TWO care homes run by a charity have become the first to be awarded New Forest Marque status after switching to local food producers.

Like many similar establishments Little Haven in Dibden Purlieu and Forest Oaks in Brockenhurst - both run by the Wilverley Association - had been supplied by food wholesalers.

But the new head of catering, Martin Packard, decided things had to change.

Martin, who previously worked in the food and hospitality sectors, said: "We're now sourcing the vast majority of our produce from local suppliers."

The homes obtain meat, free range eggs and seasonal fruit from Marque suppliers, plus fish from Poole, mushrooms and tomatoes from the Isle of Wight and potatoes from Lodge Farm in Hook.

Martin said: “We're proud to have our own herb gardens at both homes.

“I believe mealtime is a social occasion to be enjoyed, but food itself is emotive and there are enormous health benefits to a wholesome meal.

“We decided to approach New Forest Marque to see if we could become the first care homes to be officially recognized for our efforts.”

The scheme was set up in 2004 in a bid to promote and develop the production and distribution of local produce.

New Forest Marque operations manager Claire Lee said: “I visited the homes and was delighted by their commitment to local produce.

“They’ve easily met our criteria by having at least three suppliers who are Marque members.

“New Pastures at Godshill are providing fresh meat, the New Forest Fruit Farm in Boldre deliver seasonal fruit while free-range eggs come from Claytons in East Wellow.

“Martin is in the process of arranging for another Marque provider to supply their seasonal fresh vegetables.

“They're our first care home members and we’re hoping this will encourage similar establishments to follow their lead.”

Martin is organising a Wilverley Association stand at next year’s New Forest Show.

He said: “We want to exhibit a range of our food. Visitors will be able to taste and buy a range of tasty produce.”