UK Food Sovereignty: another food system is possible
Report back from the second UK Food Sovereignty gathering
Last weekend over 250 Food Sovereignty pioneers met in Hebden Bridge's atmospheric Birchcliffe Centre with the aim of developing a roadmap for a more equitable and socially just food system in the UK and beyond.
The event was organised by a broad partnership of like-minded organisations that make up the UK's Food Sovereighty Movement, which in turn is part of the global Food Sovereignty movement.
The gathering also gave delegates the opportunity network, skill-share and build on the experience of the burgeoning alternative food movement.
What is Food Sovereignty?
The global Food Sovereignty movement provides a coherent grassroots challenge to today's industrialised food system and aims to re-empower the many workers in this country and around the world who grow our food.
It aims to place the voice of those grow and eat food at the heart of decision making, rather than leaving it to the market and large profit- driven multinationals.
The international Food Sovereignty movement has developed six defining principles:
- focuses on food for people
- values food providers
- localises food systems
- rejects corporate control
- builds knowledge and skills
- works with nature
Read more about the six defining principles.
Read more about Food Sovereignty.
The gathering also marked the small but significant steps taken since the last UK food sovereignty gathering in 2012. Recent years have seen the creation of the Land Workers Alliance to represent smallholder farmers that were previously unrepresented in the UK.
The Whole Food Action Network has also been launched bringing together independent whole-food shops who are working to improve our food system.
Whilst the movement is growing, delegates were all too aware of the task ahead of them. Here in the UK we import around 40% of our food, a figure that is forecast to rise to over 50% in a generation. Much of the food that we take for granted in the UK is produced by a global workforce that are often underpaid, unrepresented, and all too frequently suffer from the health effects of over-exposure to pesticides.
With over 40 workshops, film screenings, debates and site visits the event underlined the progress that is being made by ordinary people to transform the food system.
Communities doing it for themselves
During the opening plenary participants were treated to the inspirational story of Incredible Edible, by Pam Warhurst, co-founder and chair of the group that was one of the first in the UK to plant up public green space with vegetables for local benefit.
If the whistle-stop talk that covered eight years work in eight minutes wasn't enough, a site visit to nearby Todmorden was on offer for attendees to see the results for themselves.
Supporting the growth of local food
On the other side of the Pennines the work of the Kindling Trust provided hard evidence of how the local food economy is being supported and nurtured through training and support for first-time commercial vegetable growers. The organisation also highlighted the creation of new a co-operative vegetable box scheme linking growers and consumers.
Encouragingly the Kindling Trust's secondary school dinners pilot project demonstrated how fresh, organic, local food can be introduced to school menus for no additional overall cost, with overwhelmingly positive feedback from students!
Highlighting the link between food and poverty
The respected food researcher, writer and broadcaster Geoff Tansey gave an overview of the work the Fabian Commission of Food and Poverty has done over the past year. He also presented the conclusions of their report Hungry for Change.
Attendees squeezed in for Geoff Tansey's presentation on food and poverty.
Onwards and upwards
Throughout the weekend it was immensely encouraging to see how the energy of people from all walks of life is being harnessed to help reshape our food system. After four days of exposure to such positivity and innovation the effects on the delegates were clearly contagious.
The viral growth in the UK of community supported bakeries and agriculture projects, seed-saving co-operatives, community gardens, farm-hack events, community junk food projects, campaigns to support fast food workers, agro-ecology research and the collaborations sprouting between academics and food practitioners looks set to continue.
Needless to say, the food served to attendees was a delicious mix of fresh, locally-grown, donated and saved-from-land-fill ingredients, all prepared by volunteers who worked their socks off to make the event a memorable and inspiring experience.
Read more stories about the weekend.