DURING lockdown, the local food system came into its own and served the needs of local people and communities really well.

Shorter, more flexible supply chains proved their worth and ensured South Lakeland’s residents had safe access to fresh, wholesome food.

By their very nature, farm shops like Low Sizergh's, near Kendal, have these short and flexible supply chains because the food they sell is local to them.

It comes from their farm, from other local farms, and directly from growers and producers across Cumbria. Anything they source beyond local boundaries is supplied by a handpicked selection of small or specialist companies.

But there’s one significant part of the Park family's local food offer that sits outside of any formal supply chain, the Crop for the Shop scheme.

It’s a really simple idea, initiated by the BigBarn network, which was set up by a farmer to help people find good, safe, accountable food from local sources.

As Alison Park explains "Crop for the Shop sees allotment, home and school growers bring their crop gluts to Low Sizergh Barn and they exchange them for a voucher to spend in the farm shop or café. It could be a crop of cabbages, a surfeit of sweet peas, or a handful of herbs.

"Any produce we exchange with the growers is then sold to customers or used in the farm shop kitchens. What’s too much for a household is just enough for us to create specials for the café menu or to use in our own-made range of soups, preserves, sauces and ready meals.

"Crop for the Shop produce and ingredients can be found on the farm shop shelves, and in our fridges and freezers.

"Behind the simplicity of the exchange there’s a range of important principles. BigBarn aims to reverse the trend towards mass production of food and control of the market by big business and retailers. They are looking to reconnect consumers with local producers and retailers.

"We’re now in our furth year of Crop for the Shop and we’ve found that it guarantees low food miles, contributes to zero food waste locally, and means our customers are eating food that’s grown for flavour rather than for shelf life. When you’re buying vegetables harvested by a grower down the road that very day, there are no concerns around how far the produce has travelled or whether there are any additives hidden behind a label.

"It also helps us to reflect the local landscape in the farm shop; produce from the coast, valleys and farms is now supplemented by food from allotments and home plots. And what a choice of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers we see.

" Hand-grown crops and heritage varieties, in all shapes and sizes and just as nature intended, are far more exciting to eat and to cook with than the standardised supermarket offer.

"There’s also no question of seasonality, what we get is what will grow here, when it will grow here. And the spin-off benefit of that is increased food knowledge and education for our shoppers and for our kitchen team.

"They are enjoying creating tasty and nutritious dishes from ingredients they don’t often see – as well as from gluts they see all too often. Courgette cake anyone?

A recent article by the Sustainable Food Trust about local diets could have been penned about Crop for the Shop.

"Certainly our newsletter and social media updates feature some of our most prolific participants, including Mr R and family, all of whom deliver goodness throughout the year from their nearby plot. They start with snowdrop plants that get snapped up by local gardeners in January and move through the seasons in a riot of colour, fragrance and tastiness.

"Another of our regular Crop to the Shop growers drops off what he has picked early in the morning on his way to work. Sometimes there is guidance, sometimes not. It was spaghetti squash and dahlias last week with no instruction needed other than to enjoy the spoils of the season.

"It all makes good economic and environmental sense as there are fewer hands in the food chain, we have the chance to offer the freshest produce grown on our doorstep, garden and allotment waste is reduced, no mis-shapen vegetables are overlooked, and the food miles are minimal.

"It’s only a small scale initiative but it represents bigger ideas for local food.W