December 2017 at Wark Farm
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At the risk of making myself feel old, I've had my radar switched on to the happenings in the world of small food producers, retailers and restaurants in the north east for quite a few years now. There have been a fair few comings and goings over that time, some of those that were well established when I started direct selling are still going strong. Some early pioneers have gone, through retirement or trading difficulties. A clutch of small business's started at around the same time as me and, happily, some of those closest to me in spirit and ethic are now well established and in for the long term. In between then and now, there have been many others come, make a presence, then sadly go again. Very recently, the oil downturn tightened the screw too hard on some. That's just business I guess.
With my nose in the air though, for me it's also a measure of how and whether we are seeing any progress in the development of a more vibrant local food economy in the north east. There's plenty material here for a masters thesis to take an empirical look at the market, though by the time it's finished no doubt things will have moved on again. So I'll give you my gut impression instead. I am quietly optimistic. Trading conditions have been hard in the last couple of years but in the face of that (and in some instances even because of it) I think there is a sense of renewed activity in the local food scene at the moment. New producers are popping up all around the north east, people are experimenting and testing the opportunities for making a living out of producing and selling food out-with the standard commodity and mass retailing model. I am in contact with quite a lot through our work at the farm/butchery, markets I go to and meetings I attend and no doubt there are others that I don't know about. Some are, technically speaking, competitors, others are complimentary, others excitingly innovative; from meat to bread to vegetables to drinks to Scotland's first organic milk vending machine opening in Aberdeen this coming weekend, I wish them all well. We are still only supplying a tiny fraction of the food consumed in the area, but cross the enthusiasm of these entrepreneurial micro businesses with an awareness of food that has certainly changed in the wider population over my 14 years trading and I really hope that what we are seeing is genuine momentum in the development of a more active and connected food culture in our area. I don't often campaign and I won't here, but I'll just give a gentle nod to say, things are happening; if you'd like to see it flourish, keep an eye out for these people, do a little business with them, give them some feedback, tell your friends, share it around in any style of social media that takes your fancy; and we'll see what happens.