Posted by: Mike Grenville | 4 November 2009

Sowing the Future In Forest Row

Autumn is the time of harvest festivals and an increased focus on food. Along with British Food and Biodynamic Food fortnights, Transition Forest Row in East Sussex held its first Local Food Week.

Autumn is the time of harvest festivals and an increased focus on food. Along with British Food and Biodynamic Food fortnights, Transition Forest Row in East Sussex held its first Local Food Week.

Transition Forest Row Business Breakfast. photo by Mike Grenville
Events included a wild tea party, talks, chicken chat, a food preserving workshop and seed sowing. Local caterers and food producers were invited for a business breakfast in the Community Centre to encourage them to offer more local food.

The potential sales benefits were underlined by a survey Transition conducted in the village which found that 92% would be prepared to pay more for locally grown food. For a village with two bio-dynamic farms and a market garden it was encouraging that 60% of respondents said that organic was the most importnat factor when choosing food.

Local A Key USP

In these uncertain economic times, Steven Price from Grub Cafe & Music Bar emphasised the benefit of using local suppliers at the breakfast; “Having personal relationships with suppliers has helped support each other with terms at difficult credit times which you can’t do with a wholesale supplier” he said.

Steven said that 21 of the 29 suppliers that Grub Cafe uses are within 30 miles which he saw as a key USP of the cafe. “75% of our turnover goes back into the local economy” he said.

Transition Forest Row recently produced a Local Food Guide that listed food suppliers and producers in a 10 mile radius. “We have included a couple from a few miles further away for special or unusual produce” said Rowena Moore, one of the producers of the guide. “All are, to the best of our knowledge, traditional-type modest scale farms and producers that care about issues such as animal welfare and give back to their communities in different ways. When we started the directory we also aimed to include restaurants and caf├ęs who promoted local food but they proved scarcer on the ground than we had expected (and scarcer than in many other towns and villages)”.

Can Forest Row Feed Itself?
Tamzin Pinketon talks in Forest Row village hall
The focus of a talk in the village hall was the question Can Forest Row Feed Itself? Author Tamzin Pinkerton of the just published book ‘Local Food’, pointed out how with long food chains we have become detached from the food we eat. “Food is a relationship” she said, “that includes connections between us from bees to fruit trees, farms and the local economy.” She said one way that farmers in Japan are trying to connect with customers is by putting the face of the farmer on the food they sell!

The initial results of an analysis of both the amount of food consumed and the food currently produced locally were presented by Peter Brinch. He estimated for example that with current production from forty cows, Plaw Hatch Farm could supply the dairy needs of 13% of the needs of the village. Around 13% of vegetables consumed are currently locally grown.

There were several immediate challenges that Peter identified to increasing the amount of local food. Firstly how can we encourage more local farmers to produce food for the community and local shops. Equally households need to change their shopping habits and ask for locally produced food. “A mutual dependence and trust between farmer.producer and consumer will need to be established” he said.

Ready to Plant Seeds

Ready to plant seeds on Plaw Hatch Farm

“It may be possible for Forest Row to feed itself” Peter concluded, ” but it would be a challenge.” The research can be downloaded here: Can Forest Row Feed Itself?

The evening concluded with a World Cafe that tackled questions such as how to start a farmers market, a local box scheme and how to get more people to grow their own vegetables.

The week ended with a picnic and a unique opportunity to sow a field by hand with a locally grown bread wheat variety of seed called Hereward Farm. With a small number of seed companies now dominating the market who focus on F1 Hybrid seeds that cannot be saved, our bio diversity is under threat. Growing open pollinating seeds which can reproduce and by learning how to save seeds will be key to building community resilience and enabling us to feed ourselves in the future.

(A shorter version of this article is published in Positive News)



  1. I think all foods should have where they were produced so the consumer can make a choice not based by brand.

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