By Sam Fortescue and Wendy Short

REGIONAL FOOD could reappear on the menu in schools and hospitals in the north of England as farmers become directly involved in supply contracts.

Meat, vegetable and wheat producers in Lincs will be among the first to bid for a contract to feed 1800 local pupils through a consortium formed with retailers, manufacturers and local government called the Melton Mowbray Food Partnership.

Given the extra 280m funding for school meals announced recently by the government, the contract to supply the ingredients for 350,000 meals could be worth up to 210,000 a year. Partnership chairman Matthew O”Callaghan said the extra funding made local food more viable.

“It certainly helps us in terms of margins. It”s crazy that the county accepts tenders for the cheapest food for our kids while, at the same time, the government is giving farmers subsidies to diversify away from farming.”

If the initiative proved a success, it would be rolled out across the county and nationwide, Mr O”Callaghan added.

Meanwhile, producers in Yorks and the Humber could be supplying more than 200,000 primary school children with carrots, strawberries and mini-cucumbers by this autumn.

NFU public procurement spokesman, Michael Holmes, who farms near Doncaster, said: “Producers haven”t traditionally seen the public sector as a place to sell their produce. This may be only the beginning. It could result in producers also supplying fresh produce to secondary schools and hospitals.” National Health Service purchasing manager Mike Tiddy will be explaining tender procedures at a farmer meeting next week at the Stockbridge Technology Centre in Cawood, near Selby (Apr 13).

Anyone interested in tendering for the fruit and veg contracts can contact Mr Holmes on 07767 665257.