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Cookery school CEO earns national recognition

The CEO and founder of Ashburton Cooking School, has been identified among the United Kingdom’s 100 most influential females in the tourism, travel, leisure and hospitality industries.

Stella West-Harling, a leading member of the organic produce movement in the South West, has been included in the Top 100 list that was revealed at a exclusive event in London.

The list also includes prominent women such as Nigella Lawson, Prue Leith, Delia Smith, Jill Stein and Ruth Rogers.

Ms West-Harling was chosen in recognition of the huge work she has done to galvanise the various parts of the food and drink sector across Dartmoor by endorsing excellent quality, locally sourced produce and the importance of a healthy approach to life. She also received praise for her involvement in developing imaginative cookery courses at the award winning Ashburton Cookery School that she set up in 1992.

Since 2008, the Cookery School has been delivering cooking courses to many of the school cooks from across Cornwall and Devon on behalf of the School Food Trust. The Cookery School has also developed strong links with the Princes’ Trust where it seeks to encourage disadvantaged youngsters to consider develop a catering career.

Stella believes that her nomination acknowledges the relevance of this type of work with youngsters. She also feels it is essential that tomorrow’s consumers appreciate the importance of local and good healthy food: “When I was first started out, the organic food market was considered as slightly alternative; however it is now highly regarded.

Our cookery school is always keen to promote the attitudes of high quality and sustainable, locally sourced produce along with raising the standard of training quality for the next generation in the food industry of tomorrow.”

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Farmers Blame Fall In Organic Food Production On Supermarkets

Recent figures reveal that farmers have begun to scale back production of organic food due to fading interest from major supermarkets.

According to figures recently published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the amount of land in the UK being set up for organic production has fallen by 68 per cent in the last four years.

Throughout the UK there were just over 50,000 hectares being prepared for organic production in 2010. This was less than 50 per cent of the 2009 total which, in turn was significantly lower than the 158,000 hectares that were being prepared in 2007.

Sales of organic food have fallen in the last two years as consumers opt for cheaper alternatives in the face of higher food prices.

According to figures released by the Soil Association organic sales this year were £1.73billion, a fall of 5.9 per cent from £1.84billion.

Sales also fell by 12 per cent in 2009 which ended a sequence of consistent growth for the preceding 16 consecutive years.

The fall in demand has been attributed to the recession as families look to reduce the amount they spend on groceries.

The number of organic producers has also dropped from 7,900 to 7,600, with the loss of a tenth of the land used for organic production.

Nevertheless, some farmers believe that consumer interest in organic produce continues to be strong outside of the major supermarkets.

There are also farmers who believe that moving to organic farming can help to cut costs. A spokesman for a large farm co-operative in the South West recently claimed that whilst some farmers may think that they can’t afford to become organic because the market is constrained, if they really investigated it they would discover that there are ways of ensuring it is cost effective.

Another farmer who converted to organic production in 2005 claimed that he would be out of business now if he hadn’t made that choice.