Norwich area 'could feed itself'

Sarah HallNorwich could feed itself entirely from crops grown within six miles of the city centre, claims a new report which throws down the gauntlet for a radical change in where we get our food from.Sarah Hall

Norwich could feed itself entirely from crops grown within six miles of the city centre, claims a new report which throws down the gauntlet for a radical change in where we get our food from.

A newly developed food plan for Norwich attempts to make the case that a lack of storage and processing facilities around the city prevents crops being grown locally from being turned into food for local people.

It says vegetables grown in Norfolk do not make it onto the shelves of local shops and calls for a switch to grow-your-own crops and a revival of market gardening around the city to help cut down on the number of miles food travels before it ends up on our plates.

The food plan has been drawn up by East Anglia Food Link (EAFL), a Long Stratton-based not-for-profit organisation set up in 1997, for Transition Norwich - which is trying to create sustainable communities.

EAFL says its research of where local food can be sold through existing outlets - such as supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants and pubs - is 'very limited'.

They say more than 60pc of Norwich's bread comes from London and Hertfordshire, and, while independent butchers in the city do sell a high proportion of local meat, independent greengrocers generally do not sell that many local vegetables.

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EAFL has applied for lottery cash to set up four projects in Norwich to show what the future might hold - including the building of a flour mill in the city and a three acre school farm at the Hewett School.

Tully Wakeman, EAFL co-ordinator, who will present the findings of the research before county councillors tomorrow said: 'We are coming at this from the point of view of resilience.

'Oil supply seems to have peaked already but we have built ourselves a food system which depends on all this transport.

'A problem is that the local food sector has focused on meat and reducing the food miles on that, but in terms of arable crops, economies of scale mean that it is the supermarkets which they are sold to, not local shops.'

Mr Wakeman said the calculation that, in theory, Norwich could feed itself from a six mile radius was based on DEFRA definitions of land use, which showed there may be 16,000 hectares of arable land and nearly 5,000 hectares of grass around Norwich's hinterland.

It made on the assumption that there would be a switch away from eating so much meat and dairy products, instead relying on arable crops for nutrients.

He said: 'It is interesting to ask that if Norwich were to feed itself, could it? I started by identifying a hinterland and asking what sort of farmland have we got, and if we grew crops with organic rotation, would it be enough?'

His tentative conclusion was, for a basic diet - providing the necessary nutrients - 2,250 calories would be produced each day, which would be enough to sustain the 233,000 people in Norwich and its hinterland.

But that would also require a seismic shift in our approach to food, with a need for people to grow their own vegetables and for small scale crop growing to be resurrected.

EAFL is also hoping to secure lottery cash for four projects in Norwich.

One is the creation of a three-acre market garden at the Hewett School, which could be up and running in the summer and might eventually supply the school's kitchen.

Another is the setting up of a flourmill to supply local artisan bakers and wholefood shops, while another is the launch of a supply network to ensure beans and oats grown in the Norwich area can be processed locally and sold through wholefood shops.

And the fourth is for a community-supported agriculture scheme, based just outside the city at Postwick, which could produce organic seasonal vegetables for 200 members.

Brian Finnerty, spokesman for the National Farmers Union, said it was good to see initiatives such as those set up, but took issue with the claim that locally produced food does not find its way onto dinner tables around Norwich.

He said: 'Local food has become a very strong sector and research by IGD showed around a third had specifically bought locally produced food in the past month.

'There is strong demand for local food and that's why we are seeing supermarkets encouraging local produce and putting farmer's faces on the bag.

'There are some really good initiatives going on with local food, such as with the Tastes of Anglia initiative.'

On the idea that Norwich could feed itself from within six miles of the city centre, Mr Finnerty said: 'I just don't think we see that as a goer.

'We have to make the best use of the farmland we have got and some of the best in Britain is in Norfolk and needs to be used in the best way it can.'