
Discover BBC Good Food's top tips for buying local produce. We reveal the benefits for the community and the challenges our writer faced when only ingredients from nearby.
Who took the challenge?
Fiona Forman, BBC Good Food deputy chief sub-editor: I live in Teddington, south-west London, and cook for my boyfriend and me. I plan meals ahead and do a weekly shop online. We mainly cook fish and vegetables, and only eat meat once a week – we buy organic and high-welfare, which is expensive.
The challenge: buy only local ingredients for two weeks
More than half of our food now comes from abroad, mainly the EU, South America and South-East Asia. The further food travels, the greater the carbon footprint. The Campaign to Protect Rural England defines ‘local’ as within 30 miles of where you live. In this challenge, I had to buy all meat, fish, bread, dairy, fruit and veg locally.
How to buy local food
As I live inside the M25, I knew this wouldn’t be easy – there’s not much pasture or agriculture. My local supermarket had some British veg, but most was imported. At the nearest farmers’ market, in Twickenham, only one of the 29 producers was from within 30 miles, and one stallholder had travelled over 200 miles! The nearest fruit and veg came from 51 miles away. So I bought eggs, a whole chicken and organic lamb from Lee House Farm in Sussex.
My sister volunteers at Grace & Flavour, a community garden in Surrey 14 miles away, and she gave me a big bag of veg for about £5. From one squash, I made curry, risotto and soup. I knew it would be impossible to get fish (the nearest fishing coasts are over 60 miles away), so we ate more meat than usual. My local butchers stocks beef from Surrey, so I bought a rump steak and some honey made in Teddington. For lunch, I made vegetable soups with sourdough and rye bread that I made with flour from E5 Bakehouse (they mill their own flour from locally sourced wheat). I also found cheeses from Woking and Berkshire in a local cheese shop.
I was determined to find veg grown closer to home. I went to Osterley Park, a National Trust estate just five miles away, in Isleworth. At the farm shop, we bought cheap, good-quality onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, parsnips and cauliflower for £5.90. Buying locally means you’re restricted to what can be grown in season in the UK, which is difficult in winter – I missed bananas and avocados!
Buying local involves a lot of time and planning – Saturday mornings were spent at the farmers’ market, farm shop or butchers – but I loved supporting farmers and interacting with people. Shopping online is a convenient but disconnected way to shop – even if I buy British, it arrives without any engagement with my local community. I spent £140 in two weeks rather than my usual £90, but meals tasted better and I appreciated them more, as I felt more connected to where they came from. I’ll keep shopping locally as much as I can.
Top 5 ways to eat locally
- Do your research. Visit farmshop.uk.com to find your nearest farmers' market and nationaltrust.org.uk for National Trust farm shops - they're all over the country.
- Find out what's in season. Before you shop, find out what's in season and plan meals accordingly. Check out our seasonality guide.
- It's worth calling your butcher, fishmonger and cheesemonger before you go, to see if they have anything local – it often goes quickly, but they may be able to put some aside for you.
- Plan how much food you need. Most farmers' markets only happen at weekends, and local shops often close early, so be sure to get enough to last the week.
- Many farmers' markets and farm shops only take cash, and not all have bags, so take some with you (plus it's better for the environment!).
See our Seasonal calendar for what to eat when.
What are your tips for buying local produce? Let us know in the comments below...