Growing Oats Locally

Sophie Galleymore Bird
Wednesday, 6th May 2015

Transition Town Totnes will be growing their own oats as another step towards locally produced food. The project will bring together local farmers, suppliers and the community, as well as creating jobs and encouraging others to think 'local'.

"Britain is not self-sufficient in food production; it imports 40% of the total food consumed and the proportion is rising."1

It is dangerous for our country to be importing so much of our food which is why the Transition movement focuses heavily on locally produced food as well as local jobs, energy, economy and more.

A few years ago Transition Town Totnes set up the Food Link project, to foster relationships between local food producers, processors and retailers to make our food web more resilient. This was in part a response to research undertaken for the Local Economic Blueprint, which showed that of approximately £30m+ spent annually on food and drink in the town, £20m+ was taken by the two supermarkets, with £10m left for the 60 or so independent food shops.

The research also showed all sorts of interesting facts about how much more value money has when it is spent in a local retailer - how it stays in the town and circulates among staff, suppliers, other shops and services, rather than leaking away to supermarket shareholders - what the New Economics Foundation calls the leaky bucket effect.

At the same time Holly Tiffen, project manager of Food Link, was looking to her own diet and wondering whether it would be possible for her to eat just locally produced food. In the South Hams, and Devon in general, most of the food produced to be eaten is either meat or dairy - the grains grown here tend to be for animal feed.

Feeding animals plant protein in order for humans to eat the animals is a far less efficient way to feed humans than eating the plant protein directly, and so Holly set up Grown In Totnes as an extension of her previous work. This spring a local farmer is about to plant two acres with our first crop of oats, which will be ready for harvest in the autumn, and should supply us with about four tonnes

Growing oats is the easy* bit - they thrive in damp conditions, abundant in the south west. What comes next is more complicated and requires funding to buy small scale processing and storage facilities. At present all grains, excluding a tiny amount of wheat, is processed in one of only three facilities in the country but Grown in Totnes wants to do all that ourselves. So, in all, we need about £25,000 to do this.

We have already been awarded £6,000 by the A Team Challenge, but it is conditional upon being match funded and so, throughout May, Grown In Totnes is running a crowdfunding campaign (https://buzzbnk.org/grownintotnes). Some money has already been raised through the REconomy Project’s Local Entrepreneur Forum, where Holly pitched last year, but we are asking all those who might like to support the idea of truly local food to make a small (or large) pledge to help us reach our goal.

To break it down, we need a dehuller (£7,000) and a polisher (£5,000), to remove the inedible outer husk. In addition we need a roller (£5,000) to flake the grains, a grain store (£3,000) to keep the oats fresh, and a sieve (£5,000) to use at the local mill to grade oatmeal and oat flour.

There will be rewards for the larger pledges, but we hope that supporting this opportunity for a replicable model creating a truly local diet will be rewarding enough.

Oats are just the beginning, with other grains planned for the future, as well as legumes, nuts and edible oils. We don’t aspire to compete with the efficiencies or scale of the globalised food economy, but want to provide local skills and jobs, with small, appropriate-scale processing technologies owned and used by the local community through collaboration and cooperation. Only then can we secure our own local food supply - offering full traceability - foster good relationships between food growers and consumers, work with the land in a sustainable way, create meaningful jobs, boost our economy and create a real sense of pride in our food.

In the early years we will be trading under Transition Town Totnes. Once we are past the pilot stage and have become a fully fledged enterprise we anticipate forming a Community Benefit Society. By then we hope to have created jobs in manufacturing equipment, re-skilled people in food processing techniques and employed a project manager, as well as offering fair prices to farmers and creating a new market for them.

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We also hope to set a standard for 'local' and change the way people think about the food they buy.

Is it enough that a local restaurant buys meat from one of the butchers in the high street? It is certainly good for a local business, but we’d like to see that butcher source meat from within a 30 mile radius of the town, following the concept of 'local' right through the supply chain. Until all the stages of production, marketing and delivery are brought home the product can not be called local. And until reliable sources of vegetable protein are available, not only will vegetarians and vegans be poorly served by a local diet and continue to buy goods shipped in from around the world, but locavores will be obliged to eat more meat and dairy than is good for them and a balanced diet will of necessity involve a lot more carbon than just that entailed in the growing.

If you live in or near Totnes there will be a host of events taking place and you are welcome to participate in any or all of them. First up will be porridge tasting at Totnes railway station, closely followed by a chance to sup beer made with black oats, brewed specially for us by New Lion Brewery. Hot on the heels of that will be an Oat Meal of Oat Cuisine, as well as pancake flipping, competitive porridge making, and porridge jousting!

To find out more about the project visit the Transition Town Totnes website, have a look at the events calendar if you’ll be in the neighbourhood, or get straight down to business and have a look at our crowdfunding page or watch our video. Visit https://buzzbnk.org/grownintotnes to support the cause.

*Easy is a comparative term. Finding the right seed in the maze of legislation controlling who can grow what and supply to whom has been fraught with complications.

Further resources

How to make your transition town more effective

Local Food: How to make it happen in your community

Regrarians: Eat, Buy Grow

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