City-wide food planning, Norwich style

In the food bit of PEDAL’s visioning day last Sunday, we spent a while feeling amazed that if we consider Portobello to have 10,000 people in it, and we all want to eat 2 pieces of fruit every day, then we’d need to produce 7,300,000 portions of fruit a year! If you scale that up to the whole of Edinburgh, it’ll be more like 365,000,000!! Here’s a link to some work that’s been done on a food plan for Norwich – rather academic in tone, but very interesting in terms of looking at this kind of practicality. If you don’t want to wade through the whole thing, scroll down to some much more practical thoughts, like this one on how to provide bread:

7.1 Bread
What are the weak points in the current bread supply chain? (Transport of flour from distant mills, transport of bread from distant bakeries, single point of supply for yeast ) If we were to build a local infrastructure that would be more resilient, on what scale would it be needed in order to feed Norwich? How much wheat would be needed? How big a grain store? How big a mill, or how many mills of what size? How many bakers? What weak points would remain (eg reliance on electricity or gas for milling, baking)?

*Production*: Let’s assume our “arable ecological diet” calls for a quarter of a large loaf (ie 4 slices) of wholemeal bread per person per day. That’s 200g of bread per day so about 135g of flour. So the 233,000 people in Norwich and its hinterland need 31.5 tonnes per day of wholemeal flour, or 11,500 tonnes per year. If organic wheat yields 6 tonnes per hectare we would need about 2,000 ha of wheat per year to feed Norwich. If that wheat was grown one year in 7 as part of an arable rotation, a total arable area of 14,000 ha would be needed to feed Norwich. Note that the “hinterland” of Norwich has been estimated above as 38,000 ha.

*Storage*: If we wanted to store a single year’s supply of wheat in Norwich we’d need a grain store capable of holding 11,500 tonnes. Norwich is likely to have an excess of suitable barn-like space in the form of the “retail warehouses” that have been built in recent years. For example, Woolworth’s store on Riverside has a floorspace of 8,616m2. So if we filled that space to an average height of 1.33m it would hold a year’s supply of wheat. Riverside is an excellent location in terms of its access to both rail and river for transporting the wheat; but flooding could be a problem, so higher locations should also be considered.

*Milling*: Equipment will be needed to dress (clean) the wheat (ie remove stones, weevils etc) and then to mill the wheat. A typical windmill or watermill mills around a tonne a day. The electric mill that we propose to buy for Norwich (see projects below) would have a similar throughput, would cost around £4,000 (probably double that once the associated equipment has been added), and stands about 1m square. However, 30 such mills would be needed to mill the 30 tonnes per day that Norwich needs.

*Bakers*: according to the Bakers’ Federation, Britain consumes the equivalent of 12m loaves of bread per day (actually a little less than a quarter of a loaf per person). Three-quarters of this bread comes from the big plant bakers, around 20% from supermarket in-store bakeries, and only 5% from craft bakers. In the case of Norwich and its hinterland we might calculate that the population of 233,000 is consuming around 47,000 loaves a day, of which 35,000 will come from the big plant bakers, 10,000 from supermarket in-store bakeries, and only around 2400 from the area’s 20 or so craft bakers. (In France, where artisan-baked bread is more important, it’s interesting to note that for example Aix-en-Provence, with the same population as Norwich, has over 60 artisan bakers.)

The plant bakery sector is dominated by two companies – Allied Bakeries (ABF) and Hovis (Premier Foods) – with Warburtons in third place. Allied Bakeries’ nearest production site is in Stevenage (91 miles), Hovis’ in Forest Gate, East London (107 miles) and Warburtons’ is in Enfield (107 miles).

Supermarket in-store bakeries offer the potential of a more useful contribution to a resilient bread supply in that most of them have the necessary equipment to bake bread from local flour (mixer, bread oven etc).

However, even if supermarket bakeries can be repurposed to form part of a resilient local bread supply chain, Norwich would still need many more bakeries – perhaps 100-200 more – if it were to stop importing bread from distant plant bakeries.

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