Friday, 16 April 2010

How not to do a Guardian article...

Check out my guest blog for the Guardian Leeds

There’s a lot to love about Leeds but for me it has to be to access to really good local produce. What I find difficult to understand though is that this amazing food isn’t available in our supermarkets. If you take even a casual glance at the labels on fresh veg in the average shopping basket you’ll quickly see the food you are about to eat has already chalked up more miles than even the most seasoned of travellers. When you start to think about it, this is pretty ludicrous when we have so much goodness nearby. Strangely though, it always feels like a bit of a secret and it seems to me that a lot of people just don’t know what we have on our doorstep.

When I started to do a bit of research for this I have to say I was pretty ignorant of how much is out there and just how easy it is to get to. You don’t even have to drive to find really good food these days; we are quite lucky in the number of farmers markets in Leeds itself at Kirkgate, Pudsey and Headingley. But also we have some really good farm shops just outside the city centre. I took the train out to Woodlesford from Leeds on Saturday. Just a 10 minute walk out of the station you get into sleepy little Swillington, home of the imaginatively named Swillington Organic Farm.

I’d actually only come down to get some of the amazing meat for a meal for friends but I’d got talking to Jo Cartwright the owner and had a chance to have a look around. What I was completely unaware of is that the farm is part of a community supported agriculture project, meaning it has given over some of its land for a community group; in return the farmers gets a small share of the produce grown to sell in the farm shop.

This is an amazing model of social enterprise; basically you buy a share in the harvest. People from all over Leeds are involved on the day of my visit; a young couple from Kirkstall were down busily working away along with a local from Swillington picking up some of the fresh picked veg. This is perfect for those concerned with where there food comes from and as it’s a community group you are sharing the work, the risk and the reward of growing your own vegetables.

I’ve often dreamt of getting an allotment but the time you need to dedicate to it is pretty immense where as here you can come down whenever you have time or just to pick up your produce; members are encouraged but not obliged to help out. It’s entirely your choice. Perfect if you have the ethics, but not the time.

This alone is pretty fantastic but there is more, you can actually sponsor animals at the farm. When they are ready for the butcher you have full control of what happens to the beast. The farm supplies a number of businesses in Leeds, notably Salvo’s, Harvey Nichols and the Cross Keys in Holbeck. It no wonder that the farm is one of Rick Stein’s food heroes.

North Leeds has a great farm as well, though without the organic credentials of Swillington. None go Bye farm near Horsforth has some of the best sausages I’ve ever eaten. Believe me as well when I say that as I’ve eaten a lot of sausages over the years and these are up there with the best.

Even Lishman’s of Ilkley has something to worry about there. For those of you who prefer a more one-stop-approach to your shopping we have in the city centre the ever friendly Millies Organic Food Shop. Food here is sourced from all over Yorkshire and they are more than happy to talk you through its origins.

All in all it’s getting easier all the time to get great local food and you don’t have to pay a premium for this. Going to the farm shops actually cuts out the middle man. There are less travel costs to absorb, processing is done locally and the food you get is so much fresher.

There’s something quite satisfying about tucking into a meal where every step of the way you know where the produce is from. Fresh food can be served simply so you can enjoy the natural flavours with out too much meddling. I’d picked up some beautiful Lamb Cutlets from Swillington Farm, served with some sweet Yorkshire carrots and potatoes.

Admittedly I’d used some Spanish courgettes and some Peruvian Asparagus but I’m not saying don’t shop in supermarkets - just think about where it’s come from a minute and consider… Could I get that locally?

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