We in Yorkshire are not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to extolling the considerable virtues that this wonderful county of ours has to offer.
And it’s hardly surprising given just how special this place is, whether we’re shouting from the rooftops about our food, the masterful canvas backdrop that is our scenery, the rich seams of history and culture, the innovative can-do nature of our business enterprise, or the down-to-earth friendliness of our people.
There are some – and they’re not all over the hill in Lancashire – who think we’re a bit up ourselves and too self-righteously cocky about God’s own county, and we’ve got used to rising above the sneering southern-edged mockery about flat caps and mufflers, ferrets up trouser legs and coal in the bath.
So when a national supermarket chain recognises that faith we have in ourselves and reckons they can do serious business with some of our great food producers it makes us realise that we’re not wrong after all….
For the Co-op has recognised that the northern powerhouse has been on the go for quite some time in the shape of our food and done something about it.
The collaboration between the country’s fifth biggest supermarket chain and more than 50 local producers to put 130 new lines into its stores across the county that reflect the community where they’re made is an amazing boost to the work of those beavering away to create Yorkshire’s richly abundant larder.
And what’s great about it – apart from the fact that this new initiative goes right back to the founding principles of the co-operative movement to look after your own through self-help and social responsibility – is that it gives a massive leg-up to local businesses who often struggle to get wider recognition for the passion they exercise in creating their high-quality products.
Locally sourcing initiatives like this are exactly what Yorkshire’s artisan food producers need and want. It provides additional investment and employment, so boosting the local economy and celebrates our provenance and Yorkshire’s unique selling point to boot. What’s not to celebrate?
There are those, of course, who say using local produce is too pricy and elitist and all it does is pander to the snobbery of the foodie middle classes.
Such detractors maintain that there’s nothing wrong with buying mass-produced and mass-marketed stuff that’s been air-freighted in then stored in a warehouse for heaven knows how long before it hits the shelves, because it’s cheaper and uniform in size, quality and lack of muddy bits, and for many indeed there isn’t.
But there are lots of people out there who don’t want straight carrots, pre-scrubbed spuds, conveyor belt meat and cheap, convenient ready meals. Which is why the Co-op says it has launched its local produce scheme in response to customers who tell them they want locally sourced regional food in addition to enjoying the convenience of supermarket availability.
For there’s a place for both – I defy anyone who says they only shop seasonally and locally to deny that they get their loo rolls and soap powder from a supermarket. But if anyone out there thinks that creating local produce is all about satisfying a niche market – and the Co-op clearly doesn’t think in that way – then think of this.
In Yorkshire alone the rural economy, of which a very large part is food related, is worth some £17 billion – yes, billion – a year. There are a staggering 54,000 rural businesses here, many of them family enterprises and one-man/one woman bands, employing around 400,000 people.
If you drill down into those numbers, we have, for instance, more than 160 breweries producing 1,000-plus beers, plus ten commercial vineyards. Yorkshire artisan creameries are creating more than 80 styles of cheeses and 20 per cent of all British lamb comes from our dales and moors.
There are at least 18 farmers’ markets in York and North Yorkshire every month and around 20, if not more, food festivals of varying sizes every year, some of them attracting upwards of 25,000 over a weekend. Such was the success of the Malton food lovers’ festival back in May that organisers are running a game and fish event this coming weekend. And York’s ten-day food festival – now in its 19th year – begins next week.
Does all this foodie activity smack of seasonal and local being a niche market? I don’t think so. But what small local producers have always found difficult is how to supply large national organisations and that’s why this local sourcing initiative from the Co-op is so important.