When lockdown was initiated we published a blog post describing the reaction to the lockdown announcement from a food availability perspective, with stories from countries all over the world. As time has passed, we have published various posts discussing health claims on foods, feeding behaviour, and food security. One aspect we have not touched on is food availability in a rural setting. I have been living at home in the picturesque village of Birnam for the past couple of months and would like to share my experience and the incredible nature of this community.
Birnam and Dunkeld are located approximately 14 miles north of Perth, just off the A9 and the River Tay flows between the two villages. These villages are well connected but rural in the sense that they form a small community. One of our house rules has been to not go shopping anywhere except shops in the village, this meant/means no supermarkets. This was to comply with rules for travel distance and to avoid large crowds, but it also saves time and means we can walk to do our shopping. I thought it would be tough to maintain my normal diet with this restriction, however, I was pleasantly mistaken. The food diversity and availability on offer are nothing short of outstanding.
Within a 3-minute walk I have access to the Arbroath Fisheries delivery service, Post Office, and corner shop. The Arbroath fish deliveries are a highlight of my week, the van pulls up just outside the post office and offers fresh fish landed in Peterhead: hake, halibut, mackerel and the renowned smokie to name a few! Since the start of lockdown, the Post Office has added a greengrocer-esc selection of fruit and veg to its offerings; new potatoes, asparagus, broad beans, strawberries, and raspberries are all grown here and in neighbouring Angus. The berries are in season all summer and, honestly, cannot be beaten. The corner shop has always been fantastic for milk and eggs from a local farm but also has the essentials plus the elusive flour! A 10-minute walk grants access to a Co-op and a butcher. The Co-op is tiny but feels like a TARDIS, it has always been well stocked with all the essentials plus more. The butcher provides a great variety of locally sourced meats of exceptional quality and, similar to the Post Office, provides all the fruit and veg you could ever hope for, regardless of the situation.
Those are the services that I have been utilising since returning home, however, there are other food-related community initiatives and services available to anyone who might need them. In collaboration with the Co-op, a strong and resilient team of volunteers have been picking, packing, and delivering food orders to community members in isolation as well as other essentials such as prescriptions. There is a food bank available that people can donate to and it also offers a confidential delivery service. Alongside this, the disused phone boxes have been transformed into larders for food and other essentials; they simply operate as pick-up points. There are also two pre-existing food sources: ‘The Orchard’ and ‘The Field’ which offer seasonal fruit and veg and are maintained by community volunteers.
To encourage people to support local producers and cook with the fantastic seasonal ingredients available at the moment, ‘PH‘ate’’ has been launched – a recipe-sharing section of the community newsletter. Finally, in considering the bigger picture, a Community Food Plan has begun. This initiative aims to improve food provision, sustainability, and support for local producers and suppliers, in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. There could not be a better time to raise awareness and implement changes relating to food availability and sustainable diets!
Having access to amazing local produce (and if not local, Scottish) has boosted my passion for cooking and eating healthily. It is a joy not shopping in a supermarket; the convenience of having everything in one shop has been replaced with the convenience of having all shops in such close proximity. Shopping locally and supporting the community during a time when tourists would usually be a substantial financial contributor seems vital. The ability for such a small community to provide in this manner has compelled me to reflect on my typical shopping habits and the future of food sourcing with respect to sustainability and environmental impact.
Fortunate, lucky, and privileged are feelings I have for my personal situation, and I certainly do not take it for granted. I tip my hat to the people providing such an exceptional service to the community at this time, it is truly remarkable and I feel very proud to be able to call this my home for the time being!
Photo credits: all photos taken by Edward Payne