Why should I buy and eat local?

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1. A local food renaissance

When I was growing up on a farm in 1970s Northern Ireland - eating local produce was really our only choice.

As a result of the Troubles, Northern Ireland was slow to embrace the highly processed and industrially manufactured foods that dominated the British food landscape from the late 1960s. However the arrival of the major supermarkets allowed Northern Ireland to catch up with the rest of the UK. The ‘plain food’ that we had grown up with was now eclipsed by the exotic fruits, vegetables, spices and cuisines that Northern Irish people were sampling on their frequent travels abroad.

This celebration of food from outside of Northern Ireland at the expense of local homegrown produce, however, now appears to have come full circle. Local chefs, food writers and restaurateurs are now embracing and contributing to Northern Ireland's food revolution deciding to cook, savour and celebrate the food on their doorsteps.

2. What's in it for me?

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Shopping and cooking local undoubtedly takes a bit more thought and planning. Here are some of the reasons why it might be worth the additional effort.

3. Know your seasons?

In Northern Ireland lush pastures, a temperate climate and plentiful rainfall contribute to what can be produced at certain times of the year.

However, because of the year-round availability of most foods on our shelves we could be forgiven for confusing or forgetting about the seasons entirely. A recent BBC Good Food study found that only 5% of those polled could correctly pinpoint when blackberries are ready for picking. And this despite over 86% professing to believe in the importance of seasonality. When making the decision to eat local honing in on what’s actually in season is probably the first step.

Challenged to eat only locally for a week, families involved in my Doorstep Challenge quickly became very aware of the role that the seasons play in their fruit consumption. Although lamenting their lack of family staples such as bananas they acknowledged that buying seasonable produce made them think and cook much more creatively and opened their eyes to the taste of fresh local ingredients.

4. How easy is it to source and eat local?

Over 170 restaurants in Northern Ireland have signed up to the Taste of Ulster charter. This emphasis on cooking local, seasonal produce is paying dividends – recently two Northern Irish restaurants were awarded coveted Michelin stars.

Ox Restaurant Belfast

A recent survey by one of the major UK supermarkets found that two-thirds of customers in Northern Ireland feel that local food is very important. Many supermarkets stock more than 1000 local products and claim they want to maintain this commitment.

BBC

Farmers' markets are on the rise in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Studies revealed that customers feel ‘empowered’ and ‘fulfilled’ by the experience and they can also be an economical way of sourcing fresh seasonal produce – direct from source.

BBC

The number of artisan producers in NI has risen dramatically. One delicatessen employee was so passionate about the products he sold that he went from cheese enthusiast to maker - crowd sourcing his way to producing NI’s only raw milk blue cheese.

There are a number of vegetable box schemes in Northern Ireland and over 600 in the UK in total. Without ever having to leave the comfort of their homes, customers receive a box of fruit and vegetables weekly that usually varies according to season.

Alamy

Foraging has become a popular way for people to source local produce. As well as providing a free and bountiful source of fruit, fungi and vegetables it allows people to build an awareness of their local environment.

Alamy

Many people are opting to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Apart from the economic benefits, growing your own can reduce stress and is a good form of exercise. It also allows growers to get more in tune with the seasons and eat their five a day.

Getty

5. Good food culture

Can producing and eating local food help the wider community?

Hospitals

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Yes

Healthcare trusts that have made a commitment to sourcing local produce and making fresh healthy meals have reported an increase in patient recovery times.

Prisons

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Yes

Some UK prison rehabilitation schemes that allow prisoners to grow vegetables and look after animals have reduced the reoffending rates of inmates.

Schools

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Yes

Schools are successfully using school growing schemes and visits to local farms to teach children about food cycles and healthy eating.

Villages

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Yes

The village of Todmorden has transformed local food production in the area and aims to be entirely self-sufficient by 2018.