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Local and organic food the answer to ‘food deserts’

Date Published: 20/12/2007

Claims of ‘food deserts’ around the UK where consumers cannot easily access fresh fruit and vegetables present an opportunity for farmers to supply their communities, a leading organic body claimed today.

Commenting on new research that identified numerous ‘food deserts’ in towns and the countryside, Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which inspects and licenses organic food and farming, said that fresh food was now more readily available on people’s doorsteps than for many years.

OF&G Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, explained: “We know there are areas suffering from the demise of local grocers but almost the entire country now has access to one or more organic box schemes. The benefits of these are immense. They are an enormous support to farmers and growers, who can sell their produce to their communities. And because they operate on a delivery basis, they cut down road miles food has to travel significantly.

“Organic box schemes still suffer somewhat from a view that they are a luxury available to the well-heeled, but I would suggest that if you priced the contents of the average quality box against the prices in the supermarket, and factored in travel time and cost, they stack up remarkably well – and may even be better value.”

Mr Jacobs’ comments follow the findings of a report by Dr Hillary Shaw, of Harper Adams University College, in Shropshire, which identified pockets of the UK where residents have inadequate access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Dr Shaw discovered that in about 20 per cent of rural areas and 25 per cent of urban areas people would have to walk more than 500 metres to reach shops selling adequate choice of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is thought to contribute to a lack of fresh food in people’s diets.

Mr Jacobs added: “Organic food is already contributing to lower impacts on the land and, hopefully, better returns for the farmer. To have a box dropped at your door on a weekly basis is a joy and the modern box schemes are very professional in terms of quality and customer service.

“Now, through Dr Shaw’s research, we know there may be a problem. But we also know that there is a solution which brings huge benefits to communities. I would urge anyone who struggles to get to a suitable shop to look up their nearest organic box scheme and give it a try.”

Organic Farmers & Growers is one of the UK’s leading certifiers of organic food and farming, inspecting and licensing thousands of organic operations, including many box schemes and the farmers and growers who supply them.