Organic, plastic free milk for East Ayrshire schools
East Ayrshire Council (EAC), proud gold Food for Life Served Here award holders, recently announced that Mossgiel Organic Farm has been contracted to supply fresh, organic milk to all schools across the local authority.
This is a bold step towards revolutionising public sector food and has set a new benchmark for school meals.
Mossgiel Organic Farm, based in Mauchline, has started serving their milk via vending machines in schools so pupils can refill their personal beakers. This will result in the council using 400,000 fewer single use plastic bottles per year. Milk is being delivered in electric vans to reduce their carbon footprint, with the company aspiring to be completely carbon neutral by 2025.
Building partnerships through public procurement
This kind of partnership between local government and local producer demonstrates the power of public food to drive a positive transformation in food production and supply. The approach goes a long way towards creating a more sustainable and secure food system that benefits pupils, the planet and producers and embodies the principles of the Food for Life programme.
The Food for Life Scotland team introduced Mossgiel Organic Farm to representatives from EAC and our Supply Chain Officer arranged for, and accompanied, the EAC team to visit the farm in October 2019. Our team continued to support the farm and EAC throughout the tendering process until the contract was awarded in August 2021.
A business with a mission
Bryce Cunningham, who runs Mossgiel Organic Farm, says that when he saw East Ayrshire had started working with Food for Life he was delighted, saying, ‘It’s fantastic to see a system where local people are supplying local schools. This creates jobs and opportunities and benefits everyone involved.’
Bryce inherited his family farm in 2015, the same year that the international milk price collapsed. He suddenly found himself in a position where the farm was losing money, financial institutions refused to offer any support and the industry was increasingly dominated by big dairies. Instead of giving up, Bryce made the decision to try doing things differently and in 2016 the farm started its journey towards becoming organic, completing its conversion in 2018. Mossgiel Organic Farm was born. The farm began selling milk directly to the community and its reputation began to grow.
Winning the East Ayrshire contract has enabled Bryce to take on more members of staff, now employing 25 people. He’s also been able to act on his plan of becoming carbon neutral by 2025 by buying 3 more electric vans and installing a biomass boiler. Bryce said, ‘In the past the system has been skewed towards bigger companies, with little support for local or small-scale food producers. This seems to be slowly changing. The tender to East Ayrshire wasn’t about just chasing another contract. It was about trying to do something for our community and proving that ethical companies can win large scale contracts.’
A local authority setting the gold standard
East Ayrshire has been a gold Food for Life Served Here award holder since 2008. As such, they have committed to serving fresh, local and sustainable food in schools and to a minimum of 15% of their ingredient spend being on organic produce. Mark Hunter, strategic lead food and facilities support, EAC, believes ‘Organic is important because of what it means for the welfare standards of animals, the sustainability of how things are grown and the benefits it brings to local producers. We’re passionate about maintaining ethical sourcing, and the way that this in turn strengthens the community.’
Public procurement provides a route to market for farmers and if they see local authorities buying organic and know that the demand is there, this can give them the confidence needed to convert the way they farm. Mark goes on to explain, ‘If a farmer knows they’ll be able to sell their produce, they’re far more likely to make that change. This means we have the power to influence how food is grown.’
The new partnership is not only good for the environment, it also makes economic sense. ‘We’re saving on the waste management of all those plastic bottles and that adds up. Then there’s the value of putting healthy food on school plates, supporting local economic growth and reducing carbon emissions through transportation. We also have more and more young people asking us what we’re doing to reduce single use plastic. These points therefore all became important aspects of the tender.
‘Through publicising this partnership, we want other producers to know that there is no need to be put off by the tender process. Help is available both from local councils and from the Food for Life team who can liaise between local authorities and producers sharing best practice and introducing you to their networks.’
If you are a Scottish supplier that would love to see your product on the plates of school children across the country, or a local authority that wants to take advantage of the top-quality Scottish food available in your area, contact Lucie Wardle, Supply Chain Officer, for an informal chat: LWardle@soilassociation.org