Nick Drainey in Scots Magazine adds to news of this three year old co-operative, first mentioned in our September post about Co-operative & Community Finance collaborating with other funds to develop community food and farming businesses.
His article, republished on the view from the hill website, focusses first on Andrew Whitley (left) is one of seven directors of Scotland the Bread, which aims to take old varieties of wheat ignored for centuries, grow them organically and create loaves which are more nutritious than anything to be found on supermarket shelves.
A visit in the early 1990s to post-communist Russia enabled him to study sourdough and he then launched a range of naturally-fermented breads that met a growing demand from people in the UK who found they could no longer tolerate factory loaves. Increasingly concerned with the state of British bread, he did a Masters in Food Policy at City University, London, researching the changes in grains, agriculture and baking methods that seemed to be making our basic food less nutritious and less digestible.
For the last three years Mr Whitley has been researching and bringing “heritage” specimens from seed banks across the world, including Russia, the US, France, Scandinavia and the UK. He then grows these seeds, many not used for decades but kept in case they become useful again, with the purpose of discovering the most nutritious grains that can be grown in Scotland.
Scotland the Bread is now using a network of growers across Scotland, including himself, farmers and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, to plant the seeds he has found and see which can grow best in Scottish conditions. Once harvested, they are sent to laboratories to be tested for their nutritional qualities.
Mr Whitley questions the need for imported modern varieties of wheat which he says are based around intensive chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides. As well as having to be fortified with minerals, the modern varieties also cause health problems, there are more of the protein epitopes that are known to trigger coeliac and similar responses in modern varieties than older ones.
Local bakeries, rooted in their communities, can supply fresh, properly fermented bread to nearby customers, conserving nutritional value without recourse to the synthetic additives that are deemed essential for long-distance loaves.
Agriculture and food processing account for 18-20% of UK annual greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing the distance between field and plate, and limiting the use of fossil fuel-dependent inputs and the energy intensity of processing all make sense as part of a joined-up carbon reduction strategy.
Growing more of our own bread wheat would contribute to food sovereignty in an unpredictable global marketplace and, depending on how it is done, could bring meaningful jobs back home too.
Above all, the soaring cost – both personal and financial – of diet-related ill health in Scotland makes creative action urgent. If people, especially those on modest incomes and with limited capacity (including the old and the very young), are to be better nourished, exhortation from health authorities is not enough: there has to be an accessible and affordable supply of appropriate food.
Above all, ‘fair trade’ arrangements between farmers, millers and bakers are needed to ensure equitable rewards and honest prices that also allow for the variability of the weather and thus of grain quality.