Here in Manchester, like other cities across the UK, individuals and groups are getting serious about the environmental and social impacts of our food and organising in new and enterprising ways to challenge the economic might of supermarkets and agri-business.
Historically good food, an understanding of farming and empathy with farmers has largely been a rural affair. If you think ‘local food’ you are probably conjuring up images of farmers markets in market towns or perhaps box schemes in affluent suburbs.
In post-industrial towns and cities, policy and projects have focused on getting the ‘poor’ to eat more healthily: to eat their five portions of fruit and veg a day and this has meant making food cheaper and more accessible. Soup kitchens, food handouts and cooking classes at the local youth centre were the order of the day.
Today, as cities start to grapple with the twin needs of reducing their carbon emissions and become more resilient and as new food groups focus on the inequality of food, a new generation of farmers, activists and entrepreneurs are starting to do things differently.
Spearheaded by national programmes like Food For Life Partnership: Focus on Food in schools, and building on the concept of Fairtrade City and Sustainable Fish City coupled with campaigns by celebrity chefs, the public and policy makers are starting to understand the huge, complex and inter-related impacts our food choices make.
From the power of supermarkets, concern about genetically engineered food, growing obesity problems, dwindling fish stocks, an ageing farming sector, animal welfare and rising food prices, the list of challenges and problems seems endless.
“People are beginning to ask, ‘Why just Fairtrade coffee and bananas?’ Recently diary farmers have been calling for Fairtrade milk in the light of the falling price retailers and producers are willing to pay for a pint of milk. In light of the UK farming crisis and our need to reduce our carbon emission surely we can develop a sustainable food system that works for everyone?” ~ Chris Walsh, The Kindling Trust
Here in Greater Manchester, groups have been discussing these problems for a number of years now via FeedingManchester — a loose network of social enterprises, charities and activists who are working to build a ‘sustainable food’ movement.
And by ‘sustainable food’ we mean food that is good for all those in the food supply chain, from farmers to family businesses and shop workers to the consumer, encouraging people to buy, grow, sell and promote food that:
And crucially: food democracy is key. You can go to almost any supermarket and buy products which meet some of the criteria above, whilst the supermarket decimate local high streets, destroy local jobs, force small farmers out of business and generate vast amount of food waste.
In Manchester, supported by the Kindling Trust, groups are working to create a sustainable food system that has food democracy at its heart: Food democracy is about reconnecting people to food and taking responsibility for it, ensuring control by and fairness among local producers, suppliers and consumers, and working to reduce inequality in the food supply chain.
Kindling has played a key role in a number of partnerships supporting a new generation of farmers who are establishing new organic farms like Moss Brook Growers and Glebelands City Growers.
For example, last year Kindling helped to establish Manchester Veg People — the City’s first ever ‘Supply-Chain Co-op’ of both local farmers and local buyers, working together to provide fresh, seasonal food of the highest possible quality. This unique partnership means those who have traditionally competed with each other (the grower to get the best price for his produce) and the buyer (who wants to maximise his profits by paying as little as possible to the farmer) are working together.
Manchester Veg People
Manchester Veg People (MVP) now consists of five local organic farmers and independent restaurants, cafés, caters and the University of Manchester and whilst MVP works to meet a growing need for sustainable food, Greater Manchester Land Army is working to help farmers supply more local produce.
Greater Manchester’s Land Army is made up of volunteers, placements and trainees helping out on local farms and has been inspired by the women’s land armies of the First and Second World Wars. The Land Army offers a solution to a number of challenges faced by local organic growers, including labour issues and costs at busy periods. So for example, because harvesting of soft fruit is really labour intensive, picking them either leads to very expensive fruit, or fruit being left on the bush to rot.
“We work hard to support people and groups to work together to overcome problems and take advantage of opportunities. We regard ourselves as enablers, or brokers, who can bring together organisations who perhaps would not normally work together. Often organisations do not realise that they have similar barriers or challenges, or that they have complimentary aims or aspirations.
By actively seek out partnerships that offer enterprising solutions, we feel we can bring about meaningful, positive social change.” ~ Chris Walsh
Chris Walsh is co-founder of MERCi and Fairfield Materials Management, Chris is an accomplished social entrepreneur, instrumental in establishing Powwow Eco Arts, Manchester Social Enterprise Forum and has worked for The Ethical Property Company to help establish the Green Fish centre in Manchester.
For more information about the Kindling Trust please visit: www.kindling.org.uk
To find out more about FeedingManchester please visit: www.feedingmanchester.org.uk