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Putting local produce on the plate in East Ayrshire

Putting local produce on the plate in East Ayrshire

What began as a mission to promote healthier school meals has transformed into a testament to the importance of buying local

Since 2008, East Ayrshire Council have been putting more good food on school plates, as Scotland’s first local authority to hold the Food for Life Served Here Gold award. With a strong commitment to fresh, local and sustainable food, they are true trailblazers in showing what is possible for school meals.

Food for Life Served Here Award holders can demonstrate that a minimum of 75 per cent of dishes are freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients. Meals are also free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners, additives and all genetically modified ingredients. Catering teams also use free range eggs, higher welfare meat and ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources. 

At Gold level, award holders like East Ayrshire Council spend at least 15 per cent of the ingredients budget for their service on organic produce, source a significant proportion of ingredients from UK producers, and take further steps to make healthy eating easier. 

“Food has value and when the food is good and includes benefits to sustainability, the environment and health, it is a no-brainer to adapt our menus for the Food for Life scheme,” says Mark Hunter, Strategic Lead Food and Facilities Support for East Ayrshire Council.

“But it goes beyond that – you can see the benefit to the local economy through community wealth building by ensuring contracts for our local suppliers. This means the suppliers who join the scheme are guaranteed a monthly income during a turbulent economic period.”

Local fruit and veg for school meals

East Ayrshire Council has built strong networks with local suppliers including A&A Spittal, a family farm in Auchinleck, Cumnock, who supply them with fruit and vegetables. They started supplying East Ayrshire more than 15 years ago and have been able to expand as their working relationship strengthened.

“Buying local is something that I feel really passionately about,” says A&A Spittal’s Alistair Spittal. “If you’re a local supplier and you can rely on a three- or four-year contract from a local authority, it makes a huge difference to your business. It means you can employ more people into more stable positions. It becomes sensible to invest in training your staff so they can rise up the ranks within your business.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve for the local community, and the truth is we wouldn’t be able to employ so many young people from the area if we didn’t have the schools contract.”

Organic dairy farm supplies East Ayrshire schools

Image: Mossgiel Farm in Mauchline supplies organic milk to East Ayrshire schools

Another supplier that has seen the benefit of East Ayrshire Council’s commitment to the Food for Life Served Here Gold Award is Ayrshire farmer and owner of Mossgiel Organic Farm, Bryce Cunningham. After a difficult few years following loss in the family, Bryce made it his mission to turn the farm’s fortune around as he pivoted to organic – ideal for helping to ensure East Ayrshire Council retain their status as the first local authority in Scotland to hold the FFLSH Gold award.

“We were very fortunate to be given the opportunity to supply schools in East Ayrshire,” says Bryce. “It is a fantastic contract, and East Ayrshire Council has a good reputation of working with suppliers. With it, we were able to upscale and employ more people. We know when the schools will be on and when they will be off so we can almost guarantee and plan what the volume is going to be. It made everything steadier and helped us look forward – we’re currently in the process of becoming 100 per cent sustainable.

“It’s not just about supplying a product – it’s teaching children where their food comes from, why organic food is important and who is producing their food. It’s putting a local face they know to the food they eat – this is the people who make organic milk in Ayrshire.”

Delicious food on the doorstep

Mossgiel isn’t the only local supplier who have experienced business growth through supplying local school meals in East Ayrshire. Corrie Mains Farm started free range egg production with 700 hens and, as demand has increased, now have 20,000. Since 2005, their eggs have been sold direct to East Ayrshire schools, as well as through selective outlets such as delis, butchers, and farm shops.

Image: The Smillie family supplies free range eggs to East Ayrshire Council for its school meals service

Anne Smillie, owner of Corrie Mains Free Range, says “To know our product is used locally is fantastic, but for it to be in schools? It feels like a great example of community involvement. East Ayrshire Council is contracting local suppliers, it’s a win-win.

"The money stays local, benefits local, benefits local community and the food is delicious while being made on our doorstep.”

As East Ayrshire Council’s partnerships with local businesses show, the Food for Life Served Here Gold award is a powerful framework for local authorities to deliver school meals are good for health, the environment and the economy. And those partnerships are having a direct positive impact on school pupils, who are eating fresh, local and sustainable school meals each day.

“We know we’re receiving good quality products and that’s probably one of the best things you can get to young people, especially when some aren’t getting three regular meals a day,” says Mark. “The benefit of retaining the Food for Life Served Here Gold award is the value we put on the plate for our young people.”

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 Development Manager, for an informal chat: