Farming Report

Sodexo, a leading food and facilities management company and a large scale purchaser, has continued to develop its relationships with growers across the UK to help drive the availability of British produce. Tamsin Gane, Sodexo’s Sustainable Procurement Manager reports.


Sodexo’s sustainable procurement strategy takes into account that not every product can be grown locally. When talking of local sourcing it is more complex than you would hope. What does local actually mean, does it mean within a 10 mile or 50 mile radius or does it mean anywhere in the UK?


It is also important to note that it is not always better for the environment to source locally. This is the case when you look at exotic products for example. If we were to attempt to grow pineapples in Britain, we would require huge amounts of artificial heating and lighting and use a protective structure like a green house. It is therefore better for the environment to source from naturally warmer climates and use efficient transportation systems to deliver to the UK. Sodexo works with suppliers who ensure fair wages and working conditions and often help to support communities with projects such as building schools and clinic facilities. This same principle would apply to a large range of more common or less exotic items like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.


As a large-scale purchaser Sodexo understands its importance to UK farming and has adopted a regional approach, which focuses on sustainability, seasonality and provenance. Following the company becoming part of the Red Tractor farm assurance scheme it now has over 80 products featuring the Red Tractor logo as they come into season.


So far 2009 has to date been a great year for many crops particularly so for plums and potatoes. The mixture of good weather and rain has meant that the crops have so far been excellent and generally stock levels have been unaffected by any adverse weather conditions.


Sourced within our shores


With 93 per cent of potatoes and at least 80 per cent of our carrots, leeks, parsnips, cabbages and cauliflowers all sourced from the UK, the weather has a major impact on supply and at the moment the weather has been on our side. Because of the warm spring and the wet summer, we are looking at prefect conditions for a bumper crop of English bramley apples.


Despite the UK weather being somewhat changeable, one of Sodexo’s suppliers is ideally placed with the warmest climate in the UK and sheltered by the Isle of Wight. The natural phenomenon of its location and varying farmland enables Barfoots of Botley to extend the season of produce such as its courgettes, asparagus and rhubarb by as much as a couple of months a year.


Summer is the time for salad, and Sodexo’s supplier of whole head salad, JEPCO, is one of the company’s Red Tractor suppliers and is also LEAF (Linking environment and farming) accredited, which means they

are committed to working to enhance the natural environment and minimise their impact on it using activities such as crop rotation, reintroducing and cultivating reed beds and encouraging wildlife proliferation through setting aside woodland.


Situated in the heart of the Lincolnshire fens – an area renowned for its silt-rich soil – Bryan Blair presides over 400 hectares of salad leaves on land that the Piccaver family has farmed for generations. Fertile earth and dedication to natural, fresh produce has resulted in lettuce with wonderful texture and shades of colour.

Varieties grown range from sumptuous scarlet Oak Leaf to the dazzling lime green incised frills of Lollo Biondi. Harvesting teams delicately pick each lettuce by hand ready for its journey from field to plate. Specifically trained to check the size, weight, appearance and maturity of the crop, the harvesters ensure each lettuce receives the utmost care.


Once picked, the plants are packed and chilled to below 5 ?C before loading onto a refrigerated lorry for delivery. The whole process from cutting to supplying Pauleys takes less than 24 hours.


Passionate about farming and pro-active towards protecting the environment, 11 hectares of the farm have been dedicated to conservation and are home to a variety of reed birds and wild plants. An equivalent of eight and a half miles of hedgerow has been planted to encourage and enrich natural wildlife, enhance the complex ecosystem and preserve the local area. Public access to viewing hides allows the local community to enjoy the wildlife the wet habitat attracts, and the farm is committed to a ten year scheme to preserve and cultivate the area.


Methodology and procedures are as environmentally friendly as possible and Bryan and his team are always thinking of ways to improve. “That’s one of the best things about my job, the huge amount of variation. We are always learning and looking for new technologies to help us understand and deliver improvements for our customers.”


The farm begins to plant in late February through to early September, harvesting the crops from May until the end of October. Bryan explains that experience and monitoring weather, temperature and light levels determines the optimum time in which to plant in order to deliver faultless leaf quality. The UK, in particular, offers a suitable climate for growing lettuce as the majority of leaves grow well in even temperatures.


Together with all of our suppliers and our chefs, at Sodexo we are working towards giving customers more choice and a better understanding of the issues around sustainable sourcing to help them make the choice that ensures they get the best quality and the best in season produce. At Sodexo we are working on a ‘back to basics’ approach where traditional dishes and seasonal produce feature in menus throughout the year.