Last week exposed the fragility of our supply networks, and the huge expectations we, as consumers, have on maintaining ‘business as usual’.
The snow, ice, rain and floods brought out amazing community spirit, with people checking up on friends and neighbours, 4×4 owners springing into action to get essential staff to and from work and farmers getting stuck in to dig out roads and driveways. In my own village, it was lovely to see whole families out sledging or walking through the snow – making the most of some unscheduled ‘downtime’ to enjoy themselves.
Empty shelves and panic buying
However, I was somewhat surprised at the comments I overheard both in our local shop and in a couple of major supermarkets a couple of days later when the shelves were empty of vegetables, fruit and bread. Although the snow had disappeared from our roads, it was still causing problems further up the supply chain meaning that lorries couldn’t get through. It was only a temporary issue, but the grumbles and moans made me realise how much we take the constant supply of fresh food for granted with have no reserves should this fail.
Our local shop fared better than the major supermarkets as many of its suppliers are fairly local and thus once the worst of the weather had passed through, they were able to get stocks back on the shelves. This was the situation not so many years ago, and thus when severe weather hit, or there was a problem on the roads or rails, households were able to carry on much as normal.
In the mid 1970’s in very rural Devon, we were snowed in for over a week, with no access to shops of any sort – my mother had her freezer stocked up, so there wasn’t any panic! We always had spare loaves of bread in the freezer and a cupboard full of tins, so that if anything happened, we could survive a few days until we could get to the shops again. It is something I try to ensure today as well, but I wonder how many households rely on regular trips to the supermarket to buy foods that have arrived on huge lorries from all over the country or world?
As we look to a future where extremes of weather become more common, and thus our transport links might be disrupted due to snow, floods, extreme heat or just huge amounts of traffic causing jams or damaging the road surfaces, should we not be concentrating attention back onto our local suppliers, helping to reduce food miles and supporting our local industry who will be there for us whatever is happening elsewhere in the country?
Support local suppliers and producers
We have seen a swing from local producers and suppliers to large multinationals, isn’t it time to see the pendulum swing the other way now? Check out your local shops and see what you can buy that has been produced in your area – you may find you like it better than the mass-produced items that arrive on huge lorries! In the next snow storm, road blockage or transport strike, we could all find we are reliant on our neighbours and local businesses. Your support will ensure they are still here!