Monday, 16 March 2009

Organic, free range or local?

veg shopping-1 Is this really a dilemma? I didn’t think so – but now I’m not quite so sure. A few instances recently have made me begun to think about the difference and importance of: organic, local and free range produce.


Where possible I try to buy local produce that is organic, and in the case of meat and eggs, free range. Recently I came across a website for an organic farm in Devon who do mail-order meat. My initial reaction to it was: ‘Imagine the food miles!’. But after thinking about it the idea might not be as bad as it seems.

OK – here are the arguments against buying local meat (I can’t really believe I’m saying this!) and buying mail-order meat instead:

  1. Purely selfishly, it is an hour round-trip to the ‘local’ butchers. If I want meat that is guaranteed local and free-range, make that two-hours to a different butchers. Mail-order meat arrives at the door.
  2. Therefore there’s also rather a lot of petrol involved too. If I bought mail-order meat, it would be delivered by a courier company who deliver to other people in the area too, meaning that although a lot of petrol may be used, it’s not just for one person. Is the principle really any different from Amazon?
  3. At the local butchers I’m not always entirely sure where the meat came from, what type of life the animal had, what it was feed, how it was killed, how far it has already ‘travelled’. I can know all of that from the farm in Devon. (Although admittedly the butcher is usually helpful when 1) he’s serving and 2) I ask!).


  1. Our local town is lucky enough to have a lot of small independent retailers and I enjoy supporting them. The local fishmongers closed-down when Sainsbury’s moved in.
  2. Convenience, I can just pop to the butchers to pick up the meat that I need, especially if I’m at work that day.
  3. The food miles still seem ridiculous for mail-order meat!

OK, the best thing is perhaps a monthly trip to the second butchers who are further away, but where I know I can be guaranteed local and free-range meat. I can always get the occasional extras from the more local butcher in order to continue to support him. If I lived in Devon, I would definitely opt for their mail-order meat, but luckily Cumbrian meat is pretty darned good, it’s just getting to the butchers when the fells are in the way!


The next problem was vegetables. I’m trying to grow our main vegetable supply this year, but I still need to buy our vegetables at the moment. Also, I will probably still need to supplement what I will be able to grow in pots during the rest of the year too.

The greengrocers are usually excellent, selling a range of great seasonal produce (including Seville oranges, damsons, quinces, chestnuts and wild mushrooms). I needed onions the other day, so after grabbing some rhubarb and purple-sprouting broccoli I went to get the onions. I was surprised to see that they weren’t local, they weren’t even British - and I needed onions! Feeling like a traitor, I went of the Sainsbury’s and brought British onions from there instead.

I know seasonal and local are not synonymous, and I’m the first person to herald the joys of produce from around the world, like Seville oranges. But, if something can (and does) grow well here, why is it imported?

The next question that this shopping trip raised (and it certainly raised many!) was: are the supermarkets so bad after all? If I can be guaranteed that I will be able to find British produce in them, then should I give the greengrocers a miss?


I don’t think that there are necessarily clear answers to any of these questions. Inevitably, I think my continual shopping around between different places will produce the best results. But it certainly got me thinking.

I felt a bit like a child in an old-fashioned sweet shop with all the jars of shiny sweets in front of me and I had to choose which ones I wanted. Rather than choosing just one sort, I think I need to pick and choose small quantities from each jar.

If you have any trouble finding your best local ‘sweets’, then I’ve found the search engine on is a pretty useful starting point for all things foody and local in Britain.


  1. I definitely like buying local foods if I can find them. It sure is more special.

  2. Hi Springtime, I like the weighing of the pros and cons - it occurred to me that you might have trouble with those meat bones you use for stock being mail ordered - if you elected to go that route.

    I am not sure if they have CSAs in the UK - consumer sustaniable agriculture - we get weekly boxes delivered to strategic locations from the local farmers - its local and seasonal and so much better than what you find in the market. Recently they've added meat CSAs so you get the locally grown meat delivered in the same fashion. We haven't tried it because we do not eat enough meat to justify signing up, but that seemed about as local as you could get.

  3. 5 Star Foodie - I couldn't agree more!

    oysterculture - the veg box scheme's are a great idea. I think I need to look into those here, at least until my own veg starts popping up (Note: I'm being quite optimistic about it growing!).
    Hope you got the taxes fininshed.

  4. I was surprised about your local greengrocers.

    Maybe next year you will have your own. Just hope all your onions don't Sprout like ours did!

  5. They surprised me too!

    Keeping my fingers crossed this year's 'non-spouting' onions (yours and mine!).

  6. If you want to go with the mail-order meat option here are quite a few places in Cumbria, I think the Lowther estate does some but if you look at the Made in Cumbria website there should be a list of the people that go to their farmers' markets and links to the websites. I don't want to stir up controversy but I would definitely go for Cumbrian meat over something produced elsewhere, every time I'm on holiday I get a bit wistful over menus!

  7. Hi - thanks for the comments! I think I will just try to be more organised in future and make use of the monthly farmers' market near-by! They do have some wonderful produce...
    But I will definitely check-out the 'Made in Cumbria' website for more info on the producers.

    The meat I've had from the Lowther Estate has always been wonderful, definitely a treat rather than for the everyday. But I would rather have good local meat occasionally than 'other' meat more regularly...


I'd love to know any comments you might have.