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ARIANE BURGESS: 'The future of our local food system depends on' skilled growers

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Ariane Burgess has backed a scheme aiming to help small-scale food producers.
MSP Ariane Burgess has backed a scheme aiming to help small-scale food producers.

As the Scottish Green Rural Affairs spokesperson, I am deeply passionate about fostering a vibrant and accessible local food system in the Highlands and Islands.

This passion translates into tangible action as I advocate for policies empowering our valued local fruit and vegetable growers.

My recent discussions with Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, focused on several key measures designed to remove barriers, strengthen existing operations, and cultivate the next generation of food producers.

Levelling the Playing Field: Dismantling the 3-Hectare Barrier

One major hurdle our dedicated small-scale growers face is the existing 3-hectare threshold that excludes them from accessing essential support schemes. This arbitrary barrier disregards the significant contributions these producers make to our local food landscape.

Their innovative practices, diverse offerings, and deep connection to the land are crucial for building a resilient and sustainable food system.

I am advocating for the removal of this threshold, ensuring that all growers, regardless of size, have equal access to the support they need to thrive. This would create fairer opportunities and unlock the full potential of our diverse local food sector.

Building Resilience: Invest in Infrastructure and Income Support

I want to see a new market garden support scheme that strengthens our local food infrastructure. By offering targeted income support it would address the economic challenges faced by many growers, making their endeavours more financially sustainable.

Additionally, capital funding allocated for crucial infrastructure investments like polytunnels, glasshouses, and processing equipment would be transformative.

Imagine a thriving landscape dotted with modern facilities, enabling longer seasons, increased production, and a wider variety of fresh produce.

This investment would bolster individual businesses and strengthen the entire local food network, enhancing its resilience and adaptability.

Nurturing the Future: Equipping the Next Generation

The future of our local food system depends on attracting and nurturing skilled growers who are passionate about sustainable and regenerative practices and community engagement.

Therefore, I am actively advocating for the establishment of a dedicated degree-level course in horticulture and business skills supported by the Scottish Funding Council.

This initiative would equip aspiring growers with the essential knowledge and practical tools they need to navigate the complexities of running a successful market garden.

Imagine classrooms buzzing with eager students, learning essential skills like soil management, beneficial pest control, marketing, and financial planning. By investing in their education, we invest in the future of our local food system, ensuring its continued vibrancy and innovation.

These proposed measures are not simply isolated policies; they form a cohesive strategy for nurturing a thriving local food ecosystem across rural and urban Scotland.

By removing barriers, investing in infrastructure, and fostering the next generation of growers, we can cultivate a system that benefits everyone – from farmers securing sustainable livelihoods to families enjoying fresh, local produce on their tables.

It's about strengthening our rural communities, supporting environmental sustainability, and fostering a deep connection to the land and its bounty.

Let's make local food the cornerstone of our regional identity and a driving force for a bright, sustainable and regenerative future.

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