Updated: Mar 8, 2021

A project to roll out click and collect farmers’ markets across Scotland has injected nearly a quarter of a million pounds into the rural economy - helping keep food and drink producers afloat at a critical time for the industry.

Charity Forth Environment Link’s Regional Food Initiative has been a lifeline to over 110 Scottish food and drink producers, giving them a reliable, local route to market at a time when much of industry has shut down or is running at reduced capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Thanks to the project, there are now six NeighbourFood markets running weekly local food collections; from Balfron and Killin in Stirlingshire and Peebles in the Scottish Borders, to Falkland in Fife and the Carse of Gowrie and Blairgowrie in Perthshire.

They follow in the footsteps of Scotland’s first NeighbourFood market, which was set up by Forth Environment Link in Stirling back in 2018. Since then more than 3000 Scots have signed up to shop through the NeighbourFood platform, with around half of those shopping regularly with their local market.

Project Coordinator Stuart Guzinski said: “The NeighbourFood network rose to the challenge of food shortages for thousands of people during the first lockdown in 2020.

“Market hosts across Scotland worked incredibly hard to mobilise volunteers and organise deliveries of food to people shielding or self-isolating in their local communities.

“And if it wasn’t for NeighbourFood, many of Scotland’s small food and drink producers would have lost all of their sales channels overnight as hospitality and face to face selling shutdown.”

The sudden reliance on local food systems last March, meant that many producers had to quickly up their capacity to meet local demand.

Stuart added: “Small producers saw their orders soar, as locals struggled to access food through their normal channels. While that initial surge in interest has settled down a little over the past year, there’s plenty of evidence to show that many people aren’t returning to their old food shopping habits – in Balfron and Blairgowrie order numbers are still three times higher than they were pre-lockdown.”

Producer of authentic, home-made Vegan and Vegetarian Lebanese Cuisine, Florence Gebara from Auchterarder says NeighbourFood has given her business, Simply Flo, security at a time of great uncertainty: “We joined NeighbourFood in lockdown last year and now supply 9 of their markets across Scotland, from Megginch Castle in Perthshire to Falkland in Fife. We love it as it brings us face to face with our customers, in a safe controlled environment, so that they can get to know us and can see the passion that goes into the dishes we create. We’ve gone from 35 orders in our first month with NeighbourFood, to over 250 orders per month!”

Forth Environment Link believes the re-localisation of Scotland’s food systems can play a pivotal part in Scotland’s post Covid-19 recovery, helping tackle climate change by reducing food miles and helping the transition towards fairer more resilient economy.

Thanks to the LEADER funded project, there are now six NeighbourFood markets running weekly local food collections; from Balfron and Killin in Stirlingshire and Peebles in the Scottish Borders, to Falkland in Fife and the Carse of Gowrie and Blairgowrie in Perthshire.

Stuart added: “Lockdown has taught us that click and collect markets like NeighbourFood play a vital role in serving their communities; helping both consumers and producers. Our network was able to supply fresh food to people and provide local businesses with an income only because they acted in community rather than commercial interest; they were supported by an army of volunteers who rallied to the cause. Covid-19 has shown that our local food systems can be incredibly resilient; but they need our ongoing support and investment if we want them to be around in good times and in bad.”

The NeighbourFood market model works on an 80/20 split, with producers keeping the lion’s share of the profit (compared to around 25/75 with supermarkets). Hosts and the platform share the remaining 20%, with some markets choosing to reinvest their profit in emergency food supply during the Covid-19 crisis.

Peebles NeighbourFood host Robin Tatler said: “When the pandemic hit last March, we accelerated our plans to open, giving local people access to local produce in a safe and accessible way. Since then, we’ve grown to offer over 300 local products a week, supporting 14 local producers and suppliers and have over 600 members. Thanks to revenue from the market, we were able to run a daily ‘meals on wheels’ service to people shielding, isolated, house-bound or vulnerable due to Covid-19. Between March and October, we delivered over 11,000 meals.”

With climate emergency, a diet related health crisis, inequality widening and Covid-19 disrupting food supplies, can ‘quaint’ local food save the world? NeighbourFood Founder Jack Crotty thinks so. He said: “When we buy the tastiest food we can, the rest falls into place. Local food is fresher, it’s in season and it’s going to have higher nutritional value. It’s supporting the environment, the local economy and building a more resilient food system that’ll still be available the next time supply chains are disrupted. Ultimately, it is good value for the fair price paid, and encourages people to value food more and waste less, making the alternatives we have become used to seem like a lesser quality choice.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about setting up a NeighbourFood market near you

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