PRESS RELEASE: Minister praises Congleton constituency initiatives in food debate
FROM: Fiona Bruce MP for Congleton Constituency
DATE: 24th January 2012
Minister Praises Congleton Constituency Initiatives in Food Debate
In a debate in the House of Commons yesterday on Food Prices and Food Poverty the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Richard Benyon, praised several local initiatives, highlighted by Fiona Bruce MP, promoting local produce saying
“My honourable Friend the member for Congleton, Fiona Bruce, spoke about local and home grown food. I pay tribute to what is happening in her constituency.”
The full text of Fiona Bruce’s speech is attached in which she highlights the need to extend skills and land available for home grown and community grown produce and praised several local projects doing this in light of the statement by the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government that by 2030 we will need to produce 50% more food.
Hansard – 23rd January 2012 5.51pm
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Thank you for this opportunity to speak on food poverty, Madam Deputy Speaker. Members have mentioned with concern a lack of knowledge among many people today about what constitutes a healthy diet, and a lack of the skills to create healthy meals. I share those concerns, but in the time that I have, I would like to concentrate on another skill that is less prevalent today than it was just one or two generations ago: the skill to grow and produce at least some of our own food. That is something that my grandparents did, and not just as a hobby; it gave them a vital supplement to their daily diet. I remember enjoying that whole-family activity on many summer evenings.
I want to concentrate on some of the excellent initiatives in my constituency devoted to sharing know-how in this sphere. Interestingly, while some groups are decades old, including the Middlewich and District Show Society, the Congleton and District Horticultural Society, and the Alsager Gardens Association, others have been set up in the past two to three years, with immense support. They include the Sandbach Allotment Society, Home Grown in Holmes Chapel, and the Congleton Sustainability Group.
People on low incomes have the lowest intakes of fruit and veg, and are therefore far more likely to suffer from diet-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and coronary heart disease, which is why the initiatives that I am talking about could be disproportionately valuable to them. The ability to develop and share skills, and more opportunities for people to grow their own—whether in their garden, a neighbour’s garden, or on community land—are greatly needed. That need will increase, given that, as the chief scientific adviser to the Government has said, by 2030 we will need to produce 50% more food, and given that the European Commission’s current proposals could mean taking 7% of land out of production, much to the consternation of farmers in my constituency.
Turning back to the local, let me describe some of the benefits that the Middlewich annual show promotes. There were 400 entries last year across the many categories, including cookery, flowers and vegetables. John Carver, the chairman, grows leeks, onions, carrots, potatoes, peas and broad beans in his garden. I can testify, having visited, that it is as attractive as any garden with flowers in it. He says he gardens as people did 30 years ago, and has to buy hardly any veg for his family. He has carrots in storage, and freezes beans and peas. He advises people to grow their own
“as they are far better since they have not lost any of their ‘goodness’”.
At the last Middlewich show, it was a real pleasure to see the civic hall crowded out. Some of the entrants were very young, and some of the veg were of phenomenal size; several leeks, when stood on end for a photograph with me, were bigger than me. That will not come as a surprise to some Members. We should promote the idea of making greater use of gardens. Indeed, many elderly people might appreciate having veg tended in their gardens in exchange for some of the produce.
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The Sandbach Allotment Society has been going for just two years. Forty people came to the first meeting, and 120 to the second. It aims to encourage growing your own, and has found temporary accommodation on a 1.2 acre site belonging to a local farmer. That will provide 34 half-plots, each of which will provide a significant amount of vegetables for a family, at a fraction of the cost of buying them. It says that growing your own is not an old man’s domain; it is for families. It brings families and communities together. I know how popular it is: there is a 100-person waiting list for further allotments that it hopes to obtain.
Home Grown in Holmes Chapel is an innovative community action group that encourages residents of Holmes Chapel and neighbouring communities to buy locally produced food, shop in local shops, and work together to grow their own fruit and veg. It has been lent two previously untended plots of land in the village centre, one by the carpet shop and one by the health centre. The organisers say that, despite rain showers, on a blustery May day, nearly 40 volunteers turned up to the group’s first dig-in. Volunteers planted a variety of fruit and veg—strawberries, lettuces, cabbages, sugar-snap peas, and radishes donated by the volunteers, whose ages ranged from just 18 months to 75 years. Lissy Berry, aged eight, said to her mum:
“This is hard work, but I’m really enjoying it—it is so worthwhile”,
and other volunteers agreed. Another said:
“I have really enjoyed myself—it is a wonderful feeling to have achieved so much”.
I went to the group’s first harvest in October, and I can testify to the tastiness of the lettuce.
The group says:
“We want people to think about the way we live our lives…We are not trying to feed Holmes Chapel—just show what is possible with a little space, sunshine, water and love! It is great to eat vegetables that have been grown for taste, not for shelf-life, and it is great to be able to do so without driving the car anywhere or eating produce that has been flown half way around the world…We are growing community fruit and vegetables for the community to use!”
The group has great plans: it is starting to talk to the parish council and Cheshire East council about planting fruit trees around the village; holding a “shop local” week; and encouraging residents who have a bit of spare community land near their house to set up a community veg plot. It is working with Holmes Chapel primary school; I was pleased to see recently planted herbs and veg there, and there are plans for more vegetable beds. It wants to work with retirement and nursing homes in the village, and to see if it can get community groups working together to grow fruit and veg in those places. It says:
“that is enough to keep us busy for some time to come!”
Other initiatives in the constituency seek to reduce waste. Ray Brown, a farmer, proposes to convert an old Ministry of Defence fuel base into an anaerobic digester, with the support of Cheshire East council. It is anticipated that it will be able to take all the food waste from the entire population of Cheshire East, which covers not just my constituency but several others. That will raise Cheshire East’s recycling rates to a remarkable potential 90%. The scheme will also generate electricity and feed it into the grid. As I hope the Government will recognise, that should negate the need for an incinerator just 15 minutes away in Middlewich.
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On waste, I cannot omit to mention the tremendous work done by the Congleton Sustainability Group, which produced the now-famous Congleton apple juice that many Members tried here recently. In 2010, it used 3.5 tonnes of apples that would otherwise have gone to waste, and its target for 2011 was 5 tonnes.
Those are just a few initiatives, but there are many more that I could have described. If we are to alleviate food poverty, it is important to promote, share and develop skills at all levels of food production. It could take us a considerable way towards tackling problems in the years and decades to come.
Fiona Bruce MP 01260 274044