When the Covid-19 crisis hit last March many consumers saw their weekly food shop hit a roadblock.

With supermarkets struggling to keep up with customer demand, it seems that quite a few decided to take a local detour.

Taking 'the scenic route' forced consumers to slow down, appreciate what’s on our doorstep and take time to discover the many farm shops, markets, makers and producers right under their noses.

Coronavirus, whether through choice or necessity, changed how many shop for food; and that’s great news for local economies, rural communities and the environment if those new habits last.

By eating what’s in season and locally available, we also have the potential to cut down our food miles and doing our bit to tackle the climate change emergency.

So, like other major crises over the centuries, food has been a catalyst for change. Whether volunteering at a local food larder, staying home and baking banana bread, or getting involved in community growing projects; food is occupying a bigger role in many lives than ever before.

Diversifying what is eaten and how and where we get it, strengthens and re-localises our food systems, makes people less reliant on big retailers, preserves rural jobs and is good for the planet.

But reducing the journey from farm to fork, doesn’t just cut down food miles. It connects those who make or grow our food with the end user. There is a great word for this in Japanese – Teikei, which means food with a farmer’s face on it.

While local food isn’t a new thing, Covid-19 has thrown food – and inequalities within our food systems – into sharp focus. If we want a fairer food system for all, we must start in our own neighbourhoods.


Forth Environment Link has been at the forefront of promoting local food for more than four years now.

Determined to change the way people shop for food and give producers a direct route to market, the charity set up Scotland’s first Food Assembly, in Stirling, in 2016 – breaking new ground.

The click and collect farmers’ market gave customers the convenience of being able to order online and collect from one location and went on to become one of the UK’s most successful online markets, attracting over 2000 members.

When the French-owned platform decided to pull out of the UK in 2018, the charity was quick to find a replacement to ensure customers could still buy local.

NeighbourFood – an emerging Irish online e-commerce platform with a similar ethos, where producers keep 80% of the profits (compared to around 25% in supermarkets) – came to the rescue.

Since 2018, Forth Environment Link has supported the roll out of NeighbourFood markets across Scotland; helping build hubs for local food at the heart of our rural communities.

Thanks to the charity’s support and funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, there are now six successful NeighbourFood markets running weekly local food collections – from Balfron and Killin in Stirlingshire; and Peebles in the Scottish Borders; to Falkland in Fife, to the Carse of Gowrie and Blairgowrie, in Perthshire.

The initiative has injected nearly £250,000 into the rural economy – and gave more than 110 of Scotland’s food and drink producers a reliable, local route to market at a critical time for the industry.

During the height of the pandemic small producers saw orders soar, as locals struggled to access food through normal channels. While that initial surge has settled down a little over the past year, there’s plenty of evidence to show that many people aren’t returning to their old food shopping habits.

In Balfron and Blairgowrie, order numbers are still three times higher than they were pre-lockdown.

But a successful market is much more than just about profit– it’s about supporting people to access food, one of our basic needs.

During the pandemic, the NeighbourFood network rose to the challenge of food shortages – supplying thousands of people with local food, much of it grown or produced within a 20-mile radius. Market hosts also worked hard to mobilise volunteers and organise deliveries of food to people shielding or self-isolating in their local communities.

In Peebles, revenue from the market was used to run a daily ‘meals on wheels’ service to people shielding, isolated, house-bound or vulnerable due to Covid-19. Between March and October, they delivered more than 11,000 meals.

Lockdown taught us that click and collect markets, like NeighbourFood, played a vital role in serving their communities.

Covid-19 has shown that local food systems can be incredibly resilient; but they need ongoing support and investment if they are to be around in good times and in bad.

The re-localisation of Scotland’s food systems can play a pivotal part in Scotland’s post Covid-19 green recovery, helping tackle climate change by reducing food miles and helping the transition towards fairer more resilient society.

Not just building back but creating something even better than before, pointed out NeighbourFood founder, Jack Crotty. He said: “When we buy the tastiest food we can, the rest falls into place. Local food is fresher, it’s in season and it’s going to have higher nutritional value.

"It’s supporting the environment, the local economy and building a more resilient food system that’ll still be available the next time supply chains are disrupted.”