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The KEY to the future of sustainable food

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 13 2019 12:49AM

Happy New Year!

Once again another year has passed and guilt has transcended across the nation with people regretting overindulgence over the Christmas period by partaking in a different kind of unsustainability - the post Christmas lull where we forget to eat properly, or at all.

One group of people who don’t have that luxury of choice at this, or any, time of year are the homeless. As you may have read in my blog from earlier this year I’m keen to highlight the housing crisis problem across the countryside and the effect this is having upon sustainable food & farming. However, the problem is even more acute in our cities.

We’ve strived for many years to keep our costs and prices low at Rosewood to ensure that sustainably produced, wildlife-friendly organic meat isn’t the preserve of the wealthy and that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a high quality diet. This includes not wasting vast amounts of money on fancy (and unnecessary) packaging or expensive marketing but there’s only so far you can take this without sacrificing the business and your own wellbeing.

Kitchen for Everyone, York; providing meals for the vulnerable & homeless
Kitchen for Everyone, York; providing meals for the vulnerable & homeless

When you’re in a vulnerable position not being able to buy food, however, is just a small part of the overall problem - without the knowledge and facilities to store & prepare fresh food your options are severely limited making a healthy, balanced diet impossible to achieve. For many years it’s concerned me that we couldn’t do more to help as changing eating habits have seen us selling fewer of the roasting joints and more steaks and mince. You cannot just produce steaks on demand without utilising the whole animal so this can be a limiting factor, particularly for small farms such as ours. This is known in the trade as maintaining ‘carcass balance’, and whilst larger processors can easily divert excesses into manufacturing or export markets, smaller farm shops and butchers have limited options.

In the Yorkshire Ings the traditionally managed floodplain meadows were also suffering biodiversity declines due to an overall reduction in cattle grazing. Our little Dexters are the perfect size to graze the damp grasslands without damaging these sensitive habitats but the supermarket driven food system has increased the size of cattle leaving processors paying next to nothing for small carcasses. Undergrazing in the Ings wasn’t only reducing the quality of the meadows and the wildlife they support but also represented a huge waste of food that could/should feed people efficiently, as it has done for thousands of years.

The idea of cooking up the surplus joints and providing homeless folk with a decent meal appealed strongly to us but it was also frustrating as we lacked both the time and investment to do what was badly needed. It’s an issue that troubles many farmers in the UK - we want to produce food to feed local people, but to do so at a price that people can afford is increasingly difficult. Fortunately I discovered last year that we aren’t alone and the rise in rough sleeping in the nearby city of York prompted a group of dedicated volunteers to start Kitchen for Everyone (KEY) which has grown to expand services to the homeless and vulnerable of the city. I got in touch to find out how we could help and get the beef rolling, so to speak.

The Jersey milk vending machine at Elvington, near York
The Jersey milk vending machine at Elvington, near York

Meanwhile our friends at Greyleys Farm in nearby Elvington have been producing creamy Jersey Milk for over 50 years, and although dairy farms were once a common feature of the Yorkshire Ings, today they are few and far between. In 2017 Greyleys invested in a milk vending machine to offer locals the chance to buy the milk direct from the farm. Situated just outside York, in the village of Elvington, just yards away from where the cows graze from Spring through to Autumn, people come from all over Yorkshire to buy the milk. As we were passing we decided to offer our customers in York and the surrounding area a delivery service along with our meat boxes, cutting down on food miles & save them a trip out of the city. When I mentioned KEY to Helen at Greyleys she was keen to help and immediately offered to send a regular supply of milk every week.

I wanted to the same with the meat but although raising our prices was one way to fund a regular donation I didn’t want to put more pressure on our regular customers family food budgets. I knew that our customers would like to support giving more people the opportunity to eat sustainably so I have started to offer ‘KEY vouchers’. You can now buy these vouchers along with one of our meat boxes and as soon as we have enough vouchers to make up a box we’ll deliver it direct to KEY!

Kitchen for Everyone serves 60 meals twice every week
Kitchen for Everyone serves 60 meals twice every week

We hope you’ll also support KEY directly via the website and ‘like’ their Facebook page too - while many people will have already ditched their resolutions by the end of January, these guys are there throughout the year.

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