Small is beautiful: new report highlights the scope for growing Uist’s sustainable food options
Tagsa Uibhist has newly published an in-depth report on the opportunities and challenges of building a more resilient and sustainable local food system for Uist.
The report was commissioned by the Pebble Trust in 2022 and delivered by Tagsa’s Research & Development Officer Alex MacKenzie following months of intensive community research.
The report is part of Tagsa’s Small is Beautiful project and looks in detail at how we currently source our food and at the challenges and opportunities around finding a better, more affordable and sustainable way forward.
The report is clearly set in a wider context of the climate emergency, increasing levels of food poverty and the many failings of industrial food production, as well as our more local issues with travel and distribution disruptions.
Alex told Am Pàipear more about the project:
“Despite producing substantial quantities of food, the islands face acute food insecurity, and more so than on the mainland.
“A clear finding from our research is that people in Uist are committed to finding a better way of producing and sharing local food. We also found that there is demand from the local community for high quality and affordable local produce – vegetables, meat and seafood.
“A resilient local food system in Uist will simultaneously support the local community and culture as well as contribute to economic and environmental sustainability. Achieving this will require supporting islanders to make optimal use of their land, its assets, and its benefits to prioritise local production and consumption.”
The report sets out some clear and compelling community recommendations to take the work forward, with an emphasis on sticking to the ‘small is beautiful’ approach, to ensure that projects are rooted into the community and evolve slowly under the guidance of community members.
The report makes clear that producers wanted to be part of a local food network to aggregate and market food locally, and saw benefit in creating a system of collaboration where everyone benefits.
Suggested opportunities included a Uist Local Food Market, Local Food Box Schemes and Community Fridges.
The demand for high quality, locally-reared meat was clear and the report suggests that more could be done to support and incentivise crofters to sell their animals locally.
Another option was to assist local growers to access procurement opportunities from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the NHS, for example for school meals and hospital cafeterias, so that local potatoes, vegetables, meat, eggs, and fish can be purchased locally.
Alex continued: “Islanders understand and appreciate the entire farm-to-fork process. They also have the lived experience of rearing, nurturing, cultivating, and sourcing the many inputs required to just get to the first stage in the chain, before food processing is even contemplated. They have a close connection to the land, sea, and all the island’s natural resources. This engenders a respect and a gratitude for the environment, which runs through the arteries of the community. Being a food producer proves to be a labour of love for some, a way of being, fulfilling a tradition or a lifestyle choice to be able to produce your own food and eat it. The true cost of food production is never reflected in the price of the goods in terms of the energy, time and care involved so it comes as no surprise that producers here see food waste as a crime.”
As Chris MacLullich, Chief Executive, Tagsa Uibhist explains, the timing of this work could not be better: “This is an auspicious time to be working to improve our food systems in Uist. At a local level, the Outer Hebrides Food and Drink Programme under the Islands Growth Deal offers an enormous opportunity to invest in local food value chain systems by engaging directly with local producers. The Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation Bill, which aims to make positive changes to how we grow, produce, and consume food has just been passed. It is vital for communities, consumers, organisations, and businesses to continue to advocate so that this Bill has a meaningful impact. This means enshrining the Right to Food for all by reducing food insecurity, establishing an independent Food Commission, agreeing meaningful targets for changes to the food system, and establishing funded Food Plans at a national and local level through a participatory process.”
The full report makes for an inspiring read and is available to view on the Tagsa Uibhist website.
Pictured is Donald MacQueen of Iochdar.
Foodbank call to ‘keep the conversation going’
The continuing cost of living crisis is showing itself in the increased numbers of people relying on foodbanks.
Before the 2008 recession, foodbanks were almost unheard of in the UK but they now number over 2,500 and have become a crucial means of support for around 2.5million people.
That pattern of growth is evident here in Uist, where the number of emergency food parcels offered has risen by over 40% in just three years. Last year, 472 parcels were issued and this winter’s figures are expected to show a further increase in demand.
Despite the growing need for the service, Uist and Barra Foodbank Project Manager Janet Atkin feels there is still a sense of shame associated with asking for help, something she is determined to try and change: “Millions of people use a foodbank; this isn’t about the odd person here and there failing to manage their money, this is about a cost of living crisis that has pushed very many households to a point of absolute desperation. People are going hungry, when we have food available. They are fearful of being judged, or don’t feel they are truly deserving of the help, telling themselves ‘there’s always someone worse off than me’. My message to anyone in Uist who is facing an empty cupboard or missing meals because they can’t afford to eat is to please, please, please get in touch. There is no need for embarrassment and there is no need for shame – I can guarantee that nobody here will be judging you.”
“People who were already unable to afford food are being hit the hardest by relentless rises in energy, food, and travel costs. Every day we meet people who are skipping meals so they can feed their children and turning off their cooker or fridge so they can cover other essential costs. People who themselves used to donate to food banks are now needing to seek our support. And the next 12 months look bleaker still.”
Generally, people accessing the Foodbank are referred by other agencies, for example by health visitors or by the Citizens Advice team, but as Janet explains, help is available for anyone in need, no matter how they get in touch: “It’s really important that people understand just how private and respectful the process is. The Foodbank can be contacted via Facebook or by email or phone and any request for support will be treated in absolute confidence.”
The Foodbank provides three days’ worth of emergency food to help people in crisis. People are issued with a voucher, which they can exchange for a parcel and there is no limit to how often they can access the service.
The Foodbank relies on contributions from the community, which keep coming, despite increasing financial pressures for households everywhere: “The cost of living crisis is leaving more and more people in our community struggling to afford the essentials, while at the same time we are battling to keep our shelves stocked for the increased need we are meeting. That’s why the generosity we see from members of our community and further afield is so amazing, both in terms of cash donations and the food donated through our drop off points.”
The Uist and Barra Foodbank located in The Bunker, East Camp, Balivanich, and is open Monday 9.30am-1pm and Friday 12pm-3pm. The service can be contacted via their Facebook page, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 01870603819 (Please leave contact details as all messages are answered promptly.)
Emergency food parcels are available outside opening hours by the back door of The Bunker.
Drop off points for those able to donate are located at local supermarkets, and items can also be dropped off at the Foodbank during opening hours.
Financial donations are also welcomed, and can be received by PayPal at email@example.com, or bank transfer to: Uist and Barra Foodbank, CAF Bank, Sort code 83-91-46 Account number 30401010.
NeighbourFood Uist will provide an online platform that will enable customers to buy food and drink directly from local producers
Customers will be able to purchase a wide range of local produce from Beagram Eggs, to Fiona’s Cakes n Bakes, to Downpour Gin.
Funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with support from Storas Uibhist, NeighbourFood will provide two dedicated host sites, at Tagsa Uibhist in Balivanich and Croft and Cuan in Lochboisdale, where customers can collect their goods on agreed collection days.
There are currently ten local producers registered and any other local producers wishing to be involved should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darren Taylor, Chief Executive of Stòras Uibhist said: “Stòras Uibhist recognises the importance of local produce to the local economy, the contribution towards net zero through food miles reduction, and to the overall health and wellbeing of islanders through eating seasonally and nutritiously.”
Darren Taylor highlighted other upcoming projects that will add value for food businesses: “NeighbourFood is just one of several Stòras Uibhist projects that will help local businesses to thrive. With grant support from the Islands Infrastructure Fund, Ludag waiting room will be renovated later this year into a commercial premises with the opportunity for local businesses to take on the lease of this unit in what is such a special location.
“The longer term Islands Deal project will see the complete transformation of Grogarry Steadings into a local produce facility with a number of commercial units being created. We are delighted to have worked in partnership with Tagsa Uibhist and Croft and Cuan to launch NeighbourFood, and we all look forward to seeing how the project evolves.”
Ronan MacPhee (pictured), 18, from Benbecula, is the Market Host for NeighbourFood Tagsa and is in charge of inviting and helping producers get ready for the initiative.
“NeighbourFood allows customers to place an order online and to then collect their local produce shopping from one spot. So you are going A to B instead of travelling throughout the island; this saves you time, fuel and is good for the environment,” Ronan explained.
He added: “When time comes for opening, I’ll be helping producers unload their goods and updating the website to make sure I have everything I need for each person who has
ordered. Then on Wednesdays, I’ll be welcoming people who come to collect the goods, ‘A click & collect’ type service.”
The hub is based at Benbecula East Camp, in the back of the Bunker. Online markets are already up and running across Scotland.
Ronan said: “It’s great that our Market is in Balivanich as it’s so central. It means that someone who lives in North Uist can come down to me and pick up local goods that would usually be down at the bottom of South Uist. Or someone who can’t drive can walk here and pick up local stuff from around the islands. I just think it’s really going to help people out in wonderful ways.”
Chris MacLullich, Chief Executive Officer at Tagsa Uibhist, said: “Tagsa Uibhist is excited to be part of this new enterprise, which we believe will become part of community life in Uist. There is an abundance of fresh food being produced here and we hope that this venture will lead to more local food being consumed in Uist, as well as providing a great opportunity for businesses.
From our perspective in Tagsa Uibhist, as an organisation that promotes health and wellbeing, NeighbourFood ticks a lot of boxes – making fresh, healthy food more available, creating new opportunities for people to be active and interacting with each other and providing a new opportunity for employment. We look forward to seeing NeighbourFood customers and producers here in East Camp.”
For more information visit: https://www.neighbourfood.co.uk/markets/tagsa/117
Green appeal for North Uist Distillery new blue bottle
Award-winning gin-producers Kate Macdonald and Jonny Ingledew have launched a new premium bottle for their flagship Downpour Gin as part of exciting growth plans for 2022.
The new bottle features a bold and eye-catching design, with several nods to the company’s Hebridean heritage. ‘Island Life Distilled’, the brand’s strapline, is embossed on the neck of each bottle, with the body featuring the Downpour logo surrounded by the brand’s signature rain pattern, which wraps around the new bottle.
With a focus on increasing environmental consciousness, Kate and Jonny enlisted high-quality Italian glassmakers Vetroelite to produce the new bottle, designed by Glasgow based Jamhot Design.
The new bottle uses 38% less glass than the original Downpour design, has a natural cork stopper with a wooden top and uses biodegradable inks, ensuring the whole thing can be recycled alongside clear household glass making it as environmentally friendly as possible.
Kate said: “We are delighted to launch a new bottle for our original Downpour Gin during what is an exciting time for North Uist Distillery. We wanted to create a new bespoke bottle which would enhance our brand while representing our Hebridean heritage and the Downpour Gin inside. Each bottle is distilled, bottled and labelled on the island to enable the business to have a long-term benefit for the community. We currently employ ten people and will look to continue to add to our team in the future.”
North Uist Distillery has been plastic free since inception, using only cardboard in their postal packaging and the distillery is also aiming to become B Corp certified.
B Corp Certification is a designation that evidences a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.
As well as the bottle’s design for the environment, the neck has also been crafted to be easily used at the new refill station at North Uist Distillery’s home at Nunton Steadings and the distillery is working towards launching a postal refill system later this year for off-island customers.
Kate added: “Our original bottle had a very heavy base which required a lot of glass. As part of the redesign, we have made sure that the new bottle is more lightweight and uses less glass than our original bottle. We have also designed it to fit into the refill station at Nunton Steadings, where anyone can come along and get their bottle refilled. This is an important development which will help us go some way to achieving one of our major goals which is to become more sustainable as a business. We believe we now have a bottle which more people will want to keep and one that will also encourage refills at our Nunton Steadings shop.”
North Uist Distillery has proven to be a hit not just locally, but with tourists alike. The opening of the Downpour Shop in May 2021 attracted over 10,000 visitors over its first summer of business. The small team are keen to increase that figure this summer, and will welcome the return of tasting sessions and tours which were also launched in August 2021.
Selling out in the first week of the launch, the new bottle has been received as a success.
New bottles will be launched for the remaining flavours of Downpour, creating a collectable quartet. Customers can look forward to a new ‘Island Life Bar’, for visitors to enjoy a Downpour gin and tonic, in the courtyard of the steadings, if the Uist weather allows it.
Bornholm island trip provides food for thought for local producers
Ten people from food and drink businesses in the Outer Hebrides have returned from a week-long learning journey to the Danish island of Bornholm.
The trip was funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise as part of the agency’s support for the region’s food and drink sector.
All businesses that took part are members of Eat Drink Hebrides, the regional food group that aims to grow a thriving food and drink network for the islands.
It includes food producers, retailers, chefs, restaurant owners and front of house staff from businesses such as Harbour Kitchen, North Uist Distillery and Eriskay Community Shop.
Julie Sloan, project manager with Eat Drink Hebrides, said: “I carried out a lot of research into places that represent best practice when it comes to food tourism. I also wanted to find a location that reflects our island communities. Bornholm is such a good fit; I am delighted to have taken our group there.”
Bornholm shares many similarities with the Hebrides as the tourism season is relatively short and supply chains are challenging. There is also a shortage of young people and difficulties associated with keeping and selling locally grown products.
The visitors spent time meeting and learning from the experiences of food and drink companies on Bornholm and how they have met the challenges they have in common.
During a packed itinerary they visited a food market, a farm, breweries and a smokehouse. They also visited a pasta maker who uses locally grown durum wheat, an organic ice cream maker, a grilled cheese pop up café and a new tourism experience that aims to educate visitors about the ocean and where food comes from.
Funding allowed Eat Drink Hebrides to employ a consultant who spoke with businesses across the spectrum, from producers to retailers, to better understand how supply chains need to evolve sustainably.
Joanna Peteranna, HIE’s area manager for the Outer Hebrides, said: “Collaboration is important in any sector. It sparks ideas and innovation, which in turn fuels growth across the sector. That’s what this learning journey was all about and together with the work carried out by the consultant, we can expect to see more positive things happen in the Outer Hebrides food and drink sector.”
The consultant’s report supports Our Atlantic Larder 2021-2030, a plan to make sure food and drink from the Outer Hebrides is widely recognised as high quality, artisan, and rich in heritage and culture.
Catriona Walker, Manager of Eriskay Shop, said: ”I went on the trip wearing three different hats: firstly, as a food retailer, secondly as a Board Director for Storas Uibhist and thirdly as a crofter, and in all three cases, there was so much to learn. The Bornholm group really strive for self-sufficiency and that gives them some security when it comes to food supply. Here in the Uists we are so reliant on food coming in and between the global food supply crisis and our own very local problems with the ferries, we just don’t feel resilient and as a food retailer, that worries be. I was also stuck by the trust they had in each other, and their commitment to working collectively for the greater good – that’s definitely something id like to see more of here in the Uists.”
Kate MacDonald, who attended on behalf of North Uist Distillery, said: “I have been hugely inspired by our visit to Bornholm. It was a wonderful experience to share alongside other food & drink producers from the Outer Hebrides. Seeing the creativity, innovation and collaboration between the Gourmet Bornholm producers has given us all ideas for how to further enhance our food & drink offering within the islands.”
Food resilience heads the agenda for visiting MSP
Ariane Burgess, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, visited Uist this month holding meetings with community groups across the islands.
Speaking with Am Pàipear about her time here, Ariane focussed on food resilience and the cost of living on the islands.
She said: “In the coming months, Parliament will agree on the Good Food Nation bill, which if consented to, will require the Scottish Government, Health Boards and Local Authorities to create Good Food plans. I was heartened by the conversations with people across Benbecula and Uist to learn that local people and communities are already leading the way.
From the great Community Food Growing project at TAGSA to the Neighbour Food initiative that will connect local producers with people wanting local produce, I am optimistic that food resilience is being taken seriously by everyone I met. It was also exciting to hear about ideas in the works from a community kitchen to even more formed projects like the Food Hub at the Grogarry steading that will provide space for people wanting to set up local food production from bread to cheese and of course a micro-brewery. It would be fantastic to see local people being able to eat affordable, locally produced food in the near future.”
Jemma MacVicar, development officer for North Uist and Benbecula Locality Partnership, also hosted the MSP, following previous online meetings. She said: “It was fantastic to have the opportunity to meet Ariane in person and chat around a number of topics important to the community. The topic of resilience moved quickly onto food production and there are such a number of fantastic growing and production initiatives on these islands which in coming together could create even more opportunities in feeding our own communities and benefitting from the export of products to elsewhere in Scotland.
There is also a huge opportunity to do more with the potential food waste, food items which can no longer be sold but are perfectly safe to eat could be transferred to a community kitchen to be cooked and bring people together to share a meal, tackling both carbon reduction and social isolation. I do hope that by working together we can make these ideas realities in the near future.”
Local businesses received a boost with crowds out in force for Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival
Iain Stephen Morrison
Lochboisdale was transformed last weekend with scores in attendance a new event celebrating local food and drink hosted on 5th September 2021. Local businesses and Stòras Uibhist worked together to organise the first Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival.
Numerous local producers set up stalls in marquees to take advantage of a much-needed opportunity to promote their businesses after the challenges of COVID-19.
Producers on-site included Croft and Cuan, Urachadh Uibhist, North Uist Distillery and Double Mac at Burnside, while Borrodale Hotel served cocktails to a backdrop of music from the team at Ceòlas. Tagsa Uibhist sold produce from its site in Balivanich and several crafters set out their wares for the passing trade at Lochboisdale.
Mary Schmoller, chair of Stòras Uibhist, said: “Stòras Uibhist is delighted at the turnout for the Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival. Locals and visitors enjoyed the day and the feedback has been incredible. It was a fun event, the result of collaborative working with local businesses and organisations. We look forward to working with the community to put on future events.”
Kevin Morrison from Croft and Cuan commented: “Community support for this first event was amazing and more people came along than we ever imagined. It shows there is so much demand for this type of event in Lochboisdale so we hope it will be the first of many local produce events.”
Donnie Steele from Uist Gifts & Info said: “Huge thanks to all the visitors and members of the community for coming together and supporting the stallholders and businesses. It was unbelievably busy and far exceeded our aspirations for the day, with the communities of our five islands making for a positive event and a brilliant day.
“We are actively discussing a similar event in the very near future, possibly in conjunction with Lochboisdale Amenity Trust and the switching on of the lights at Christmas.
“Having events like this helps communities to be more connected, resilient and thrive. When you support local businesses, you are not only helping to support local entrepreneurs, you are bringing communities together and helping to make a valued contribution to the local economy.”
Local businesses and Stòras Uibhist are set to host the first ever Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival
Iain Stephen Morrison
Lochboisdale is to be the site of a new festival celebrating local food and drink in September. Local businesses and Stòras Uibhist are working together to organise the first Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival, which will run from 12noon to 4pm on 5th September 2021.
Organisers are working on the final format of the event, which will feature numerous local producers, all set to be announced in the run up to the event on Facebook. It is hoped that the festival will give food and drink producers a much-needed opportunity to promote their businesses, while also providing a fun day out for the local community, after the challenged of COVID-19.
“Stòras Uibhist is delighted to support the Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival. Our community is full of fantastic food and drink producers, talented makers and the festival will be a great opportunity for them to showcase their products,” commented Darren Taylor, chief executive of Stòras Uibhist.
Croft & Cuan is one of the newest food outlets on the islands, launched last autumn with an offer of modern dishes rooted in the Outer Hebrides. Earlier this summer the business opened a shop in Lochboisdale.
Kevin Morrison from Croft and Cuan said: “We are coming up to our first anniversary and what better way to celebrate our birthday than with a food and drink festival celebrating the best of our fantastic local produce? These are exciting times for Lochboisdale with new businesses like Skydancer, Uist Gifts, as well as Croft and Cuan setting up in the area and I hope as many people as possible come along on 5th September 2021.”
Donnie Steele from Uist Gifts & Info added: “This is a welcome boost for the area and an opportunity for all businesses on the islands to showcase their products and services at a real family day out and experience. Let’s hope this is the beginning of an annual event on the local calendar, not just in Lochboisdale but from Berneray to Eriskay.”
Calum Scott MacAulay from Lochboisdale Hotel said: “As a hotel we have worked hard to concentrate on what we can do for our community and we are so pleased not only to see the creation of other small businesses coming to the area, but the introduction of the food and drink festival. Lochboisdale is a great location and is far too underutilised at present, so we are really looking forward to help showcase who we are and what we can be.”
Look out on social media for further information on the activities and vendors involved in the Lochboisdale Food and Drink Festival.