I was born and brought up in County Durham, the land of the Prince Bishops and lived in an area surrounded by farms. I decided from a young age that working with food would be a lifelong passion. Whilst at Silsoe College, Cranfield University I became interested in international development and on completion of my MSc in post-harvest technology, I worked for an NGO sponsored project in Uganda for subsistence farmers before moving to a commercial farm which grew vegetables for export to the U.K.
Affectionately known by friends and colleagues as ‘Mrs Bean’ I quickly settled into the ‘expat’ farm life and its various challenges. I enjoyed the experience of living and working abroad but I outgrew my role on the farm and returned to the UK to become more involved in the fresh produce industry which was expanding rapidly into the prepared foods market in the late 1990s.
I had an exciting time travelling to different countries to procure products, working with growers to develop new product lines, choosing new varieties of crops and learning to speak French and Spanish along the way.
I became a technical manager at Bakkavor and moved to Northwest England and was based at a vegetable processing plant until I left in 2014. I embarked on a MSc course in Human Nutrition and set up a technical and nutrition consultancy, Alo Solutions, providing services to the food industry.
Working for myself has been a great springboard for positive change in my professional and personal life and it continues to amaze me that I have the opportunity to work on projects that bring about successful change within businesses, spend quality time with friends and family and still find time to volunteer with Big Bookend, Tough Mudder and run the UK student conference for the Nutrition Society held in September 2016.
The belief to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship is thanks to the new found confidence that I have gained from running my own business and realising that the phrase ‘Just do it’ is a real motivator. Once my Nuffield project is completed; I plan to expand and develop my consultancy business so that I focus on adding value to my clients’ businesses by assisting them to implement innovative systems and products. Involvement with professional bodies is part of my current strategy and that will increase as I engage with new colleagues and continue my professional development. Coaching and mentoring will become a more significant part of my career so that I can encourage people to achieve their goals.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Food Chain Scholarship Fund for their generosity in sponsoring my Nuffield Scholarship.
Vegetable production for specific nutritional need
The Food Chain Scholarship
As a nation, there is more food available to us than in previous generations, but this has caused a triple burden of malnutrition where overeating and undernutrition co-exist, and ‘hidden hunger’ where the excess calories consumed do not provide the optimum nutrients for health. In the UK the lack of key nutrients such as fibre, vitamin A and folate in many diets can be directly linked to the low consumption of vegetables.
My primary aim was to investigate the specific nutritional needs and dietary concerns in the countries I visited and assess how vegetables can meet these needs in those countries. I then selected three of these countries and report on their dietary guidelines, policies and activities for promoting the consumption of vegetables. I wanted to understand what networks exist to bring different parts of the food system together to work on health enhancement projects.
My other key aim was to study if, or how, the food system is targeting specific groups for health needs and personalised nutrition. I have used the example of potassium levels in potato products for a specific health need as a case study for multi-disciplinary working.
My findings show that multi-disciplinary working throughout the food system is needed if we are to achieve a food system that can deliver nutritious, safe, affordable food that has been produced in a sustainable way. Breeders and growers have the knowledge and expertise to improve the nutritive value of our crops but need to work with the food supply chain to get these foods into institutions, the food service sector, as well as retail. The practise of ‘nutrition smart agriculture’ needs to be supported across the food chain so that higher nutrition crops can be grown whilst also enabling farmers to improve production as well as make a profit.
From the case study, retailers, nutrition scientists and growers should look at the benefits of quantifying levels of potassium, in raw produce or cooked, prepared foods. A sampling programme to validate the levels, followed by a regular verification programme, should be drawn up and the results rolled out into an online databank for suppliers, retailers and consumers.
In summary, the UK Government needs to look at nutrition as integral to policies across education, health and social care, agriculture and industry, and use all available resources to improve the national diet. If the UK leaves the EU there will also be an opportunity to modify existing nutrition and health claim regulations to tailor them for use by the fresh produce sector to help suppliers and producers meet these needs