Residents of North Lewis put their heads together to imagine a better local food system during a special workshop held at Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn (UOG).
Held on Tuesday November 21, Rooted in Community: A Workshop on Local Food Systems took a localised look at issues affecting supply chains, opportunities for local producers, and consumers' access to quality local food, amongst others.
The event was run by Alex MacKenzie, Local Food Development Manager from Tagsa Uibhist, and followed two reports produced by Tagsa, 'Our Right to Food' and 'Small is Beautiful', as well as a series of successful local producer markets held in Uist. It also comes in advance of Scottish Government plans to ask local authorities to produce Good Food Nation plans across the next year.
Attendees in the two hour workshop took part in activities that asked them to think of good examples of food social enterprises that have succeeded, and the steps needed to create a Good Food Western Isles.
Laura's Croft, the Clan MacQuarrie garden, Carloway Community Shop, and Loughborough University's Edible Campus were all cited as positive examples.
Several problems with the islands' food system were identified, including the lack of an organised selling platform for local suppliers in Lewis; an overreliance on the ferry systems; and how the Co-op's centralised classification of stores meant some of its Western Isles shops only stocked convenience foods, which prompted residents to travel outside their communities for larger shops.
Small scale honesty boxes were also discussed, with the gap between them and what was being sold into shop supply chains identified. Conversations on meat production raised points on pricing, how public perception had turned against using older animals, and the manner in which refrigeration and supermarkets had created an expectation for meat and slaughtering all year round.
Asked to think of three 'next steps' it would like to see, the group agreed on a dedicated coordinator to speak to producers; a local food market with online presence; and a form of cooperative membership.
Attendees were positive about the workshop, whilst recognising food supply in Lewis had problems. One attendee said: "Everything that fits Uist fits here. The frustrating thing is that we have that land. Now I don't mean going back in time - that time is gone - but we have lost the skills."
A producer added that the current system allowed livestock farmers very little control over how their food went to market and the price it could fetch.
Speaking on the importance of the workshop, Ms MacKenzie said it provided further data to what was already suspected.
"The benefit of it is that we can hopefully shape government policy. We need to have the way to market, we need shorter supply chains. We need to change it. The cost of food in a cost of living crisis is a sobering thought," she said.
"The workshop is to come together to create viable solutions because we are more than the sum of our parts. There are people here from across the food systems, so there is a wealth of knowledge. The question is: how can we future proof our food systems?"