Anne-Marie Hamilton writes on the importance of food self-sufficiency

Sugar beet harvest at Wood Farm, in Hail Weston.

Sugar beet harvest at Wood Farm, in Hail Weston. - Credit: HAIL WESTON FARMS LTD

If we have learned one thing over the last few months, it is the importance of being self-sufficient in food whenever we can.

With transport problems, lack of fuel, empty shelves appearing, and a great emphasis on attempting to be ‘greener’ in our lives, there has never been a more important time to try and ‘buy local’.

We also have to ensure that we use as much home-produced food as we can, to cut transport emissions and ensure a good, steady supply of food for our daily needs.

Whilst we are used to thinking about home-produced dairy products, meat, vegetables and salads, how many people realise that we also are extremely good sugar producers in this country?

Many are aware of the cane varieties come from abroad, but people do not realise that our home produced sugar is derived from sugar beet, and what we produce is every bit as good as anything from abroad.

There is also the advantage of it not having travelled half way round the world to get here! Raw beet tastes just like a very sweet piece of beetroot, but is, in fact, white in colour, rather than red.

When I was small, the greatest treat was to be allowed to go with my father in the old farm lorry at 4am to deliver our beet for processing to the sugar beet factory in Peterborough.

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There was a little bakery opposite the gates to the site, which was open daily for business at first light, and we would purchase a couple of hot buns to enjoy, whilst waiting our turn to unload.

When summonsed, we would reverse the old lorry over a pit and watch in fascination as a muddy jet of water washed the beet off the back of the lorry, and it began its journey through the factory for processing.

Sugar beet, once harvested, has a very distinctive, earthy smell, and it never ceased to amaze me that such an unlikely looking product could be turned into such a delicious, beautiful, white crystal foodstuff.

It remains an important crop today. Not only is it sustainable, but the residue makes an excellent animal feed, so nothing is wasted.

If you want to help the planet by reducing food miles and also support British agriculture, then pop a bag of British-produced sugar into your trolley, next time you shop.