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Local sourcing   |   Ethical business

Support local food after Covid, shoppers urged

Local and small-scale food businesses have largely been able to stay open and adapt to new conditions during the coronavirus outbreak due, a new snapshot survey has found.

The survey of 102 small food enterprises in London found that 80 per cent were able to stay open, while 32 per cent reported an increase in demand. The companies questioned were members of one of two London-based local food networks – the Food Coops and London Food Link – and included cafes, producers, shops, markets and buying groups.

Findings from the survey, which was done between 6 April and 8 May, said that uncertainty and income fluctuation had made it difficult to plan for the future, but community networks have helped these small food businesses find solutions.

“Being able to be small and nimble and people-powered has worked to our advantage at this time. It’s vital that local and national governments support sustainable small businesses with affordable rents, enabling finance, and supportive regulation,” said Tom Steele of the Kentish Town Box Scheme.

Local food
Nimble-footed: Local food suppliers have found ways to stay open during lockdown. Image Sarah Williams. 

The survey is the latest in a growing body of evidence of the resilience of smaller food businesses during lockdown. It follows anecdotal reports that began to emerge after local food supply was quick to fill the gaps left by home delivery shortages from national retailers, as well as reaching those unable to leave the house.

Research done last month by the association for farmers’ markets and farm retailers, the Farm Retail Association (FRA), found that 92 per cent of its members have seen a “significant” rise in new customers, while 79 per cent had introduced a click and collect service because of coronavirus, including in the form of contactless ‘drive-thrus’. Another 67 per cent said they had introduced home deliveries.

“The last couple of months have clearly shown that farm retailers can react nimbly to customer demands because of their size, independence and direct relationships with local farmers,” said chairman of the FRA, Rob Copley.

Sustainable food alliance Sustain is now calling for government recognition for small food businesses post-Covid-19.

“We think it is critical that small, diverse food enterprises are seen and heard as part of local economic recovery plans that are being developed following lockdown,” said the group’s deputy CEO, Ben Reynolds.

“These businesses have shown their economic worth time and time again, and now have demonstrated how resilient and adaptable they can be in times of emergency and recovery.”

Sustain wants the government to work with councils to provide support and access to premises, and opportunities for good food enterprises to thrive.

The FRA said it is hoping this surge in new customers will result in long-lasting new shopping habits.

“Run by local families for local families, supporting local farmers and local jobs, farm shops are at the beating heart of communities across the country. We just hope customers keep coming back to support them and local farmers for years to come,” Copley added.

Elsewhere, others are questioning how possible it would be to scale up the shorter supply chains that service local food systems, as well as the relative security of the large-scale supermarket food models during times of crisis. 


Angela Brown

1 Year 2 Months

I am very sad that my very favourite organic farm shop, which is housed in a shed on the edge of a field has closed. I have always bought my veg there and occasionally would meet other customers, but since Corona there were people in cars and queues on the farm track. As the lovely organic farmer also supplies retail outlets and is probably well aware of potential risk of having the public visiting and possible contamination etc I guess she just decided that her safest way forward was to eliminate the risk. Now I have been inspired to be more self sufficient and grow my own veg. and to make use of wild food especially nettles and dandelions. .

2 Replies

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1 Year 2 Months

I really hope you’re successful growing your own veggies. We’re not. And as such it makes me appreciate Riverford’s seasonal veg box even more.

1 Reply

Angela Brown

1 Year 2 Months

Sorry you're not having luck with veg. Chard is easy and pumpkins too, courgettes go well without too much cossetting, Hope it goes well in the future. The pigeons have eaten all my cherries, and probably most of the plums too! I am finding self seeded saplings that I'll put in better positions so the birds do help as well as hinder..

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Comments Editor

1 Year 2 Months

Hi Angela, I hope your local farm shop finds a way to safely reopen soon. Great that you are making use of wild foraged greens and having a go at growing your own to be more self sufficient. Do check out our Grow Your Own series on Wicked Leeks for some top growing tips

1 Reply

Angela Brown

1 Year 2 Months

Thanks I'm always looking for tips and like Permaculture magazine. I am aiming for a forest garden, raspberries and loganberries are pretty indestructable and great for summer pudding. I'm looking out for mushrooms now we have had some rain at last, There is loads to eat if you know where to look and take care not to poison yourself !

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