THIS month’s Ryedale Environmental Group column, by Nelly Trevelyan, from the Kirkbymoorside group, sings the praises of shopping local – and not just during a pandemic.

Supermarkets offer us cheapness, choice and convenience, and we flock to them enthusiastically, assuming that they are “a good thing”. Sadly, there are serious downsides.

Cheapness

How do goods in supermarkets get to be cheaper? Cheap ingredients come from huge monocultures, which have been brought into existence through the buying power of supermarkets.

This drives down the prices paid to producers, who in turn have to become larger. The whole process discourages mixed, family farming which cannot possibly put the same level of capitalisation into a variety of crops.

Most important to understand is the fact that nearly all food prices are unrelated to the real costs of production and that all farmers, whether small or large, would not survive without being subsidised by the tax- payer.

Economy of scale should never have been allowed to be the sole judge of efficiency: there are many other values to consider.

We have all heard about the poor prices paid for milk, which barely cover the farmer’s costs for producing it.

Supermarkets know that we like a happy story, so they find us pretty pictures of farming to make us feel that all is well in the countryside.

This often presents a misleading view, because the drive towards “lower-priced food” has damaged the social fabric of our rural economy.

Low prices have discouraged biodiversity, encouraged the amalgamation of farm land and led us directly towards monocultures that often employ more machines than people.

Small producers cannot easily sell to supermarkets, whereas local shops do offer these farmers a route to market, on a smaller scale. This encourages new producers, and new local specialities.

Examples might include ice cream and cheese from dairy farms, or carefully reared and butchered meats. Diversification can help small or medium-sized farmers to survive in a world of agribusiness.

It is also these farmers, who help to create the landscape that is enjoyed by holiday and weekend visitors.

We should not forget that during the three months of coronavirus lockdown, it was a local flour mill that kept thousands of us supplied while the supermarket shelves remained empty.

Choice

By and large, supermarkets restrict real choice about where and how our food is produced and distributed. Where did you last see gooseberries for sale? Local apples? Lambs liver? Local fish? Importantly, smaller local shops can also be much more responsive to local requests for such things as less plastic packaging.

Convenience

Nobody can deny that supermarkets make shopping quick and easy. On the other hand, local shops are more friendly, and in order to keep them, we need to use them more.

Money spent in local shops circulates for longer in the local economy. Money spent in supermarkets drains away, to headquarters, out of area, etc.

Local shops provide a “slow the flow” system for money which greatly helps our rural economy.

And local shops are a vitally important part of community life, because they connect people to the local food chain. They bring life to our towns and society in general.

Isn’t that something that we all want? It might be worth checking out those prices, especially for unprocessed foods. You might be surprised what local producers and shops are offering us.