Local and Fairtrade Food Talk at Herne Hill Society

Therese Stowell from Local Greens gave a talk with Lynette Aitken from Transition Town Crystal Palace about why buying local and fairtrade is important at the September Herne Hill Society meeting. Val Suebsang wrote an article in the Herne Hill Society magazine Winter issue. Here is the article.

Val Suebsaeng hears about Local Greens and Fairtrade

The Society’s September meeting focused on Fairtrade and initiatives to encourage us to buy local and seasonal produce. We were joined by Therese Stowell of Local Greens (www.localgreens.org.uk) and Lynette Aitken of the Fairtrade Foundation.  During the break, The Bread of Life, based in Barry Road, displayed their Fairtrade wares for sale. 

In May this year, during the short English asparagus season, Sainsbury’s were selling very cheap and appealing asparagus from Peru.  You might think that you were supporting poor farmers from Peru if you bought it, but arguably English asparagus tastes much better because it is fresher, although unfortunately more expensive. We learnt that foreign companies farm on a large scale in Peru – thus enabling the product to be produced very cheaply. Although these farms employ local labour, the same local people are reliant on subsistence farming to meet their own needs and because of these practices the ground water on their own small plots is being depleted.  Not only this, the sale of cheap Peruvian asparagus is putting UK farmers out of business, due to undercutting their prices. 

This example demonstrated the importance of buying all kinds of produce from as local a source as possible. There are increasing opportunities in Herne Hill for us to buy high quality food and other goods locally especially now we have a Farmers Market every Sunday. 

Local Greens is a community run food distribution service which was set up by local people, on a not for profit basis; there are now145 regular customers.  Every week it provides bags of vegetables and salad, sourced from local producers, which are packed up every Thursday, and delivered by electric van to a number of local collection points.  Customers then collect their bag on Thursday or Friday from distribution points in pubs and restaurants in Herne Hill.

Oil is becoming scarcer and yet our Supermarkets are hugely dependent on it for transport, refrigerating storage, and packaging. Ultimately the cost of food will increase if we continue to rely on supermarkets for our supplies, and do not encourage the development of smaller, more local producers.

We were encouraged to buy from local producers, to buy seasonally, to grow our own food, to read labels and ask questions about where the food we eat comes from, to vote with our wallets – our pound is powerful.

The concept of Fairtrade was developed in the Netherlands. We cannot buy everything that we want or need from local producers.  However, if we have to buy products from the rest of the world, and particularly the developing world, we were encouraged to always seek out Fairtrade products, now available widely. The Fairtrade certification means that the product must meet internationally agreed standards.  Most Fairtrade farmers are small scale.  Benefits include the facts that the farmer is paid a fair price, and that the farmer must demonstrate that he is working cooperatively within his/her community.  It is noteworthy that Fairtrade greatly benefits women producers in the developing world. The Fairtrade movement is now international, and is seeking to mainstream all products, so that Fairtrade becomes the norm rather than the exception. These illustrated talks resulted in a lively question and answer session at the end.