Keeping it local during British Food Fortnight

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DISHES of the fluffiest, creamiest mashed potato or the sweetest, tastiest swede are enough to melt even the hardest of hearts.

DISHES of the fluffiest, creamiest mashed potato or the sweetest, tastiest swede are enough to melt even the hardest of hearts.Because who doesn't love good old-fashioned English grub? During British Food Fortnight, Hannah Gray and Jemma Walton spoke to some of the people who put the "great" into Great British food...

CONSUMERS' growing interest in locally produced food is not just a boost for Rosemary Morton's business but it helps make her job more rewarding too.

A few years ago, the farm based at Scotsman's Lodge in Helpston Heath run by Rosemary, her husband, brother and son, was struggling financially.

Rosemary came up with idea of converting an old granary at the farm into a farm shop.

Willow Brook Farm Shop, opened four years ago and this diversification has gone from strength to strength, even winning an award from the Countryside Alliance last year.

The farm covers 1,700 acres and produces arable crops including wheat, barley, oilseed rape, peas, beans and sugarbeet, and also rears livestock from which meat is sold at the shop and at famers' markets.

Rosemary believes people like the traceability of buying meat from the person who has reared the animal and knows all about the conditions it has lived in, and this in turn gives her job satisfaction.

She said: "I think one of the nicest things and most rewarding is that you meet the customers – the end user of your product.

"People are very very interested where their food comes from now.

"I can stand there and tell them exactly how the animals have been looked after, what they've been fed (which a lot of them like to know) and that's very rewarding."

According to Rosemary, there has been a noticeable increase in interest in where and how food is produced, and a definite leaning towards consumers sourcing their food locally.

She said: "I notice this in the shop and at markets. The number of people who say 'I don't buy my meat from supermarkets any more because I like full traceability'.

"I think the food programmes which have been on TV these last couple of years have done a lot of good, they've promoted British food.

"It's made people sit up and take note.

"The public are very interested in how the animals are kept and looked after."

So why do people like British food?

Rosemary said: "It's produced to a very very high standard. I think we have some of the highest standards in the world in as much as full traceability and there's the issue of food miles.

"It's spending money in their own environment and their own country."

Celebrity chefs have helped pick-your-own businesses

HOW many times have you seen Delia or Nigella crushing cranberries or roasting rhubarb and rushed out to the shops to get your order in?

Paddy Ivens has been running Hill Farm, Chesterton – a pick-your-own farm – for the past 30 years, and has noticed that whenever a telly chef mentions a certain ingredient, sales of it go through the roof.

"At the moment coriander and other potted herbs are popular, as are squashes," he said. "Whenever Jamie Oliver or someone uses something a bit out of the ordinary we notice lots more people asking us if we stock it."

And more often than not, he does. His company, JFB Ivens and Partners, currently keeps about 30,000 customers happy each year, offering them blackberries, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, sweetcorn, pumpkins and more. He even grows the glamorous tayberry, which is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry.

And while many of us would be happy buying our fruit from a

supermarket, where you can get strawberries in the middle of February and blueberries to enjoy after your Christmas dinner, Paddy says we should think carefully when picking up that supermarket punnet.

"I would tell anyone buying fruit from a supermarket which has been grown abroad to think about all the air miles behind that fruit," he said. "And also the freshness – the fact is that those kind of foods begin to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked, and so when you buy a punnet of blueberries which might have been travelling for three days, it isn't as good for you as you might like to think. The goodness of the fruit has diminished.

"Also, British farmers are very closely regulated, and other countries might not have to operate to our standards."

Paddy took over the farm – on which he also grows wheat and rape – from his father, and said that while farmers have struggled for the past 10 years thanks to the politics of grain supply forcing down prices, things are now looking up.

He said: "At times we have almost been just ticking over, making no profit at all. But the future for farming in this country is rosy. It looks as though farmers could grow wheat and sugar beet which can be used for bio fuel, as long as the Government gets behind that.

"But then, the Government is obliged to offer a certain amount of renewable fuel by 2010, and so, fingers crossed they will support that."

Paddy said he enjoys the challenge of his job – it doesn't matter how perfectly he plans, his work changes each year as Mother Nature decides whether a crop flourishes or flounders. It's his job to help her as best he can, and get the food on to our plates.

"I hope my children decide to take the farm on, as I did," he said. "They are a bit young to decide whether they want to do that now.

There is a perception that being a farmer in Britain is a lonely and unprofitable way of life, and it is up to us to turn that around and show that's not the case."

JFB Ivens and Partners, at Hill Farm, Oundle Road, Chesterton, is currently offering pick-your-own sweetcorn, with squash and pumpkins on the way.

The farm is closed on Mondays, open between 10am and 5pm Saturday and Sunday, and between 10am and 6pm on Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday and Friday.

For more details, call 01733 233270.

Abundance of local food from farmers' market

CALLING all foodies! If you love freshly grown fruit and veg, head down to Cathedral Square on the second and fourth Thursday of every month to enjoy the East of England Farmers' Market.

Scrumptious, locally-grown food of all shapes and sizes are on offer at the markets, which run between 9am and 4pm.