Dr Rachel Marshall (a knowledge exchange fellow at Lancaster University and an active member of the FoodFutures network) explores why local food is about much more than reducing food miles.
From the empty shelves in supermarkets to the rising number of people needing to access food support (from food banks for example); the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how fragile and unfair our current food system is.
The UK has become too reliant on food supplied by multinational corporations through long supply chains, leaving us vulnerable to future challenges (including pandemics and the climate emergency).
Developing our local food systems can improve our resilience to these challenges whilst providing a whole range of other benefits. 
By shortening our food supply chains and keeping things local, we can build connections between eaters and growers – increasing our understanding of where food comes from and its various impacts. By building these local connections, we stop transferring environmental costs of food production overseas. By building our relationships with local farmers and growers, we are also supported in imagining the possibility of becoming food producers ourselves.  
A local food economy can also create more jobs across the food system – in farming, distribution and retail.
Spending in local food outlets can support three times the number of jobs than at national retailers and ‘pound for pound’, returns more to the local economy in North Lancashire when compared with supermarkets. 
Long supply chains involve an extensive network of retailers, processors and producers – each needing a cut of the final sales price. UK farmers typically receive 5-6% of the total sales price of products. Buying direct from farmers ensures they are getting a fairer income. Local food systems can facilitate this in a range of ways and we can support producers around the world by buying direct through schemes such as Crowdfarmer.   
Although we could produce more food within urban areas, we will always need to source food from rural communities. The food zones model- developed by Growing Communities in London- is a useful tool for thinking through how much fresh produce we can grow in North Lancashire to feed local residents, and what we might have to source elsewhere.
However local food is neither inherently sustainable, nor fair. The type of food, how it is produced, and how workers and animals are treated is key for determining this.
As FoodFutures shapes a local food strategy for North Lancashire we will consider what is needed to create a healthy, fair and resilient food system both locally and globally.
To learn more and take part in our visioning activities, go to foodfutures.org.uk/10-year-strategy

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