Speeches in Scottish Parliament on Scotland's Food & Drink Strategy 14/9/17
It is an absolute pleasure and delight to take part in this debate on food and drink, because it is impossible to talk about this sector and not to be excited by all the opportunities.
As a councillor with Angus Council, I had responsibility for economic development for the local authority, with the pleasure of working with the team that Graeme Dey mentioned—Alison Smith and Hilary Tasker—to encourage people and businesses to visit, invest in and live in the region. A massive part of that work was to promote and sell the best of our products to the rest of Scotland and beyond, such as Glencadam whisky, from my home town of Brechin, and the Forfar bridie, which I described to a foreign audience as a meaty puff of heaven. If anybody has still not tried one and would like to do so, please contact me and I will sort you out. I now represent part of Aberdeenshire and have even more to shout about in that region. We have, quite simply, some of the best produce to be found anywhere in the world, and that is why I welcome the motion.
I would like to focus on what we can do locally, within our communities, to strengthen local food supply chains. Although international markets are, of course, vitally important, we have to strengthen the links between our farmers, fishermen and primary producers and our communities, making local products far more readily available and easy to find, so that people know about and choose local produce.
That has been the ambition of an innovative collective launched last year in Angus called the Food Life. It is a group of farmers, retailers, food vendors and educators that aims to promote the produce of the region to those who live there and to visitors. The group promotes not just the products but our health and the encouragement of a healthier way of life. To do that, it educates and conducts pilot schemes and research. We cannot consider food just in terms of our rural economy alone; it feeds into many areas. Health is a vital part of that, and I am glad that health has been mentioned a few times today. We could do more to make those links clearer. I was pleased to hear Rhoda Grant’s points about food banks, to make sure that people who can least afford food and who have to use food banks have access to fresh healthy local produce.
As well as holding its own markets and food events, the Food Life looks at how to connect businesses to the local food supply chain. I was glad to hear some of the issues that Brian Whittle raised, because one massive stumbling block in achieving that has been the procurement process. Local companies with healthy, fresh offerings can reach a block when trying to provide their product to, say, local schools, and more needs to be done to address that. I welcome some of the comments that the cabinet secretary made in his opening statement. We should be making it easier for local food producers to get their products into our communities and through the barriers that exist in local authorities, arms-length organisations and the NHS.
We cannot talk about the importance of the food and drink sector without talking about some of the challenges that we face with Brexit. There is the rural development programme, which is worth £1.3 billion to Scotland, not to mention the importance of the European maritime and fisheries fund to coastal communities. With those funding streams guaranteed only for the immediate future, we need to know what will come in their place. We also need to know what will happen if we are not in the single market or the customs union. How will that affect getting our product to the market?
Beyond that is the issue that hangs over the EU citizens who come to work in various areas in food and drink, because it is a sector that needs people. In Angus alone, more than half of all people who work in the agricultural sector are expected to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. We need high levels of new entrants just to maintain the employment levels at the moment, let alone what we could need further down the line.
We are all lucky to be here representing constituencies and a country that are home to some of the best produce in the world. We have the product and the ambition is there; we just need to navigate some of the coming political obstacles to make this a real success.
Earlier this week, I visited Grewar’s farm shop in my constituency to mark this year’s Scottish food and drink fortnight. It was a very appropriate choice. The word “innovation” features repeatedly in the “Ambition 2030” strategy, and Grewar’s is a farm business that epitomises innovation.
In October 2014, Grewar’s installed its first vending machine at East Ardler farm to answer local demand for its potatoes. Customers, utilising an accompanying suggestion box, were quick to ask for a wider variety of fresh produce direct from the farm, so carrots, onions, broccoli and free-range eggs were quickly sourced from neighbours, friends and family to broaden the range. Three further vending machines were installed, at Dronley farm, where the shop was established in 2015, and in the Overgate shopping centre in Dundee and the St John’s shopping centre in Perth.
For me, the best bit is that the farm shop, which also offers a range of Scottish craft gins, vodkas and beers, makes an absolute virtue of the food miles that are travelled by the products on sale, providing a distance breakdown for each of the many items, which have been sourced from within a 20-mile radius. Those who visit Grewar’s know that they are not just buying top-quality Scottish produce but supporting local businesses and sourcing products that have not travelled many tens, or indeed hundreds, of miles or, worse still, left Scotland to be packaged before being returned here.
Another innovator, or entrepreneur if you like, in my constituency is Kim Cameron, the driving force behind the Gin Bothy and Cider Bothy products. The strategy talks of the need for collaboration. Kim initially bought in gin from a business in Perth, but she is now working with Graeme Jarron of Ogilvy Spirits, which is based in nearby Glamis, to produce her own base spirit and has expanded the business to establish the Bothy Larder on the outskirts of Kirriemuir, where visitors can experience gin tasting in a bothy setting, with all the traditional trappings.
Grewar’s and Kim Cameron are not resting on their laurels. Mirroring the ambition of the strategy, both have plans to expand and in so doing tap into the tourism market. Scotland is blessed with many such innovators in the food and drink sector, and I am sure that, as the afternoon unfolds, we will be reminded of that in the contributions from colleagues.
Of course, however, innovation often needs to be enabled, and I want to acknowledge the role of national and local government in that. Scotland Food & Drink, my colleague Richard Lochhead, who served as rural affairs secretary in the previous session of Parliament, and now Fergus Ewing deserve enormous credit for facilitating the growth of the sector. However, I also place on the record my appreciation of the work that is done in my constituency by Angus Council officials Alison Smith and Hilary Tasker, who have not only facilitated but driven the boom in food and drink there.
The latest manifestation of the council’s support for the county’s food and drink offering is the taste of Angus food charter, which aims to promote the use of local food through cafes and restaurants, public bodies, community groups, shops and individuals. It sets out to support local food and drinks businesses and farmers to create a healthier food culture in Angus, resulting in the availability of higher-quality and tastier food for residents and visitors alike. Anyone can sign up. All that they need to do is pledge to make small or large changes in the food that they buy, sell, cook or eat, thereby strengthening among other things the local economy, shorter supply chains and environmental sustainability.
The strategy talks of the need to unlock the sector’s potential by looking outwards and inwards. We are going great guns in Angus in terms of businesses that are selling beyond Scotland—in some cases, well beyond Europe—but, alongside that, we are seeking to raise awareness closer to home of what is on offer on our doorstep. With the tourism boost that is expected to follow the opening of the V&A in Dundee, we are gearing up to ensure that visitors to Angus are sampling the best of our food and drink offering, with all the spin-off benefits that that could have.
We are also meeting the continuing challenges that are noted in the document around deepening collaboration, diversifying markets and customer bases, supporting resilience in the sector and driving forward sustainability. Achieving the growth ambitions of the strategy will require all parts of Scotland and every sector to raise their game still further. Angus is ready to do that.
News Release issued by The Food Life
Friday 15th September 2017
The Food Life to hold AGM in a Polytunnel
The Food Life (“TFL”), a cross sectoral partnership of growers, farmers, processors, retailers, restaurants, chefs and food trucks attempting to join up the food system in Angus, is to hold its first AGM on Wed 20th Sept at 7pm in a polytunnel based at the Ashbrook Nursery in Arbroath.
Anne Thomson, TFL ‘s research director, explained.
”We are a wide group of people interested in improving the access to local healthy food in Angus. Having gained support from Angus Leader funding we are keen to build the resources of the group, develop networking and events based around Angus food.
TFL is striving to make the Angus food system work for the good of everyone, businesses and ordinary people alike. The AGM provides a chance for new people to get involved and for us to share our news and activities from the past year and appoint board members.
We often ask ourselves what we can do about the lack of healthy nutritious local food. It affects the lives of everyone in our community, young and old, rich and poor. The Food Life is a movement of people trying to encourage an alternative to what is happening now. We aim to get good, local, seasonal food widely available and affordable to all; in our schools, in the workplace and in our homes.”
Anne went on to say, ”Currently we are running a series of networking events at various venues around Angus.
We plan to make access to local good food easier by communicating where local good food is available. A particular target is to reduce the vast quantity of food wasted each year in our fields and in our homes by finding it a proper use as meals for people.
We are particularly grateful for the support we have received from Angus Leader Programme towards our Project Organiser and we look forward to working with them over the longer term to promote Angus food more widely”.
Information for editors
Members of The Food Life have been working together for the last 18 months on a series of events around Angus, including last year’s traffic stopping Easthaven Beach Launch event and the Arbroath Community Picnic event.
Chaired by Jillian McEwan, founder of FreshFoodExpress.co.uk, members currently include, Arbroath Quality Fish, Ella Drinks, Gather Greengrocers and Sacred Grounds Coffee Co.
For further information please contact email@example.com
The FCA acknowledges the registration of The Food Life (Scotland) Limited under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 as a Community Benefit Society, number: 7510.
Notice of Annual General Meeting
Notice is hereby given that the Annual General Meeting for the Members of The Food Life (Scotland) Limited (the Society) will be held on Wednesday 20th September 2017 at the Ashbrook Nursery, Forfar Rd, Arbroath DD11 3RB at 7pm.
To consider, and if thought fit, approve the following ordinary resolutions:
1. To receive the Chair’s report and Balance Sheet for the present date.
2. To elect the board
3. To appoint such officers as the Board deems appropriate
By Order of the Board
Kathryn Helen Baker Society Secretary
A superb opportunity to shape the future of The Food Life through events which create new connections across the food system and which allow us to network with others also looking to improve our food culture, please come along to
Date & Time
Sept 4th 2017
Sacred Grounds, Unit 15, Arbroath Business Centre
31 Dens Road
Arbroath DD11 1RS
T: 0780 880 6610
Lower Greenhillock, Kirkbuddo, Forfar DD8 2NL
T: 07538 819058
Oct 2nd 2017
Newton Farm Holidays
Newton of Fothringham Farm, Inverarity, Forfar DD8 2JU
T: 01307 820229
Oct 16th 2017
Ella Drinks, Wandershiell, Aldbar, By Brechin DD9 6SY
T: 01356 623115
Please book on https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-food-life-get-togethers-tickets-37092105486
Anyone want more insight, contact Anne or Hilary