That powerful combination was back: a compelling topic, expert speakers, a lively audience, sharing stories, great food and rich conversation. It was time for the first Food Talks of 2018 – how to deliver a food growing revolution. This year, the Food Talks series is all about ‘people-powered solutions to food system challenges’. People do have the power to change our food systems for the better.
One of the ways people can participate in our food system – beyond just buying and eating food – is through getting involved in food growing. The evening was ‘jam packed’ full of insights, stories, people and top tips. And I suspect that jam was largely organic and locally grown, judging from the discussion. Here are just a few insights I took from the evening’s debate:
- The success of food growing should not be measured by the volume of food produced alone. It doesn’t matter if community food growing is unlikely to ‘feed the world’ on its own any time soon. Whilst community food growing of course produces healthy food locally that people can eat, the benefits of urban food growing are much more wide-reaching. From regenerating unloved spaces to improving sustainable urban drainage, from helping people make new friends to making them feel safer in their community, from improving mental and psychological health to people appreciating the value of food much more, the list goes on. So, if anyone says “but that won’t feed the world”, you can say “that’s not the point”! It’s also fair to argue that urban and peri-urban farming might make a bigger contribution to feeding a rapidly urbanising world than conventional wisdom might assume.
- Food growing is for anyone (except perhaps lazy people) – try it! Our experts soon dispelled the myth that urban food growing is just a middle-class indulgence. The truth is that anyone from any social class, of any age, able-bodied or disabled, can get involved in food growing. You don’t necessarily need lots of land or lots of experience. The advice was to just give it a go. Start with just a bean - or plant a garlic. Find local opportunities to get involved online (see resources below) and try food growing with others – it’s fun and you’re more likely to stick at it. Finally, if you decide that food growing is not for you, there are still lots of ways you can support good food growing.
- We need a food trading revolution as well as a food growing revolution! We need to change the way food is traded (including food growers being paid a real living wage), otherwise food growers will not survive. Different models of growing and selling – beyond the normal supermarket model – are possible and can be viable. Growing Communities is a great example of that. We can support fairer ways of growing, trading, buying and eating. As one speaker said, “buy direct if you can”. And if the food you’re buying is cheap, ask why that is…
- It might be a bumpy journey, but we’re on the way. There are some difficult questions we need to address to make progress. Is there such a thing as the ‘right kind’ of food growing? What’s the role for high-tech urban food initiatives (if any) [see the work we did on high-tech urban food here]? How can we do more to break down the perception that food growing isn’t something everyone can get involved in (see above)? In the UK, how can we protect growing space that’s under pressure, often from demand for more houses? How can we convince the powers that be that public spaces in cities – including for food growing – are invaluable? And how can we change planning laws to make much better use of existing, unused space?
- Government support would make a difference. As one of the attendees said subsequently, “maybe one of Gove's next big food and farming announcements could be serious backing for a new local food growing revolution…?”
A quiet food growing revolution is already underway not just in London (as we learned about in Sarah Williams’ guest blog here), but elsewhere too. Food growers are revolting – and not in the ‘disgusting’ sense. Why not join the revolution and make it grow faster and wider.
There are lots of useful places to look if you want to get involved or learn more. As a starter for ten, check out:
- Capital Growth: http://www.capitalgrowth.org/training_events/
- Growing Communities: https://www.growingcommunities.org/
- Calthorpe project, Kings Cross, London: http://calthorpeproject.org.uk/
- Kindling Trust, Manchester: https://kindling.org.uk/
To continue the conversation, do join our live Twitter chat on Thursday, 5th April 2018 (7pm-8pm UK time) using the hashtag #FoodGrowingRevolution.
Food Talks is organised by the Food Ethics Council, Impact Hub Kings Cross, London Food Link (part of Sustain), Organico and Think.Eat.Drink.