'From muddy fields to school canteens'

Scottish school plates seem a sensible destination for Scottish vegetables, and yet only a third of the tatties and carrots (amongst other veg) in schools in Edinburgh and the Lothians currently comes from Scottish farms.

A Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group is forming to explore how to increase this proportion in Edinburgh, the Borders and East and West Lothian, with a view to passing on any solutions to interested local authorities across Scotland.

The group will be made up of school caterers who design menus; local authority procurement and economic development officers; vegetable wholesalers; farmers and members of Soil Association Scotland’s Food for Life team, who run a Scottish Government-funded programme to get ‘good food’ into schools.

What is good food?

“What we mean by good food is food that’s good for health, for the economy and the environment,” says Food for Life Scotland programme manager Sarah Duley. “Shorter supply chains bring people closer to the source of their food, reduce food miles and keep money in the local area.

“We want to look at what isn’t being bought locally by Scottish schools but could be – and one of those is vegetables. In terms of red meat, for example, Food for Life Scotland schools have increased Scottish supply hugely. RISS is a fantastic vehicle for bringing together the actors in local vegetable supply, exploring the barriers and working out how to overcome them.”

Picture: Food starts in a muddy field

"We are passionate about local supply"

Mike Robertson is a member of the group and general manager at George Anderson and Sons wholesalers, which currently supplies six Scottish local authorities with vegetables for schools. He says: “We are passionate about local supply, and 65% of all our produce is sourced in Scotland, but we’re always looking to increase that.

“Lots of Scottish growers supply the multiples [supermarkets] but as we take a smaller amount sometimes isn’t worth the hassle for them. So if we can look at how to make that easier for farmers that would be brilliant. I can sometimes piggy back on growers supplying the multiples by taking crates of cabbages without packaging, for instance. And my vans are out anyway so we could pick up at more places. I just came across a tomato grower in the Borders who was sending everything to multiples down South, but now he’s supplying me as well.”

Announcing Food for Life Scotland programme funding as part of Scotland Food and Drink’s Ambition 2030 last year, Rural Economy Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing, said: “These new measures will put local sourcing at the heart of many public sector supply chains, meaning that more people around Scotland will be able to enjoy our locally-produced, fresh food.”

Bringing the right people together

Innovation manager at Soil Association Scotland, Colleen McCulloch, who is facilitating the group, says: “By bringing the right people together RISS can find solutions to problems just like this. It’s a great way of joining up the good local authority work that Food for Life Scotland are doing with the local farmers, wholesalers, and, indeed, anyone who can help us streamline this process that starts in a muddy field and ends in a school canteen.”

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