Friday 25 January 2013

30 Miles for 30 Days - The Story of an East Anglian Diet

Last September Transition Ipswich and Woodbridge launched a challenge to themselves and local groups -  could they source everything we eat locally? Lucy Drake writes about their experiences on a seriously low-carbon diet:
Like most Transition projects, it started with a ‘Why don’t we … ?’ conversation. This one during a tea break at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, the CSA on the edge of Ipswich, which itself grew from a similar conversation.  Inspired by the efforts of Greener Framlingham] another Suffolk Transition group who had organised a Local Food Challenge the year before, and others such as in Fife, Tweed Green and the New Forest, a small group of us started planning in the autumn of 2011. Almost immediately we were joined by Transition Woodbridge, our nearest neighbours. Both realised the benefits of working together – especially as numbers in our original organising group shrank as the months went by.

’30 Miles for 30 Days’ had a nice ring to it, but we had no idea how feasible it would be or how much interest we would generate. We decided early on that we should try to appeal to as many people as possible, use the Challenge as an awareness raising exercise (both for local food and Transition Ipswich) but above all make it do-able and fun. For many people even one local meal would be a challenge, though we allowed everyone 3 Wildcard foods. Even so, we would need to put together enough easily accessible information to make it easy for people.  We set up a Challenge website with our news, events, blogs and an interactive directory of local retailers, producers and places to eat out.  We see this as an on-going resource, and one that can grow to include much more information.

We also wanted to get the Challenge ‘out on the streets’ with an eye-catching, good quality information leaflet. Lack of money delayed things initially but a grant from The East of England Co-op and a generous private donation covered the design costs – a reduced rate was offered by a member of Greener Fram – and then the pressure was on to raise enough money by the end of July through sponsorship from the businesses listed to cover the print costs of 6,000 folded A3-sized leaflets.

Fortunately the fact that about 40% of our circle was in the North Sea was more than made up for by enough ‘local food businesses’ in the remaining area willing to part with £25 each. We raised the required sum in 6 weeks and had enough money over to print some Local Food Champion window stickers to present to them along with the leaflets. Making contact with the businesses in this way – and all of the other Transition Groups within our 30-mile radius -was a really positive part of the exercise and forged some good bonds for the future.  The leaflets got distributed far and wide. Someone even reported overhearing a conversation about it in a hospital waiting room.
At the same time we were firming up on a programme of events for September. These were a mix of things we were organising ourselves, such as building a clay oven [Image2], using it to have a pizza party, a showing of the In Transition 2.0 movie, a food foraging walk and local food cookery evenings; events we persuaded others to put on as part of our Challenge such as a veg growing course at Ipswich’s Peoples' Community Garden, farm walks and open days; and things that were already happening locally that month such as a farm shop Food Tasting weekend and a talk to Ipswich Organic Gardeners. Altogether it looked an impressive programme.

Throwing ourselves into publicity, and using all the contacts we had, we secured four appearances on local radio, including an on-air munch of local produce, and a 3-page colour spread in the county daily newspaper.  I never knew so many of my friends read it!

Probably our most successful events, in terms of people clamouring for more, were four Cook Local evenings, held at the WI demonstration kitchen in Ipswich. This was a well-equipped venue with space for 12 people to cook and eat together. The first, pasta-making, gave everyone a chance to discover how easy it was with local flour, eggs and rape seed oil, especially if instructed by someone who knew what they were doing! [Image 3] An old-fashioned clothes airer proved perfect for drying the strips of pasta while we cooked up 5 or 6 sauces from local ingredients, then somehow found space for a damson and plum desserts.  Vegetarian, beef and game evenings were on successive weeks.

We are lucky in Suffolk to have a lot of excellent local food suppliers and almost everything we needed could be sourced within 10 miles, but for some things, and certainly for the best quality and choice, we had to drive out of Ipswich to get it. Most notably for butter – we were determined to make an apple pie! We really appreciated Marybelle at Halesworth as one of the very few remaining local suppliers of milk, cream and yoghurt.  They do doorstep deliveries in Ipswich but they didn’t do butter.  Through the wonders of the web we tracked down Domini Dairy a small family business, just over 30 miles away in Norfolk. Kirsty and I were heading north to pick up a selection of traditional apples from a grower and attend Sustainable Bungay’s Happy Mondays meal. A few phone calls led to an assignation on a village green in N Suffolk where blocks of frozen butter were transferred from one cool-bag to another. It certainly felt like precious contraband - and a lot of other people had put in orders once they had heard where we were going.

Access to local food was perhaps the biggest challenge, as well as accepting a different and more time consuming way of shopping, visiting several small outlets.  But if you had the time it was more fun, and more people-centred.  And if you were cooking for large numbers it became more manageable, suggesting that group or community buying and eating makes sense as resources become scarcer – and certainly more enjoyable.

On a personal level, I ate extremely well with lots of fresh foods and very little waste. For the first couple of weeks I struggled without my breakfast banana, but the craving disappeared when I made a chewy museli bake (one of my wild cards) to substitute: scarcity leading to invention! In many ways shopping became easier. As almost all supermarket food was excluded there was no point in going into them and getting tempted by things I didn’t need so I definitely saved money this way. Some basics, such as cheese, butter and meat were more expensive so I either did without, used less or bulked them out with other things. Doing the Challenge in September meant there were plenty of alternatives if you knew where to find them, and doing it with other people meant that we were sharing tips and sources.

It is difficult to say how ‘successful’ it was. But we certainly got our message out there, ate well, had fun and created enough momentum for most of the Suffolk Transition Groups to say ‘Let’s work together on a County-wide Challenge for 2013’.  We’ve started planning!  

Lucy Drake (Transition Ipswich)

Originally posted during a week about Transition initiatives in East Anglia on the Social Reporting Project (edited Mark Watson)

Images: Our Leaflet by Sally & Jem at www.wearedrab.netClay oven building and Pasta making by Lucy Drake

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