As people become more concerned about food miles, it makes sense to buy food produced close to home. And there are plenty of tasty treats to choose from, as Sharon Griffiths reports at the start of British Food Fortnight.

EAT for Britain! You know it makes sense. Which is why we are celebrating British Food Fortnight, to make us appreciate our wonderful home grown delights.

British is good. Every day, hundreds of tons of food are flown or shipped in from all over the world, trundled up and down the country to warehouses and then delivered to supermarkets.

Some of it is necessary, but a lot of it is madness.

How else to explain strawberries from the US or plums from France, chickens from China, all criss-crossing our country?

How much simpler it would be – how much fossil fuel and congestion it would save – if we grew more and imported less. Currently, we produce about 60 per cent of the food we eat.

Recent reports have warned that in the next 20 years, worldwide climate change, population growth and crude oil shortages will mean we will no longer so easily have the entire world as our larder.

Luckily, British-produced food is going through a boom. Many pubs, restaurants, and organisations as varied as the National Trust.

Wembley Stadium, Radio 4 and the Youth Hostel Association will be taking part in British Food Fortnight.

But if British is good, then local is even better.

Let’s face it – a Marks & Spencer quiche or a Sainsbury’s sausage tastes exactly the same whether you buy it in Darlington, Devon or Dundee. Reliable, maybe, but utterly predictable too. And where’s the fun in that?

So much supermarket food is designed to travel well or look good, rather than to taste delicious, that we’ve almost forgotten how good some foods taste when they’ve hardly travelled at all. Much more interesting.

Never has it been so easy to buy good local produce with the real flavour of the area. “It’s a great opportunity to show that food produced in our region ranks among the best in the country,”

says Ian Byatt, North-East chairman of the Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association.

“As farmers, we ‘live local’ all year round, so it’s wonderful to see others focusing on local for British Food Fortnight.”

We have some of the best meat producers and butchers in the country. We are also famous for our cheeses. And some of those were rescued just in the nick of time.

Wensleydale Cheese, at Hawes, was famously rescued by Kit Calvert and is now a huge operation and a tourist attraction too. A few years ago there was just one person making Swaledale cheese to an ancient recipe, and she wanted to retire. Now, Swaledale cheese is safe, successful and winning awards. Then there are Northumberland, Cotherstone, Coverdale, Mrs Bells, and many more, just round here.

Ten years ago, farm shops were a rare breed.

Now we are spoilt for choice. Places such as Mainsgill Farm Shop on the A66 a few miles west of Scotch Corner, where Andrew and Marie Henshaw have proved there really is a huge demand for local food – as their evercrowded car park proves. They’ve won a number of awards, and featured on TV with the Hairy Bikers.

Other shops include Lakeside, near Scorton, Broom Mill, near West Auckland (great sausage and bacon), Burtree, near Darlington, (brilliant puddings), Bradley Burn, near Wolsingham, Broom House and Lowfields, near Durham, and many, many more, large and small.

And that’s not counting places like Lewis and Cooper, in Northallerton, Hunters, of Helmsley, or Weetons, in Harrogate, town centre shops strong on local produce.

WHAT makes all these producers special is their passion for what they do.

Think of jam-makers such as Elspeh Biltoft, of Rosebud Preserves, near Masham, or Lesley and Derek Kettlewell, who make Raydale Preserves in converted farm buildings above Semerwater. That’s our stunning countryside concentrated in a jar.

And what about ice cream from Brymor, near Masham, or Archers, at Walworth, near Darlington?

While so much of our food is standardised and predictable, owing more to science than cookery, local food can also be so gloriously unexpected – such as the former archaeologists in Reeth who make chocolates, or Just William, from Gilling West, near Richmond, who makes most of his jams and chutneys from fruit he gathers in the hedgerows. Or the monks at Ampleforth who have gone from selling apples at the abbey gate to producing their own cider and apple brandy.

Yes, of course, it’s a lot easier to charge round the supermarket every week, buying what you know the family will eat – because they ate it last week and, yawn, the week before – and not wondering where it all comes from.

Time for a change. This is the peak season for British produce. For the next two weeks, try to make a point of buying British.

“Eating British is important if we want our country to maintain some kind of food independence,”

says Jane Gray, from Broom House, where virtually everything in the cafe is locally produced including honey from their own bees. “It’s vital if we want to save traditional breeds of animals and varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Buying British , and local in particular, also ensures we can control the traceability of what we eat.”

Go on. Give it a go. Buy British. Eat local. You might get a taste for it.


1. Britain produces 700 named cheeses – more than France.

2. We grow more than 2,000 varieties of apple.

3. The Bramley apple is still produced from stock taken from the original tree where a pip was planted in the garden of a Mr Bramley in the early 19th Century.

4. Britain’s seasonal climate produces one of the greatest varieties of vegetables in the world.

5. Britain’s meat is of such a high quality that our breeding livestock is sought by farmers around the world.

6. No growth-promoting hormones are allowed in the production of British meat.

7. British pig farmers operate, by law, to standards of welfare higher than those of nearly every other EU member state.

8. 70 per cent of imported pork, bacon and ham is produced from a farming system that would be illegal in Britain.

9. British chicken meat is the safest in Europe.

10. We grow 350 varieties of potato. They are the largest single source of vitamin C in our diet.