|CORNWALL: THE MIX|
Grace Lobb, Office Manager, Cornwall Taste of the West
I’m Grace Lobb and I’m here representing Cornwall Food and Drink Partnership Scheme – an Objective One umbrella project set up to support Cornwall’s food producers and processors.
But I’ve also got close personal ties with Cornwall’s land. I’m a farmer’s daughter and grew up surrounded by beef and dairy cattle and sheep.
I’ve been closely involved with the Young Farmers and for my degree in Rural Estate Management I spent some of my time working for the Duchy of Cornwall’s estates on the Isles of Scilly.
What I’d like to do is talk briefly about Cornwall Taste Of The West – giving a flavour of some of the work being done to help the region’s food and drink industry move forward.
But I also want to put that work into perspective and touch on the wider issue of how Objective One is helping primary and secondary producers from a range of land – and sea – based industries.
An inspiring landscape
We all know Cornwall is a wonderful place – with beautiful countryside surrounded by the longest and most scenic coastline of any English county. We’ve also got the Isles of Scilly – our very own paradise islands.
A working landscape
But we don’t live in a theme park or a museum. As his Royal Highness has just seen in the displays next door, the landscape here in Cornwall is very much a working landscape for producing food - and the same applies to the sea.
Many people rely on Cornwall’s land, and the sea that surrounds it, for their livelihoods. For thousands of us, we do not just live and work here – our jobs literally depend on the land and the sea.
Surrounding our coastline are some of Europe’s cleanest seas.
But as well as looking idyllic, the seas around us also contain some of the best fishing grounds in Europe – and catching fish has provided nourishment and steady employment for centuries.
The Cornwall brand
Our fishing grounds, with their clear water, give us one of the widest varieties of fish and shellfish species.
We’ve also got a skilled and able workforce, and some of our traditional catching methods – like hand lining – look simple, but are selective, producing a top quality product and having little impact on the stocks.
But the fishing industry has faced unprecedented pressure from a number of angles. We’ve seen years of decline, with many struggling to make ends meet.
However, the arrival of Objective One has given the industry new impetus.
And, refreshingly, the need to meet the strict criteria for European investment has been matched with ideas and drive from within the industry.
One serious issue that has been confronted has been the fact that although we have a wonderful range and quality of fish, 80% of it has been exported whole out of Cornwall.
And often, by the time the fish reached the consumer, it had lost its freshness, variety and individuality.
Now, with investment from Objective One, this is one issue being tackled.
Outdated vessels are being improved to raise the raw material quality and investment in new packaging techniques and value-added processing are improving presentation.
Accepting change is a challenge in itself. But both on a small scale and on a larger scale, change is happening within the fishing industry.
The Objective One process began with projects to increase quality and operational efficiency.
Infrastructure changes are more difficult and often more costly but they are also coming. The outline plans for a scheme to secure Newlyn’s future have been completed. And Looe fish market is embracing new technology with the installation of Cornwall’s first electronic auction.
The next challenge is to focus development on new, value added products, addressing the needs of our customer.
Back on land
And that challenge brings me back to what’s been happening on land – where, as you might imagine, I feel a little more at home.
Like fishing, farming has faced tough times – and will continue to face a challenging future.
But, as with fishing, Objective One is playing a major role in helping our land-based industries meet that future.
Created by farming
Farming has created much of the landscape of Cornwall and Scilly. And farming remains one of our most important – and valuable – industries.
For example, Cornwall has more than 1,000 dairy farms, directly employing 3,500 people. Farm gate sales of milk are alone worth approaching £80 million a year – and that’s just part of the industry.
Which is why Objective One action to strengthen and support our food-producing industries is vital – the land provides jobs, an important share of the region’s income and creates the landscape that attracts others to Cornwall.
There are many ways Objective One is supporting our primary producers:
Just as crucially, Objective One is investing in the people who work within the industry – providing training that helps farmers and their employees to learn new skills and to develop their professional abilities.
Value added production
And, as well as working with primary producers, Objective One is helping our secondary producers – raising the profile of the food and drink produced here in Cornwall and making it easier for people to buy.
Because Cornwall has a wealth of high quality produce – for example, did you know there are now 56 cheeses produced this side of the Tamar?
Within Cornwall demand for local produce is growing – and being met by the growth of outlets like farmer’s markets and farm shops – which also have the benefit of helping local income stay in Cornwall rather than leaving the region to big retail chains and food packagers.
Pubs, restaurants, caterers and hotels are also realising the benefits of sourcing food locally – providing distinctive, high quality regional fare that attracts new and more discerning customers.
And Objective One projects are helping Cornish producers to market and sell their produce much wider – bringing added income into the region.
One focus of the work of Cornwall Taste Of The West has been a partnership with Cornwall Enterprise.
We saw that some suppliers were trying to source local food but lacked the time or knowledge to build up the necessary contacts.
To meet that need, we created Cornwall Foodfinder – a trade directory with 200 entries split into 12 food and drink categories, with an accompanying website – which has had more than three-quarters of a million hits in its first 12 months alone.
And because the directory is being constantly updated, producers can promote new products and special offers – so that buyers are never more than a phonecall or a click away from the freshest seasonal produce available.
We believe that there’s still a large untapped market for new product development within the region’s food and drink industry.
And that’s where we see the future – expansion through innovation not by saturating existing markets. The more that we can offer choice to consumers, the more we can give them reasons to support our producers – and gain the maximum benefit from the land and the sea that we depend on.
I hope that what I’ve said has given you an idea of the importance of our working environment and outline of the importance of the investment coming from Objective One.
But we don’t just use our land for producing, we also use it for leisure and as an asset to attract visitors, which means it has to be handled in a sustainable way.
To tell you more, I’ll hand you over to Inga Curley, Volunteer Assistant Warden from the National Trust.