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Top tips: how our council buys organic

Top tips: how our council buys organic

To celebrate Organic September we asked Gillian Dore, North Ayrshire Council’s Facilities Management Purchasing Officer, to share her top tips for buying organic as an organisation.

North Ayrshire Council is one of only three Food for Life Catering Mark Gold award holders in Scotland. They produce about 7000 Food for Life meals every day – using fresh food that includes farm assured meats, organic, local, seasonal produce and fresh fish.

Gillian says North Ayrshire serve organic in schools for a range of reasons: "The kids love it! Sourcing organic is the right thing to do, there’s no argument against it really. At the end of the day, it’s about the children and they love our food. Our Primary 1 to 3 school meal uptake is currently one of the highest in the UK. That says it all!"

Take a look at Gilian's tips for other organisations looking to buy organic:

1: Get back to basics:

Gillian says: "When we first started cooking with organic ingredients, we had to change the way we do things. In the past, we cooked with frozen, processed food. We had to get used to using fresh, organic food. We went back to basics with our cooking. It’s second nature now. The staff love it. Morale in the kitchen is brilliant."

2: Plan, plan and plan again!

"Lots of people in similar roles say 'we can’t afford to buy organic' but you can," Gillian advises. "Menu planning is the key. We take a three way approach - cost, nutrition and taste - all three have to balance before a dish makes it onto our menu."

3: Get organised.

Gillian believes being organised is crucial: "We have 30 catering kitchens supplying to another 70 or so units and we want consistency. We developed our own Food for Life buying guide, which has a section for organic produce. Staff in all kitchens buy from that. It’s been great for ensuring quality and keeping track of costs."

4: Patience and perseverance.

"Some products, like the organic dried goods, were easy to source locally," says Gillian. "Organic milk, however, was another story. It was very difficult to find a local supplier at the right price. With a great deal of perseverance we were finally able to get it on contract. We had to fight for it but we got there in the end."

5: Don’t forget to blow your own trumpet.

Gillian advises: "It’s really important to tell everyone that you’re buying organic and cooking with fresh ingredients. A few of the schools in the area have built on our work by joining the Food for Life Education programme – where learning about food becomes part of the curriculum. This helps the children understand the importance of good food."

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Find out more

If you want to get organic on the menu for your council, school or organisation, we at the Soil Association can help.

If you're in Scotland Food for Life Scotland can provide free support to help your local authority achieve a Catering Mark award. Our Food for Life education programme engages children with food across the school curriculum - not just in the dining hall. Contact the team in Scotland for more information.

If you're elsewhere in the UK, don't worry - you can get involved with the Catering Mark and Food For Life too!