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Project aims to get organic Welsh vegetables into primary school meals

04 May 2024 6 minute read
Food Sense Wales – Welsh Veg in Schools campaign. Photo: Adam Davies.

A charity group is co-ordinating a project that aims to get more organically produced Welsh vegetables into primary school meals across Wales.

Working with partners that include Castell Howell, Farming Connect Horticulture as well as a host of enthusiastic growers, the Welsh Veg in Schools project from Food Sense Wales is helping to get more locally produced organic vegetables into school lunches.

Welsh Veg in Schools is about redesigning supply chains to make them fairer and more resilient. It also builds on the commitment from Welsh Government to ensure that every primary aged child in Wales is offered a free school meal and that the food used to produce that meal, where possible, comes from local suppliers.

With only around a quarter of a portion of veg per head of population being currently produced in Wales, Welsh Veg in Schools has the potential to increase the market in order to help realise this commitment.

Pilot

Food Sense Wales first started exploring the procurement of locally produced veg with the ‘Courgette Pilot’ – a pilot project that involved one grower and one wholesaler and delivered nearly 1 tonne of courgettes into primary schools in Cardiff during Food and Fun in the summer of 2022.

The courgette pilot was facilitated by Food Cardiff, the capital’s local food partnership, helping to bring all the partners together,including Blas Gwent, Cardiff Council Education Catering and Cardiff & Vale University Health Board public health dietetics as well as Castell Howell.

In 2023, with the support of the Welsh Government’s Backing Local Firms Fund, this procurement project developed into the first phase of Welsh Veg in Schools working with three growers across three local authority areas and supported by co-ordinators from the local food partnerships in Cardiff, Carmarthenshire and Monmouthshire.

Funding

Now, in the Spring of 2024, Food Sense Wales has been awarded additional funding from Bridging The Gap  – a programme led by Sustain, Growing Communities and Alexandra Rose Charity – to further scale up the work and leverage an even wider network of expertise and support.

This phase of action research will work with more growers and local authorities; explore how to bridge the gap between the costs of conventional product and sustainably produced Welsh veg; and test a number of approaches to establish what a ‘sustainable investment scheme’ could look like.  The aim is to develop a model that is expandable across the Welsh public sector.

By supporting agroecological organic farming, this project is giving growers and farmers a new or alternative key income stream as well as offering opportunities for children to connect with nature and farming through visiting local growers.

Katie Palmer, who heads up Food Sense Wales, said: “At its heart, Welsh Veg in Schools is about getting sustainably produced, local veg into schools to nourish children via their school meals – the more progress we make, the more benefit we can deliver to them.”

“We aren’t producing enough veg in Wales and we need to be building our own supply base bringing benefit to local communities and reducing our reliance on imports through connecting local growers with local wholesalers and fostering relationships that help businesses flourish.

Hurdles

“Throughout the different phases of the pilot, we’ve been faced with a number of technical, structural and weather-related hurdles but building relationships across the supply chain with stakeholders and utilising their expertise in horticulture has been key,” continues Katie Palmer.

“From establishing the requirements of school kitchens to deciding what size carrots to grow; and from developing accreditation schemes to working out logistics, gluts and product development – we’ve had a lot to work through but all the partners involved are heavily invested in the work and are determined to see more locally produced food being served on the public plate in Wales.”

Importance

Edward Morgan from Castell Howell adds: “As intermediaries in the supply chain, delivering to some 1000 schools across Wales, we recognise the importance of restructuring the way food is sourced.  Working in collaboration with likeminded stakeholders, enthusiastic farmers, growers and committed customers is critical to achieve our shared ambitions, not only delivering Welsh grown veg, but delivering information and discussing risk and opportunities with a high level of transparency.

“We’re proud to be a part of an initiative that has evolved from supplying a tonne of courgettes in 2022 and look forward to seeing this continue to develop to something substantial.”

Tony Little, from Sustainable Farming Consultancy says: “This project is paving the way for many more growers to get involved in supplying the public procurement market.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to explore how we can set up supply chains that works for all parties from developing production standards appropriate to small organic growers though to putting in place the communications and logistic systems that will enable growers to grasp the opportunities this market offers.”

Growth

Farming Connect Horticulture is integral in the development of the Welsh Veg in Schools pilot and is instrumental in the development of the horticulture sector in Wales.

“This work secures a route to market which reduces risk, enables forward planning and assists with growth of the sector enabling more people to experience the quality food that Wales can produce,” says Sarah Gould from Farming Connect Horticulture.

“Through the type of support we’re offering the growers, we’re also helping to raise standards and share best practice.

“It’s a very exciting project to be a part of and we look forward to supporting even more growers to be a part of the pilot.”

Sustainability

Hannah Gibbs from Bridging The Gap is also excited to be supporting Welsh Veg in Schools.  “We’re delighted to be supporting this pilot to further develop and build out its evidence base for how we can ensure we get more locally produced sustainable fruit and vegetables into public food supply chains.

“This fantastic partnership also offers us great opportunities for shared learning across Bridging the Gap’s other schools’ pilots in Scotland and England.”

Dr Amber Wheeler who’s leading on the action research work adds: “At the moment most of the veg that comes into Welsh Schools is from outside the country and often is frozen.

“This pilot is showing that it is possible to increase the amount of produce grown in Wales, and support growers and farmers in doing so, by using the market of Local Authority Free School Meal provision.

“We are growing from strength to strength and developing the systems needed to deliver more, healthy fresh Welsh Veg into schools whilst supporting farming systems that enhance the environment here in Wales.”

Food Sense Wales is already researching future funding streams to develop this work beyond March 2025 to include more growers, local authorities and wholesalers.

If you’re interested in getting involved with the Welsh Veg in Schools project, you can contact Food Sense Wales by emailing [email protected]


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Robert Williams
Robert Williams
18 days ago

Great! The most cheering story I’ve seen on Nation.Cymru for a long time. Perhaps it should be read in conjunction with the recent, much commented-on, article by Gareth Clubb on this site: initiatives of this kind could go a long way to balance the severe reduction of livestock farming he foresees.

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