Cotswolds producers are making waves when it comes to opening up transparency in the food chain – and cutting food miles. (Hurrah!) Here they explain how…
Who’s tiring of the words ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’? Not us! And, thankfully, not Cotswold producers and restaurateurs, either. This familiar pair are still big buzz words on menus right across the region, indicating chefs are going above and beyond to source responsibly – supporting local farmers, cutting out middlemen, and choosing quality over price. In return, we don’t mind spending a few extra pennies to make sure we know just where our food is coming from.
Yep, nip to the supermarket to buy a pack of mangetout, and – nice though it may be – it’s probably travelled some 4,300 miles to get there. Far better (and tastier) to chomp on some beans grown up the road.
What is ‘gate to plate’?
Pete Tiley, owner of the Salutation Inn, in Ham, Gloucestershire, is passionate about sourcing responsibly and ethically, and defines the ‘gate to plate’ conversation as “about a few things”.
“Firstly, it’s about transparency,” he says. “It’s about having supreme confidence in knowing that what you are selling to your customers has been produced in the very best way possible, and that it has been produced ethically and to a standard that is sustainable, and harms neither the environment nor the consumer.
“I think it’s also a great way to engage the customers, and get them to think about how food should be produced and, when done correctly, how rewarding this is in terms of flavour and experience.”
Pete and his wife Claire produce food and drink for the Salutation Inn using traditional methods, and have a huge amount of fun doing it. They run what they’ve called the ‘ham, egg and chips project’, where they produce themselves all the components of their all-time favourite pub meal. They raise Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, use eggs from their own chickens, and grow the potatoes for the chips. The animals are killed humanely, and apparently nothing beats the eggs and potatoes for flavour. You can even wash it down with a pint of Tiley’s ale from their own brewery.
When it comes to meat, Ben White and Katharina Korinek at Coombe Farm also keep their methods traditional, and the farm has been certified organic since the ’90s. Instead of supplying wholesale to shops and supermarkets, they prefer to cut out the middleman and sell 98% directly to the consumer. They sell the rest of their meat to small caterers and to a company that makes bone broth for them.
Sustainability and ethics mean a lot to the couple. “We draw and purify all of our own water from a spring beneath the site, which is used on our farm, in our dairy processing factory, and then to fertilise our fields,” they explain. “We choose to not even use Soil Association-approved chemicals and pesticides, as the soil is so fertile anyway.
“We are natural, slow growing, and practice exceptional animal welfare. All energy on the site is gathered via our solar fields and paneled roofs – another example of our sustainable efforts. For our boxes we use recycled cardboard, as well as sheep wool, together with reusable ice packs for the insulation.”
For deliveries all around the UK they also use existing delivery routes to keep the carbon footprint as small as possible.
A business case
Minimising food miles and transporting foods without refrigeration ensures lower production costs and produce that is full of flavour. That’s why Cacklebean eggs are so revered in the Cotswolds, say owners Paddy and Steph Bourns. They’re passionate about ‘supplying fresh produce straight from the farm to the customer, with minimal mileage and packaging’.
“We work with a number of national distributors who have the same ethos as our business, supplying top-quality ingredients in the most efficient manner,” they say.
But it’s not just the taste that makes their business a real success, they reckon. “Our customers have bought into the whole concept of Cackleberry Farm – they understand our ethos and the work we do to create our eggs.”
Katharina from Coombe Farm agrees: “People of all ages from all around the UK are interested in organic, healthy, high-quality produce with provenance.
“As well as for health reasons, and the exceptional taste of our products (we’ve won three gold medals at the Taste of the West Awards), our customers appreciate the easy delivery service and knowing where their meat comes from.”
Is it just a trend?
Pete Tiley hopes our interest in shortening the food chain is not just a fad: “Some food trends go in cycles, but it seems that as a society we became so detached from how our food is produced that we were happy leaving it to other people to produce our food in whatever manner they deemed to be the most commercially efficient, totally ignoring ethics or quality,” he says.
“As a result, we’ve had various food scares and scandals, the most recent obvious example being the horse meat scandal, and now there is significant mistrust in how large companies produce our food and drink.
“Thankfully, more recently there has been a strong movement towards local, small producers and people are more than ever interested in farming and food production methods.
“To be able to look your customers in the eye and tell them exactly how that pork chop or pint of beer ended up on their table is incredibly valuable, and I think will continue to be so for a while longer yet.”