Suffolk: Local food network is praised - but challenges remain

A LOCAL food campaigner has praised the strength of Suffolk’s independent producers - but warned significant challenges still remain.

Lady Caroline Cranbrook was speaking after a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) called on the government to protect East Anglia’s food growers and shops from the damage caused by superstores and multiple chains. The five year study, “From field to fork: the value of England’s local food webs”, surveyed 19 towns and cities across the country and is based on Lady Cranbrook’s earlier research in Suffolk.

It calls for swift action to level the playing field for small producers and shops through measures including changes to planning law to protect high streets.

Lady Cranbrook said she thought Suffolk’s position was healthy but warned that large chains seemed to be targeting market towns.

She said the county had a large number of local producers - vital to communities and the Suffolk economy - that supplied local stores as well as hotels and restaurants with high quality ingredients.

“It is a virtuous circle, of which small shops are at the heart,” she said. “I think the future is bright but there is a danger that local producers become strangled by regulation. Planning laws could also be strengthened to protect the high street.”

Lady Cranbrook also said the good work in the county must continue as local food webs were going to become increasingly important.

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“Maybe not in my lifetime but the countries where we currently get our ‘all year round’ produce are no longer food abundant,” she said. “It won’t last and local, seasonal produce will be vital. We will become more reliant on our local networks.”

Lady Cranbrook started investigating the importance of local food producers in the late 1990s. Since then she has been a passionate advocate and offered expert advice in a number of high profile reports and campaigns.

Among retailers highlighted for praise in the CPRE report is the East of England Co-op, which is a staunch supporter of local producers.

Kevin Warden, the retailer’s local sourcing manager, said: “Here in East Anglia we are surrounded by quality food being grown and produced locally, which is a crucial part of the regional economy. We felt it was important to bring back the connection between our members and customers and where food comes from.”

A Government spokeswoman said they were keen to see independent retailers thrive and the national planning policy framework underlined that businesses in rural communities should be free to expand.