In May 2017 I set myself a 90 day challenge to buy all my food (eating in and out) from local independent retailers, at the end of the 90 days it had made such an impact on me that I committed to continuing supporting my local suppliers indefinitely. A year later I’m proud to confirm that the majority of my food is bought from local farms and shops, with the odd, rare visit to a supermarket. When eating out we chose independent bars and restaurants, and about 80% of my food budget is spent with independents.
It’s interesting for me to look back, particularly on the 90 day piece, which was quite raw, and very honest about why I set myself the challenge. I genuinely cannot believe how much has changed since then, not least the kitchen I cook in has been totally transformed. In September we started a massive house renovation project, including an extension, knocking internal walls down, and a new kitchen. We are getting there now, the kitchen is nearly done, the driveway was finished this week, and the work is about to start on the garden, I am finally seeing a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and there is significantly less dust in the air. At the start of the challenge I photographed the contents of my fridge and cupboards, and I’ve done the same for comparison, but I’m more interested in the state of my cupboards than the contents!
When I left the family business last year I was unsure what I wanted to do, I had a load of experience from growing the business, I loved food, and I was fascinated by how food affects our mood and our health. My husband has been super supportive and wanted me to take time to rediscover myself and not to rush into creating a new career until I had some distance and vision. Unfortunately, taking time and sitting back does not come naturally to me, and so I concentrated on distracting myself with the house renovation, writing my blog, recipe testing and doing an Advanced Diploma and Nutrition and Weight Management. That has finally morphed into my new business HillStart Nutrition and Wellness. It’s early days, but the business is growing and there are people in my life now who’ve only ever know me as a nutritional adviser. I am loving the fact that I am doing something I have a real passion for, and helping others feel healthier and happier as a result
One of the biggest tips I give my clients is to be prepared, and that definitely applies to shopping locally. If I visit the supermarket it is usually because I have been underprepared, luckily that isn’t that often because my freezer is filled with frozen meals that I can whip out in times of need (although I will admit that it is often a case of pot-luck supper as I’m not so great at labelling as I am at cooking). When I do go to the supermarket, particularly when I’m hungry (yes big mistake) I cannot believe how much stuff I buy. I spend less on food now that I did previously and I think that’s because there simply isn’t as much distraction at the farm shop that there is in the supermarket – yesterday I went into Waitrose for dinner (we were going to eat out and then were too tired), I managed to spend £35, and yes I did get a nice organic chicken for dinner, but I also bought several ready prepared sides, some crisps that were on offer, a garlic bread that was on offer……….
Shopping locally also means eating seasonally, I like to try different recipes and try new things, so I relish the challenge of having to adapt and change meals around what is in my weekly veg box or what is available at the farm shop, I must be honest and say that by the beginning of April I was pretty fed up with eating root vegetables, but now that we are in the middle of May and I’m enjoying locally asparagus, new potatoes and even the first of the poly tunnel strawberries that is a distant memory. I love having a chat with local food suppliers about what is good to cook today and discussing recipe ideas, and for me, part of the joy of using local suppliers is that they know me, and will recommend things that they think I will like. I can appreciate that it’s a bit daunting for less adventurous cooks, and it’s not always possible to go with a shopping list and get everything you had planned. I hope that my recipes and Instagram posts give some inspiration.
Just like everyone else has their favourite supermarket, I have my favourite farm shops, and it depends where I am and what I want as to which ones I go, I’ve included links at the bottom of the article for the ones I use most so that you can give them a try. I also cannot talk about shopping locally without mentioning the Food Assembly, this franchise is available in lots of areas and so please take a look to see if you have one near you: it is a bit like an online farmers market and the closest I’ve been able to get to being able to order your weekly shopping online. I also like that they allow the producers to set their own prices and list what is available and tasting good at the moment, whilst only charging them a small percentage.
My commitment to shopping locally has cascaded into all areas of my (and my husbands life) if he buys me flowers he will make sure he goes to the independent florist; our home extension has been worked on entirely by local independent tradesmen and the materials bought from independent merchants. I am only human, and if I fancy cheese on toast at 9pm on a Friday night then I will take a drive to the 24hr supermarket to get a loaf of bread, and I will buy that book that I’ve just read a review for from Amazon and expect it delivered to me tomorrow. However, I love taking time to have a chat to the butcher about what I’m planning on cooking this week and talking to the baker about what varieties of bread he is testing.
I hope my journey has encouraged you to think about where you spend your hard earned pounds, and I will leave you with a sobering fact, for every pound you spend locally 63p of that stays in the local economy as opposed to 40p with larger businesses, that’s 50% more of your money.
My favourite shops: