Wednesday, 10 March 2010

How can we eat sustainably in Diss?

I’ve always loved my food, even though I’m not a gourmet and only an adequate cook. I appreciate having really good meals, especially together with friends, and I am fortunate that this happens to me quite regularly. It happens especially in Transition related events, and for me that is one of the best parts of being active in the Transition movement.

Thus it was natural for me to want a more sustainable food supply for myself and my community. So, as I have become increasingly active in my local community here in Diss, much of that activity has been related to food.

A group formed a few years ago to promote the best of local food, the Waveney Valley Food Group, so I joined the committee. It was a very energetic group, that put on an event every month for a few years. We visited a local organic farm, a strawberry farm, a vineyard where we had a tour then a meal, and we took any excuse to hold a public meal in Diss.

As an extension of that group, we set up a Diss chapter of the international Slow Food movement, and for a while, the two groups put on a range of joint events.

There was the ‘gourmet feast’ in the Angel Cafe, where 65 people squeezed into a small room behind the cafe for a fine meal and entertainment by the Lizzy Smith Band. There were Thanksgiving Feasts in the Diss Corn Hall. I arranged with good caterers for several public meetings.

We held a ‘supermarket debate’ chaired by our local MP, Richard Bacon, with several speakers, including a farmer who described his problems supplying supermarkets, and I described a possible ‘Open Food Co-op for Diss’.

Our monthly Farmers Market was quite moribund, with only a few stalls, so we set up a Farmers Market Support Group. It got a small grant with which it bought roadside signs and banners. It puts up posters and puts out a press release every month, and gives a subsidy to a busker. And we went out recruiting more stalls. The Farmers Market is much more vibrant now.

Finally, I have helped put on a few fairs and festivals. There was the Food and Crafts Fair on the Green in 2006 and the Taste of Diss Festival of Local Food in 2008, and now about to run again in June 2010.
Now the question becomes, what has all this meant for me personally? Do I now have a supply of food that I consider sustainable?

The short answer is ‘no’. Yes, I have helped put on many events that I and lots of other people have enjoyed, and most of them included some great eating. That has contributed to the raising of local consciousness about local food, sustainable food, organic food.

Our main supply of vegetables is from an organic box scheme, but that isn’t particularly local. Some of it is regional, which is about the best we seem to be able to do.

During the 2008 Taste of Diss, we found that most of the better local restaurants claimed to be using local ingredients. In practice, many were buying from a local distributor who we visited. He had once sourced locally, but now could no longer do so. There just aren’t many vegetables grown around Diss. He sends a lorry to London a few times a week. And while there is a lot of local quality meat, it is generally fed on feeds that compete with land for human use, and often include GM soya from abroad.

I’m quite envious of my Norwich friends, who claim to be able to get genuinely local food at the market, from box schemes, and who are now working on large community supported agriculture (CSA) schemes and other activities.

There is a small group in Diss that are interested in these issues. We have been looking for land for a CSA for some time, but without success.

So there is still a lot of unfinished business around here regarding food. At least I can console myself by enjoying all those shared means with my Transition friends and others.

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