We're trying to light a fire under school meals. If you stopped a random person in the street and asked “should Cornish schools be serving Cornish produce in their canteens?” we suggest that the answer would be a virtually unanimous “yes”. The reality, unfortunately, is very different and that’s something we are trying to change.
As part of our Trade Development remit, where we work on behalf of the whole Cornish food and drink sector rather than a specific business, we have decided to dedicate some time, energy and resource to seeing if we can really effect some change in the volume of Cornish produce used by the public sector in Cornwall.
Cornwall has bountiful supplies of dairy produce, meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables – if any county can maximise the amount of locally sourced product available to the public sector it should be Cornwall.
While there is a healthy food agenda in our schools (in no small measure due to the campaigning of Jamie Oliver), there are numerous structural reasons why Cornish schools do not use as much local food as they could (or should). Chief among these is that on the Headteacher’s list of priorities the provision of the school meals service is often one activity where the criteria ‘easiest solution’ is the most important. With the huge and varying pressures on Heads it is easy to understand why that would be, and there are some very professional providers in the marketplace offering a ‘one-stop’ solution. Our challenge, as the representatives of the Cornish food and drink industry, is to help provide a local solution for schools which will enable them to make a better choice; this involves several areas of activity: -
- Talking to Heads, school business and catering managers, and school cooks, to inform them of the local options available, but also to find out where the obstacles are from their point of view, what is stopping them sourcing locally.
- Talking to Cornish suppliers about whether their offering is appropriate to schools and helping them get ready to meet the schools purchasing criteria.
- Making the schools aware of the added-value brought by using local suppliers, from cross-curriculum links and learning opportunities to employment opportunities and long-term economic benefits.
- Lobbying policy makers from local and national government, standards and certification agency like the Food for Life scheme run by the Soil Association, and lobbying public procurement officials who sometime also take the easiest option in spite of the long term benefits of doing otherwise.
- Most importantly, bringing the various parties together through our understanding of who is doing what to help turn words into action and to build awareness of food, food production, provenance so that the next generations are making much more informed choices.
At Cornwall Food and Drink we are unique in that we are run as a business, for business, but our day to day activity can include taking the time and effort to pursue avenues which the producer/manufacturer businesses who make up our membership do not have time to pursue themselves.