Food hubs: bringing people together and revaluing food

By Heather McClure, Aber Food Surplus

The idea of creating food hubs appeared in numerous different contexts at the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference in Aberystwyth last year. I hope to share a few thoughts on why I find food hubs an exciting way of working towards a more sustainable food system.

The word ‘hub’ implies bringing people together, and a ‘food hub’ suggests that people come together because of food. Driven by progressive organisations working towards more social and environmentally minded enterprises, food hubs have been gaining popularity in the UK over the last 10 years. This shows that people are inspired to work together, and that there is a desire for change towards a more sustainable food system.

Bringing people together is a central principle of a food hub

But what is a food hub, and what can it do? At the Conference,  people suggested many roles. All were presented as part of a solution and part of an opportunity for different aspects of our food system to flourish and become more sustainable.

Here is a summary of the different type of food hubs I heard being discussed:

  • ‘Producer Hubs’ – Supporting local smaller scale food producers to reach a market.
  • ‘Procurement Hubs’ – A focus on bringing in food to sell in quantity to institutions, offices, schools or hospitals.
  • ‘Redistribution / Food Surplus Hubs’ – there are lots of these popping up around the UK to deal with the environmental issue of supermarket and business food waste
  • ‘Waste Recovery / Value Hubs’ – A similar idea to a food surplus hub, but perhaps more focused on innovation and large-scale waste, to be used for creating a more ‘closed loop’ and circular food system. This could involve a focus on secondary products or by-products.
  • ‘Seed Hubs/ libraries’ – Challenging the ownership of seeds, building a more genetically diverse and resilient local seed base.
  • ‘Skill sharing hubs’ – small scale caterers or producers of manufactured foods can share the infrastructure and kitchen resources to operate self-employed businesses. These spaces can also be used for upskilling people in cooking.

This wide range of issues highlights what people want from our food system. Food hubs can enable more local decision-making powers surrounding food trade, and where our food comes from – an integral aspect of a healthy food system, where citizens have affordable access to food produced in balance with nature.

Furthermore, using these hubs, food does not go through the same valuing / de-valuing processes that it goes through in retail chains or institutional processes. Its worth is informed by people closer to where it is grown and eaten. Perhaps the food hub model of a food system could reflect the truer value of food? Where bringing people together within a transparent food system could showcase the enormous unaccounted value and power of food and food production, and produce a more circular and participatory food system.

The ECO Food Sharing Hub, Aberystwyth

In Aberystwyth, we have had an ECO Food Sharing Hub since March 2019. It is based in a former greengrocer’s shop on a busy shopping street, and was developed jointly by the community and the Aber Food Surplus project. Aber Food Surplus is a food waste redistribution project that started from conversations involving supermarkets, churches, community gardens, bakers, farmers, food banks, students, and charities who could see the community value that sharing food could foster. It was an idea designed in a ‘best fit approach’ to make food ‘waste’ available to the community – where it was ultimately intended to be all along – not in landfill bins!  

A shop window for doing things differently, on a busy street

Aber Food Surplus was founded in 2016, and the project continually highlights a strong desire for change in both our food system and our local area. There is a core team of three staff members and 35 volunteers that collect and redistribute the surplus food. This means the hub is always bustling. There is a kitchen where surplus food can be cooked up for community events, and a community fridge where food surplus is shared. The hub space aims to support knowledge sharing, entrepreneurialism, sustainability, and conversations about our food system. It also hosts the Aber Food Coop, which provides a weekly box of fresh produce to its members.

The ECO Food Sharing Hub is stimulating conversations about what else can be achieved by working together, and how else we can become closer to our food and food producers – a fundamental part of the community here in rural Wales. Through the conversations at our food hub we are evolving every day to become a town that has more knowledge and control over its food supply.

Food hubs have the potential to make change! If you want to be part of this conversation please get in touch. And if you are a grower or producer local to Aberystwyth looking to shorten your food supply chain please get in touch– our Aber Food Coop would be keen to meet you, visit your farm, advertise you, and sell your produce on a weekly basis!

Heather McClure is a director of Aber Food Surplus. She is passionate about the role of food in connecting us to nature, and hopes to see Aberystwyth growing more food and become a wonderful example of a zero food waste town in the near future. This year she is particularly excited to see how aubergines grow.

Homegrown food makes a comeback as the pandemic changes everything

As supermarket shelves empty and local communities rediscover the value of self-reliance, the  coronovirus pandemic has brought with it a surge in demand for local produce. The food chains we had taken for granted for so long now look less reliable under strain, and as we rush to grow our own and stocks of seeds and compost dwindle, we are having to think our food supply afresh.

Everyone is affected. West Wales-based market gardeners Alicia Miller and Nathan Richards knew something had changed when their phone “began to ring and ring and ring with people wanting to join our box scheme”, leading to a doubling of their numbers in one week, while national box schemes Riverfood and Abel & Cole are closed to new orders. “We need to invest in edible horticulture and grow far, far more than we do,” says Alicia, pointing out that only 56% of UK vegetables are grown here.

In Machynlleth meanwhile, the overlap of a new coronavirus support group with an existing food growing project, Mach Maethlon (Edible Mach), has led to an explosion of community activity. Organizer Katie Hastings describes how she was inundated with offers and requests – “people of Machynlleth were incredibly concerned about their food supply” – and within days, thanks to Zoom videoconferencing, they had a plan. Individuals and groups are now tackling the challenge on all fronts: finding land, providing online support to farmers who want to grow field scale crops, setting up a volunteer Land Army, making up seed and information packs for home growers, and coordinating cropping plans, distribution and resources.

This activity hasn’t come out of nowhere. Mach Maethlon has been growing vegetables in the area for eight years, with a box scheme, edible food beds around the town and a training programme for new growers, Pathways to Farming (shared with Cultivate in Newtown). They have built up knowledge, credibility and a strong network. As Katie says of the current push, “It’s all the things that we always thought needed to happen, but there wasn’t the energy to do them – and then suddenly in response to the crisis, all these people were like ‘well I’m not working any more, I’ll do that right now!’ ” Their new website, Planna Fwyd/Plant Food, went live this week.

Machynlleth was one of the first towns to declare a climate emergency last year, and they are used to pulling together. Another high-powered town at the other end of Powys that is accelerating its food production plans is Crickhowell, home of the Our Food project. Coordinator Duncan Fisher explains how they are now planning to fund a new agroecological farming project in the area. “We are calling for Welsh Government and other big funders to create a fund to support new agroecological production,” says Duncan. “We are backing this up with action by creating a £30k fund with our own money. The first project is a polytunnel for Langtons farm.”

David Langton, who with his partner Katherine Robinson set up a project last year to supply microgreens to local restaurants, is starting a year-round box scheme at their new 3.5 acre farm. Construction begins soon on up to 200 vegetable beds, each 15 m long and run using the no-dig system. “We are applying for organic certification,” says David, “but more than that, we are committed to regenerative farming, which builds topsoil at the same time as producing food. Later we plan to introduce poultry which will help this along, as well as giving us eggs and meat.”

Our Food has support from Monmouthshire County Council, who are mapping local food production as part of the Monmouthshire Food Resilience project. Individual gardeners are a part of this, too. “The hobby grower is a vital part of the local food supply,” says Garden Organic trustee and local resident Adam Alexander, “so we are engaging gardeners and allotmenters through plant and seed exchanges, as well as providing guidance to those with no experience of growing their own veg.”  

Meanwhile community gardens across Wales are facing the challenge of keeping communities gardening while maintaining social distance. Some are reinventing themselves as hubs that can organize seed swaps and provide planting material for new gardeners. Others are planning to make video tutorials. From Porthmadog to Pembroke Dock to Edible Cardiff, new ways of tapping into public demand for support with gardening are springing up.

It isn’t just that growing food is likely to become a practical necessity as  supply chains are weakened by Covid-19. Connecting with other people, and with the natural world, is as vital to our health in the long term as avoiding the virus is in the short term. Growing vegetables at home, at school and in the community brings people together. Buying from local farms helps regenerate rural economies and connects town and countryside. As we reel from the impacts of a global pandemic, we are finding new significance in the places where we live.

We can all do something. Find your local community garden, sign the Landworkers Alliance petition to protect local food supplies, write to your Assembly Member and MP and ask what they are doing about food security,  set up a virtual farmers market in your area with the Open Farm Network, watch how-to videos at Huw’s Nursery, and put some seeds in the soil. It’s time to start preparing the ground for a new harvest.

Jane Powell is a volunteer coordinator of the Food Manifesto and the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference. She is an independent education consultant and writes at www.foodsociety.wales.

Featured image: tomato seedlings, by Jane Powell.

Working co-operatively for sustainable and just food systems

By Poppy Nicol and Alice Taherzadeh

Getting a veg box can be great way to get fresh, locally produced organic food. There’s also a high chance that you will be supporting a co-operative business or co-operative ways of working. Many local and sustainable food businesses are based on principles of co-operation rather than the culture of competition that we see in much of the food system.

Take Cae Tan for example. They are a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project which distribute a weekly bag of vegetables every week to their members around Gower, Swansea via their veg hub. Being a member of the scheme, though, doesn’t just mean you get a weekly supply of fresh food. It is also about meeting people. There are opportunities to volunteer and an annual Harvest Supper where members can get to know each other and celebrate the harvest. As the head gardener of another CSA, Banc Organics in the Gwendraeth Valley explains, CSAs are all about cooperative principles, that is:

“owning our means of production and the workers having a stake in things, having democratic control over things and basing them on things other than the market.”

Co-operative ways of working in the food system

In our new report Working Co-operatively for Sustainable and Just Food Systems in Wales we investigate the scope for co-ops in Wales to help us move to food systems which are based on both sustainability and food justice. The work was commissioned by the Wales Co-operative Party and members of the Co-operative Group in the National Assembly for Wales because they believe that sustainability and food justice should, and can, go hand in hand.

We spoke to twelve people from projects all over Wales, including the Wales Co-operative Centre, fruit and veg CSAs, a bakers’ co-operative, dairy co-operatives and a red meat co-operative. We were inspired by their commitment to co-operative principles, particularly within the sustainable food movement, and their desire to promote social change and food justice through their projects.

We also found out that there used to be far more co-operatives across Wales which enabled small producers and business to work together to share resources and bring local food to people’s plates.

Opportunities for working co-operatively

Currently there are very few co-operatives in the Welsh food sector. However, there is great potential to encourage many more with the right support and infrastructure. We found that when businesses and individuals act together through co-operative ways of working, they have more collective bargaining power, better access to resources and potentially more resilience in the face of change. The co-operative values of equity, equality, solidarity, self-help, self-responsibility and democracy are also more likely to promote food justice as they place people at the centre of the food system.

The challenges facing co-operative ways of working

But we also discovered that cooperative projects face a lot of difficulties.

  • Education, training and advice: Currently, there isn’t enough support for co-operatives working within the Welsh food system. The opportunities for training in sustainable food production are also lacking or more difficult to access because of short-term funding. There is further identified need for improving public information on the co-operative economy.
  • Infrastructure for local food economies: In all sectors producers often have to transport food costly distances (often to England) to get it processed or to get it to retailers as there isn’t the infrastructure to support local food networks here in Wales.
  • The real cost of food: The challenge of competing in a food system dominated by industrial production of cheap food. In this system the real cost of food is not recognised and food is produced at the expense of future generations being able to feed themselves and fair livelihoods for those working in the food system.

What can we do?

There is a lot of potential for Wales to make the big policy changes needed to achieve a food system which is both sustainable and just. Based on what we found in the research we think there are four key areas to strengthen the role of co-operation in our food system:

  1. More co-ops! Support community-led food co-operatives to get set up at all levels and scales to increase the number of food co-operatives and size of the co-operative economy in Wales.
  2. Co-operative processing and distributing Promote co-operative approaches to food processing and distribution such as food hubs which would help smaller producers share resources and reduce the environmental impact of transportation by keeping things local.
  3. Networks of training and education Connect up the training landscape in Wales so that there are strong networks for training in sustainable food production as well as linking food and farming into schools and universities.
  4. More veg! Increase small-scale horticultural and arable production by providing better access to land and training for new entrants and business advice for producers in the meat and dairy sectors who want to diversify.

Bringing everyone together: Co-operative Roundtable

After the report was published in December 2019, we were invited to participate in an expert-led roundtable event on January 14th 2020 at the National Assembly hosted by the Wales Co-operative Party and the Assembly Members who funded the project. The event brought together growers, politicians, charities, community organisations, and researchers all working at different levels of the Welsh food system. This included the CSA Wales Network, Food Manifesto Wales, Food Sense Wales, Land Workers Alliance Cymru, Open Food Network, RSPB Cymru, Social Farms and Gardens Wales, Sustain, Trussell Trust, WWF Cymru.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for a more connected and co-operative food system in Wales that makes better links between food production, environmental sustainability, public health and the education system. After we presented our report, Tom O’Kane, grower at Cae Tan one of the largest CSAs in Wales spoke to everyone about the opportunities and challenges CSAs face – including training opportunities, planning constraints and access to land.  Nick Weir from Open Food Network also explained the potential for community food distribution online via platform co-operatives.

The Cardiff round table

Several attendees argued passionately for the importance of wildlife-friendly, regenerative and ecological farming and local food economies in achieving a more sustainable and just food future. They also highlighted the need to scale out (increasing in number as distributed networks) rather than scale up (increase in size). There were many people who emphasised the multiple barriers that are faced by those wanting to create a sustainable and just food system within the current unjust and unsustainable food system and they called for more ambitious and transformative change from government policy to challenge this. It was also pointed out that future meetings need to include the main farming unions as well as educational institutions and conservation groups, bringing the various sectors working within the food system into conversation with one another so that we can develop food policy which is good for people and the land at every level.

Conclusion:

The roundtable was a really valuable opportunity to bring together a range of people working across the food system and a much needed first step to create wider co-operation on the issue. However, there was also a strong sense that we need to move towards concrete action rather than just continued conversations. The roundtable presents the potential to launch a sustainable and just food network or another platform for co-operation across the food system to better inform policy. We are now in the next stages of this and exploring how we can bring together this network to achieve transformative policy action. We’ll keep you posted!

If you want further information or to get involved, then please get in touch.

Poppy Nicol: I am a research associate at the Sustainable Places Research Institute and a gardener. My research interests are in the connections between people and place. I am particularly interested in the relationships between biological and cultural diversity that come alive through agriculture. NicolP@cardiff.ac.uk

Alice Taherzadeh: I am a PhD researcher at the Sustainable Places Research Institute, an activist and a community organiser. My research interests lie in exploring how people learn in order to transform our food system. I am particularly interested in farmer to farmer models of learning and social movements. TaherzadehA@cardiff.ac.uk

Our Food: rebuilding the local food economy

By Duncan Fisher

Our Food is a new initiative in Wales to rebuild the local food economy. The project has just launched in the Brecon Beacons around Crickhowell and is the beginning of a long process in the local area.our food blackboard - web

The need to rebuild local food economies – which have been decimated by the global food system that drives the export of most of what is produced in a region and the import of most of what is consumed in the same place – is driven by three imperatives: climate change, a feeling of lost local mandate and depopulation.

Building local food economies is a core part of the response to the climate crisis. The global food system, according to this year’s IPCC report, Climate Change and Land, accounts for between 21% and 37% of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity. This is driven by the massive global industrialisation of food. The report calls for “enhancing local and community collective action”.

Meanwhile, enhancing local economic activity is a vital response to the deep sense of loss of  control felt in Wales and across the UK over the things that shape our daily lives. This is driving an unprecedented political crisis.

And finally, building local economies in rural areas is a means of challenging depopulation, creating meaningful jobs at the local level.

Where to start rebuilding a local food economy?

Work starts from a very low base – low demand for local food (nearly everyone goes to supermarkets), low supply (so many small producers have been put out of business by global food chains) and low skills (young people leave to find work elsewhere). Where to start to reverse this long spiral downwards? We believe the first step is driving up demand, through marketing of what local food there is and through raising consumer awareness about the true consequences of buying food in supermarkets that could be produced locally. Demand must exceed supply for businesses to start producing more – customers clamouring for more are better than businesses without markets!

We also believe the process must be driven by businesses. Local government and consumers have a vital role as the purchasers of products, but businesses have the skills and incentive to market products and drive up demand, and only they have the means of responding to increasing demand.

Our inspiration: Schwäbisch Hall, Germany

The inspiration for the Our Food approach is the food project in Schwäbisch Hall in Germany, one of the most successful initiatives to rebuild a local food economy in the world.

This project started with a handful of farmers in 1988 and has grown enormously, with over 1500 businesses participating. The farmers tackled the problem of supermarkets by building their own chain, attached to really nice food halls. The association now owns and runs a large meat processing factory producing a wide range of processed meats from pork raised by local farmers. The farmers set up a charitable foundation that bought the region’s castle, now run as a hotel and conference centre. The organisation heavily emphasises organic production, works to get a fair price for all products, builds marketing capacity, works to improve farm incomes and promotes regional development.

The founder of this project, Rudolf Bühler, is coming to Wales for the Real Food and Farming Conference, and will present the work there in plenary session. The day after, 13 November, we are continuing the discussion with Rudolf in Crickhowell. You are warmly invited!

Our Food across Wales?

As the Our Food approach starts to drive up demand for local produce, we want it to spread. So we have structured the website to be able to be used by other places. The Crickhowell site is our-food.org/crickhowell, so another place could be our-food.org/anotherplace. We will start by inviting other towns around the Brecon Beacons and working to raise funds with them.

Please join in signing a joint letter to Welsh Government!

We are also lobbying Welsh Government to provide more support for rebuilding food economies. We have drafted a letter recommending strong attention to locality and to climate change in the new Welsh Food & Drink Strategy. We are collecting signatures for this: please do sign!

Duncan Fisher is a campaigner on children’s issues and on climate change. With global food systems producing 21-37% of greenhouse emissions, local food systems are something big that Wales can do. www.linkedin.com/in/duncanfisher

Images: Tim Jones, As You See It Media.

 

Gweledigaethau Gwledig – Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru (CGFFfC)

Gan Eifiona Thomas Lane

[Eifiona reflects on the Oxford Real Farming Conference and its new Welsh offshoot; use Google Translate to find out more]

Ar ddechrau’r flwyddyn newydd eleni cefais fy mhrofiad cyntaf o’r ORFC, sef Oxford Real Farming Conference, sydd yn amlwg yn cael ei threfnu yn Rhydychen. Cyfle oedd hyn imi drafod syniadau am sut allai dyfodol tu allan i Undeb Ewropeaidd effeithio ar gymunedau ffermio – yn benodol oblygiadau iaith a pheryglu diwylliant gwledig Cymreig.

Ond cyn fy seswin cefais gyfle i fwynhau bore braf yn crwydro o amgylch y gynhadledd. Yr argraff gyntaf wnaeth arnaf oedd bod amrwyiaeth o stondinau safonol lle roedd pwyslais nid – fel oeddwn yn ei dybio (o ystyried ansawdd y stondinau) – ar ffermio dwys comersial ar gyfer y system fwyd a masnach byd eang, ond yn hytrach ar ffermio llai arddwys lle roedd torreth o wybodaeth defnyddiol ac ymarferol ar ddulliau a busnesau.

Roedd yno hefyd nifer o grwpiau cynghori ffermio oedd yn hybu parchu’r pridd, cyfoeth ecosystemau naturiol a thirluniau amrwyiol. Dyma’r union systemau rwyf wedi arfer gorfod eu amddiffyn a ceisio egluro eu potensial i gyflwyno gwasanaethau ecosystemau rheoli a diwylliannol. Neu, mewn iaith arall, cynnal treftadaeth, cymunedau ffermio a chefn gwlad mwy cynaliadwy.

Yn ystod fy nghyflwyniad, a oedd yn rhan o sesiwn Maniffesto Bwyd Cymru, trafodwyd ystadegau o’r ystadegau Sensws (2011) ac astudiaeth gan Undeb Amaethwyr Cymru 2018, sy’d dangos bod 40% o ffermwyr yn siarad Cymraeg, sef ddwywaith yn fwy nac unrhyw gategori gwaith arall ar draws Cymru. Mae 100% o ffermwyr cymunedau Dolbenmaen, Y Bala / Llanuwchlyn a Melindwr yng Ngheredigion yn siarad yr iaith. Cyflwynwyd ymateb Llywodraeth Cymru a’r Undebau Amaethwyr Cymru i’r her byddai dirywiad yn amaeth yn ei gynnig:

  • ‘Moves which undermine the viability of Welsh Agriculture are likely to represent significant threats to the Welsh language particularly in communities where the proportion of the population who speak Welsh is low or intermediate.’ (UAC 2018, Ffermio yng Nghymru a’r Iaith Gymraeg)
  • ‘The composition of our farming sector is very different to the rest of the UK, particularly to England. Our landscape is more varied, our rural communities are a much greater share of the population and our agriculture is more integrated into the fabric of our culture, especially the Welsh language. We have a once in a generation chance to redesign our policies in a manner consistent with Wales’ unique integrated approach, delivering for our economy, society and natural environment.’ (Dyfodol Amaeth a Rheolaeth Tir, Lesley Griffiths, Mawrth 2017)

Y prif her byddai gwanio’r economi wledig draddodiadol ac arwain at sefyllfa ansicr iawn o ran argaeledd bwyd ffres, iach a fforddadwy mewn cymunedau sydd yn ddaearyddol fwy ymylol.

Felly – a’m sesiwn drafod wedi bod – roeddwn yn falch iawn o allu cefnogi syniad eithaf trawiadol, sef y dylai cynhadledd debyg ddigwydd yn Nghymru sef cyfle i ganolbwyntio ar ffermio a bwyd Cymreig. Byddai hon yn wahanol i gynhadleddau academaidd ar amaeth ac hefyd yn wahanol i’r Sioe Fawr yn Llanwelwedd, oherwydd byddai yn dod a chydrannau y drafodaeth wledig ynghyd. Cynhadledd integredig, ymarferol ydy’r gwledigaeth (gyda chytundeb trefnwyr yr ORFC gwreiddiol) a fydd yn lledaenu ymarfer da. Yn ystod y sesiynnau trafod traddodiadau hynafol Cymreig ar gyfer rheoli amgylchedd ac amaethu organig ac anarddwys, cynhyrchu bwyd da iach, ac yn caniatau trafodaeth ar bolisiau a gwleidyddiaeth.

Yn yr ychydig misoedd dilynol cafwyd trafodaeth brwd ar ei lleoliad ac a dylai fod yn symudol fel yr Eisteddfod, a wedyn mwy byth o drafodaeth am yr enw yn  Gymraeg. Er mwyn crynhoi felly, eleni ym mis Tachwedd 2019 bydd Cynhadledd (gyntaf) Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru yn digwydd yn Aberystwyth. Mae’r lleoliad yma yn draddodiadol, hygyrch a rhesymol am eleni; cawn weld am flynyddoedd i ddilyn.

Mae nifer fawr o fudiadau cefn gwlad ac unigolion egniol a phrofiadol nawr yn cydweithio i sefydlu a cynllunio’r digwyddiad, ac yn sicr bydd eraill yn ymuno, ond araf deg mae dal iar! Gobeithiaf yn fawr iawn y bydd yn egino a thyfu yn driw i egwyddorion cynhadledd ORFC, sef parodrwydd i herio rhai agweddau o amaethu diwydiannol, ac y bydd yn cyfarfod lle mae cyfle ar gyfer trafodaethau rhyngddisgyblaethol, gwahanol ac amgen.

Mwy na hynny, rwyf yn gobeithio bydd y gynhadledd hon yn adlewyrchu amrywiaeth gwir gyfoeth bwyd a ffermio Cymru, ac efalla hyd yn oed mwy pwysig i mi yw bod y CGFFfC yn cychwyn a parhau i fod (pan bydd yn llwyddo a thyfu ) yn gynhadledd wledig wir Gymreig.

Mae Eifiona Thomas Lane yn ddarlithydd mewn Daearyddiaeth yn yr Ysgol Gwyddorau Naturiol, Prifysgol Bangor.

Llun: Eifiona Thomas Lane

Food poverty is escalating in Wales – what should we do about it?

By Pat Caplan

In the last few decades, Welsh food has changed out of all recognition, with highly successful branding of Welsh products being synonymous with quality. Examples include beef, lamb, fish, chocolate, wine, beer and honey but there are many more. Along with this has gone the revival of traditional foods such as laverbread, bara brith, and Welsh cakes, and many areas of Wales now have their own annual food festivals. All of this is good for tourism and exports.

Furthermore the Welsh government has been interested in a sustainable food strategy for Wales since 2010 and the growth of organic farms and smallholdings in Wales has been encouraged. Unfortunately, all of these welcome trends do not help with escalating food poverty.

The high rates of poverty in Wales can be seen from numerous reports issued during the past few years and published by the Welsh Government, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, WISERD (Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods); campaigning organisations like Oxfam Cymru, the Welsh Food Poverty Network, and Food Poverty Alliance Wales as well as national papers such as the Guardian and local papers including the Pembrokeshire Herald and the South Wales Evening Post.

Basically food poverty is caused by low income: high rates of unemployment, very low pay and benefit cuts. In households with low income, food may not be prioritised as highly as rent, council tax and other bills, since failure to pay these can have grave consequences. Food is seen as an elastic part of the budget, with parents reporting that they skip meals so that children can eat and that they have to buy the cheapest food available, which is not necessarily the healthiest.

But poverty is also caused by the high costs of housing, transport and food. In some areas locals, tourists and second home owners are in competition for accommodation, while poor public transport creates pressure to own a car, with its attendant costs. Furthermore, much of Wales exists in a ‘food desert’, particularly in the rural areas where it is difficult for many people to access shops, especially the supermarkets which usually carry a wider range of fresh foods. Small local shops are often very expensive and what fresh food they carry may not be very fresh because of the low turnover and the need to transport it over long distances. All of these tendencies are likely to be exacerbated by Brexit.

Poverty in general usually leads to food poverty which is also a public health issue. There have been reports of high rates of malnutrition and morbidity, and a decline in longevity. As  noted by Health in Wales, ‘Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is a leading cause of death in the United Kingdom, and particularly in Wales, where the death rate is greater than in the majority of the countries in Western Europe’.

Furthermore it is the poorest people who are most likely to suffer from obesity with levels higher across all ages in the more deprived areas (Welsh Health Survey 2013). The BBC recently reported that obesity is now overtaking smoking as the biggest risk to health in Wales and attributed this to the widespread availability of cheap junk food.

The case of Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire is where my research on food poverty has focused over the last few years. The Bevan Foundation noted in 2018 that ‘Pembrokeshire has one of the highest risks of poverty among people of working age in the UK, resulting from a mix of low wages and high housing costs’.

Pembrokeshire has a high number of incomers who are either permanent or temporary residents. There are retirees who can afford high housing costs, wealthier second home owners, and a big demand for holiday rentals. All of these push up the costs of accommodation, especially in tourist ‘hotspots’ such as Newport where houses have become unaffordable for local people.

There is a large amount of ‘hidden poverty’, especially in rural areas, but it also exists in the small towns, including those in the south where former industries have disappeared. There is a high rate of unemployment in the county, while those who are in work often have to accept low wages (sometimes below the Minimum Wage), seasonal employment (especially in areas of tourism), and precarity (e.g. zero-hours contracts).

The roll-out of Universal Credit in Pembrokeshire has further exacerbated poverty because of the long period between the ending of old benefits and the start of new ones, as well as the continuing of the punitive sanctions regime and the cuts in benefits more generally.

But there is another dimension to food poverty in rural areas and small towns and that is the reluctance to disclose it. As I have heard many times ‘You don’t want to be seen as poor’, which is considered stigmatising.

Food aid

For several years Wales has had an unusually high prevalence of food banks and the number of both Trussell Trust and independent food banks has increased since that time. In Pembrokeshire for example, Trussell now has four food banks as does Patch, an independent charity. Both are run largely by volunteers and receive their supplies from donors.

Wales is part of the globalised food marketing system, with supermarkets like Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Coop, Aldi and Lidl in the towns. Most of these cooperate with food banks to allow in-store collections of long-life food donated by customers. More recently, supermarkets have also been providing their surplus fresh food to charities, in some cases via the Food Cloud facilitated by the organisation Fareshare, in other cases with bilateral or unofficial arrangements between food outlet and food banks. The Food Cloud has meant that more fresh produce is available to food banks, but supplies are inevitably uncertain.

How then is it possible to bring good quality fresh food to people who need it but cannot afford it, without having recourse to food banks which risks the clients suffering from the associated stigma? One promising development is Community Fridges, open to all. At present in Pembrokeshire for example, these exist in Narberth, Fishguard and Haverfordwest.

Another is the setting up of regular community meals, available to everyone, not just the food poor.  These emulate some of the policies being adopted in Scotland which emphasise the links between food and community thereby ensuring both sociality and dignity. But more such initiatives are needed.

Pat Caplan is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Further information on her research and writing is available on her webpage https://www.gold.ac.uk/anthropology/staff/pat-caplan/ and she blogs on http://sites.gold.ac.uk/food-poverty/.

Thanks:  I am grateful to the clients and volunteers of the food aid organisations which facilitated my research. Image: Pat Caplan.

How community fridges cut food waste

By Corinne Castle

Pembrokeshire led the way in reducing food waste and making use of surplus food with the first surplus food cafe in Wales in 2013. It is now home to two community fridges, in Fishguard and Goodwick (another first for Wales!) and Narberth – both part of Hubbub’s Community Fridge Network. The idea is spreading with more community fridges to open in Pembrokeshire and visits from interested groups from across Wales looking to set up more.

If you’ve not heard of community fridges, essentially, they operate as a free or ‘pay-as-you-feel’ shop, abiding by the same environmental health standards for food safety as other food businesses. Often set up by community groups, they are housed in publicly accessible spaces. Combined with storage for ambient food, they are stocked with surplus food from supermarkets, local shops and other food businesses as well as donations from local people. Everyone is welcome to take food, the focus being on sharing good food and ensuring it is eaten – they are not food banks.

comm fridge

Fishguard and Goodwick community fridge. Image: Karel Mujica

The Fishguard and Goodwick community fridge opened in November 2017, following on from Transition Cafe, to make good use of surplus food. The purpose of Transition Bro Gwaun (TBG), who set up both initiatives in Fishguard, is to deliver innovative local solutions that address global environmental challenges. In the first 10 months their community fridge has processed over 5 tonnes of food, equivalent to 1 kg per person, in this small coastal community. Drawing on figures from WRAP, in this UK Government report, this equates to 20 tonnes of CO2 being avoided by reducing food waste.

Food waste and surplus food have become newsworthy topics in recent years with many mainstream media reports suggesting supermarkets are the main culprit. However, looking at data available from WRAP and the FAO the truth may be a little less palatable, with two-thirds of UK food waste coming from our homes.

Across the UK, WRAP estimate we throw away 7 million tonnes of food from households every year, or approximately 110 kg per person, equivalent to 440 kg of CO2. Similar figures are cited by the FAO for other Western European countries and the USA. From my personal experience working on TBG’s surplus food projects very few people admit to wasting food and usually think it is someone else’s problem..!

Current Love Food, Hate Waste campaigns are based on evidence that targeting groups of people is more effective than a blanket message. For example #MakeToastNotWaste and #GiveACluck are aimed at young people via social media. This is not to say that this age-group wastes more, rather that there are many reasons we all waste food and that life-stage and lifestyle play a part.

Drawdown identify reducing food waste to be one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, especially as food which ends up in landfill breaks down anaerobically, producing methane. Considering the resources used to grow, feed, water, harvest, produce and transport food and then subsequently disposing of it into landfill, food waste is accountable for roughly 8% of global emissions.

Wales is recognised in WRAP’s current UK household food waste report as leading the way in reducing household food waste, with effective Welsh Government policies to divert household food waste from landfill. In Wales all local authorities collect household food waste and process it for anaerobic digestion. However, just over half still ends up in landfill – equating to 34.6 kg per person per year in Wales. By way of comparison, in England around half of local authorities collect household food waste, but 90% still goes to landfill or is incinerated.

More positively, WRAP found that the quantity of food waste from homes went down in Wales by 12% between 2009 to 2015. We have the knowledge and experience in Wales to reduce food waste, with support from progressive Welsh Government policies. What we need are the resources to continue to reduce food waste throughout the food system. This is a trend that we must maintain!

Corinne Castle is Project Development Manager at Transition Bro Gwaun and blogs at https://pembrokeshirecook.com/

Both mages: Karel Mujica

Local food: reinventing the village shop

By Jane Powell

At the chill cabinet of a small shop in mid Wales, a customer reaches for a bottle of wine then does a double take. “Wine from Wales?” she exclaims, reading the label that announces it is from a vineyard near Aberaeron. “Is it OK to take to a party?” She puts it back.

cletwr cafe staffShe might have picked up many other items of locally produced food at the Cletwr Shop, which is a social enterprise on the busy A487 between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth. They sell vegetables from local smallholdings, seasonal surpluses from people’s gardens and their own jams and chutneys made on the premises, besides the usual branded products. There’s even a choice of Welsh gins: Da Mhile from the Teifi Valley, or one from the Dyfi Distillery near Corris.

But Cletwr is not just a delicatessen for the tourist trail. Here you will also find baked beans, white sliced bread and ready meals, because for many people this is their local shop, and that’s what they expect to find. The vegan cheese substitutes in the fridge rub shoulders with their dairy counterparts, and if you’re looking for a toothbrush you can choose between the wooden eco version or the usual plastic.

“We want this to be a shop for everybody, so we cater for all tastes,” explains Nigel Callaghan, Chair of Cwmni Cymunedol Cletwr, the community business which opened its doors in 2013, a couple of years after the original family-owned garage and village shop closed. “At the same time, we’re working as part of a wide group of retailers, producers and suppliers in the Dyfi Biosphere (and beyond) to promote local produce, and through that to develop and strengthen the local economy.”

The shop, which recently moved to purpose-built new premises thanks to grants from the Big Lottery, Welsh Government, the EU and others, does much more than sell food. There’s a busy café and a programme of events, from Welsh classes and ‘knit and natter’ to talks from the RSPB and sessions on local history. They host a fuel syndicate and they organize volunteer litter-picking sessions.

It’s run by a mixture of 18 paid staff (mostly part-time) and around 50 volunteers, and it’s constantly responding to new opportunities. A charging point for electric cars is to be installed soon, they’re planting a garden in the grounds, they’re about to join a toilet-twinning scheme – sponsoring a toilet in a developing country – and they’re looking into further services that they could deliver to the local community.

What Nigel is perhaps proudest of, though, is the opportunities the business provides for young people. “We invite school pupils to volunteer here for a while, and then we employ them. We put about £15k a year into the local economy that way. And we teach them the soft skills of employability, things like turning up to work on time and taking responsibility.”

Cletwr is introducing a new generation of youngsters to volunteering. “We have a lively group of volunteers here, young and old working together,” says Nigel. “Our board has renewed itself completely over the last three or four years as new people have been attracted to it, so we think we have got a good model that will last.”

It’s one of a number of community projects that have sprung up in Wales in recent years. Others are Siop y Parc, a community-owned shop in Blaenplwyf, Ceredigion and Llety Arall, a social enterprise that is building holiday accommodation in Caernarfon.

“We’ve seen the benefits that this shop has brought to the local community,” says Nigel. “We’d encourage others to do the same. All you need is a few keen people and you can bring a community back to life. There’s help and advice available – we talked to the Plunkett Foundation, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and others – and the rewards are huge.”

View the second draft of the Wales Food Manifesto and send us your comments: Food Manifesto Wales Second Draft Apr 2018. And sign up to our newsletter.

Jane Powell is an independent education consultant who is working as a volunteer with the Food Manifesto Wales. She writes at www.foodsociety.wales

Photos by Ant Jarrett

Calbee UK: a food business that lives its values

by Jane Powell (also published on Food Grads

When a production worker at savoury snack factory Calbee UK in Deeside, north Wales, heard that a café serving supermarket surplus food was opening in nearby Buckley, she was keen to get involved. But she didn’t just sign up as a volunteer. She told her employer about it, and now they are one of the café’s regular supporters, donating their own products and releasing staff to volunteer at the café in the company’s time. It’s just one example of their commitment to “make a positive and lasting difference to local people”.

“When we get involved with a local project we don’t just give money and walk away,” explains Mags Kerns, Human Resources Manager and Community Champion at Calbee. “We want to offer personal support, to get under the skin of a project. The café is great because they are making such a contribution to the community, bringing people together and relieving loneliness, as well as serving meals on a Pay As You Feel basis so everyone can afford to eat there. We’re glad to be part of that.”

Values are very important to Calbee UK, which was set up two years ago as a subsidiary of a Japanese company. Calbee Inc was founded in 1949 with the aim of tackling the malnutrition that was afflicting post-war Hiroshima. It was a particular emphasis on calcium and Vitamin B which gave the company its name. The Deeside factory supplies vegetable-based snacks under the brand name Yushoi to most of the main supermarkets, as well as Marks and Spencer’s Eatwell range. The bulk of its ingredients, especially peas, are sourced from the UK, although some such as rice are imported.

“Deeside was a perfect location for us,” says Managing Director Richard Robinson, “and we’re really excited about our growth plans here. The Japanese and Chinese are really investing in food businesses in the UK and Calbee is a great sign of how global the food industry now is.” He also acknowledges generous support from the Welsh Government, who helped them to source their premises and set up an apprenticeship scheme, besides investing in the facility which began production in 2015. Calbee, which now employs 50 people and is still only at about 25% of its capacity, is on course to turn over £65m by the end of 2020, and wants to become “one of the UK’s best savoury snack suppliers”.

Clearly, performance and success are important to the company, but their vision is much broader than that; they also want to have “a leading role in supporting the industry voice on health and well-being” and it’s clear that they see money as being in service to people, rather than the other way around. “Values run through all we do,” says Mags. “We’re proud of our low-fat, high-protein products that are not just tasty but healthy too. And it’s really important to us to be a responsible employer, as well as contributing to the community.”

Sometimes this attitude shows up in small ways that make a big difference. All staff are known as ‘colleagues’ rather than ‘employees’, which reflects the company’s flat structure and helps to create a sense of collaboration in the workplace. When a colleague is rewarded for exceptional performance they are given a day off – that is, time to spend with their families and friends – rather than a cash bonus, neatly demonstrating the company’s priorities. They are also encouraged to volunteer for the local community in company time. “Our colleagues and their families are partners in our business,” as their values statement has it. And they pay well too, as an accredited Living Wage Employer, another reason they have no problems recruiting staff and absenteeism is minimal.

“People knock on our door with their CV,” says Mags. “Of course, they don’t always have the skills we need, but working with Coleg Cambria we are able to offer apprenticeships that lead to a qualification in Food Manufacturing Excellence. In fact, all our staff take it, right up to management level, because it’s important we have a shared understanding of what the factory is about. And we’re glad to be supporting the development of food skills in Wales generally.”

Calbee could have some encouraging lessons for the food industry in Wales. As it takes a stand for shared values centring on human dignity while also achieving healthy growth and profitability, it shows how business can be a force for good. “Together we laugh, learn and love what we do,” they say on their website. Who wouldn’t want to be part of a workplace like that?

Jane Powell writes at www.foodsociety.wales

 

A food hub on the Heart of Wales railway line

By Pamela Mason

Drive into Llandeilo Station and you could be mistaken for thinking you’d spotted a goods wagon: the sort of wagon that used to transport some of our food around Britain before the loss of much of our railway infrastructure more than half a century ago. Given that this wooden building stays put, its link with food and transportation of food might not cross your mind. Unless you happened to know it is the home of the Black Mountain Food Hub.

The Black Mountain Food Hub was the first to book space in the building when it opened in 2016 for local social enterprises and businesses. Set up as a Community Interest Company (CIC), the Black Mountain Food Hub has four directors: Joanna Dornan, James Scrivens, Ella Gibbs and Sara Tommerup. Joanna has lots of experience with the Dean Forest Food Hub which has been established for four years and the Black Mountain Food Hub is run along the same lines, that is, as an online farmers market using the Open Food Network platform. “We know this works,” says Joanna.

The idea is that customers can order online anytime from Wednesday to Tuesday midnight and then collect their order from the Station Hub on the following Friday. Alternatively, the hub offers delivery between Llandeilo and Llandovery every Friday afternoon. The hub currently has 17 local producers and the number of weekly customers is about the same. Next year the aim is to grow the regular customer base to 30. People are also encouraged to support the food hub by becoming seed group members, which involves committing to spending £20 a month for a year. The aim with this is to help the food hub get better established and grow. It’s a struggle as it’s hard to change mindsets and habits around food shopping.black mountain logo

Whilst much of the work depends on volunteers, the hub also employs a part-time co-ordinator, Candace Browne, who has extensive experience in supporting and advising farmers so is well placed to work with the hub’s producers. Candace explains that to help maintain customer support the hub also makes available wholefood grocery items such as flour, rice, beans and pulses.

When the hub started there was no vegetable producer in the locality. Organic vegetables were delivered by train to Llandeilo from a grower on Gower. This year, Joanna tells me, they have developed a Fferm Glytwaith or Patchwork Farm which involves the co-ordination of a number of local experienced growers committed to growing good quality fruit and vegetables organically. Each grower takes on two or three varieties each season. In winter, the hub buys in organic vegetables, again to help retain customers throughout the year.

Another aim of the food hub is to reach out more to households on low incomes. Work is beginning with schools to promote the hub and thinking is taking place about the possibility of using the Healthy Start scheme to facilitate access to fresh, local food for people on low incomes.

The need for systemic change in the food system is well recognised by the food hub and an application for LEADER funding, which has successfully got through to the second round, has been made to develop a sustainable food network in the Towy Valley with the aim of shortening supply chains, getting more money to producers and building a thriving local system within the area. The project intends to use an approach called Adaptive Co-Management, which is designed to facilitate leadership, sense of ownership and knowledge sharing with the adaptive capacity to withstand uncertainties. Joanna says it’s an agile approach, which has been shown to be effective in complex environments in that it enables decisions to made quickly and effectively.

If the bid for funding is successful, the group will be looking for local people with the drive to make a difference to the local food economy in the Towy Valley. They will need to be open to learning new ways of working, gaining new skills and thinking in a new paradigm. It sounds very exciting. Local people in the Towy Valley with an interest in food – watch this space.

Pamela Mason is a nutritionist and author based in Monmouthshire. See sustainablediets.co.uk