Trafodwn: a new way to talk about food and farming

By Jane Powell

One evening in late June, two months into lockdown, 156 people logged on to Zoom to talk about food and farming in Ceredigion. It was no ordinary discussion. After hearing from a range of farmers, community organizers and environmentalists, they had spent time in small groups sharing their personal responses to the crisis that is Covid, Brexit, climate change, globalization and much else. Guided by a facilitator, they listened carefully to each other, looking for common ground and tentatively suggesting solutions.

Ben Lake MP addresses the Ceredigion People’s Assembly on Food and Farming

At the end of the two-hour meeting, when the note-takers had reported back, it was clear that the event had achieved a remarkable level of shared inspiration. There was a strong call for the relocalizing of food, self-determination for communities and support for young people to enter the food and farming sector, among other things. It had demonstrated the hunger that there is for change in the county, and the richness of knowledge and expertise present.

As one retired farmer put it: “It was quite amazing to have such a breadth of participation…to have a platform where parties involved in farming, land management, horticulture, nature reserves all on large and small scales being represented was so very worthwhile.” Another commented that he had no idea so many people cared about farming. For many, it was an emotional experience to find such warmth and compassion between hitherto opposing sectors.

The event itself came out of a somewhat unlikely collaboration between the Cardigan branch of climate protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR) and local Member of Senedd and former agriculture minister Elin Jones, with support from the farming unions and environmental groups. Ben Lake MP also spoke. As Vicky Moller, one of the organizers, said: “Elin Jones’ decision to co-host with the local Extinction Rebellion branch was in the spirit of the event. Everyone feared hostility or ding dong argument. It didn’t happen.”

People’s Assemblies

This was many people’s first experience of a People’s Assembly, one of a series of five that have so far been organized in west and mid Wales since Covid. The first was held in Pembrokeshire in late April, and it came about from work that organizers Vicky Moller and Anna Monro had been doing to support community groups during lockdown. “At our meetings people discussed the future, and it was clear that they did not want to return to the old normal,” says Vicky. “The leading area where they wanted to see change was food and farming, and so we decided to look at that in detail.”

The format of the People’s Assembly is widely used in XR, which is perhaps best known for its high-profile protests in London, Cardiff and other cities last year. “They are a taster of a growing global alternative to our adversarial model of democracy – where rival parties slug it out and we choose between them every few years, often motivated by fear of those we oppose,” says Vicky. “It’s officially known as deliberative democracy, and in Wales we are calling it ‘trafodwn’, which means ‘let’s discuss’.”

Central to all Assemblies is the work of the facilitators, who are trained in the three pillars of the method: radical inclusion (hearing all voices), active listening (dropping your own agenda to give your full attention to the speaker); and trusting the process (allowing the wisdom of the hive to generate new thinking).

“Thankfully, there is a growing number of trained facilitators available,” says Angie Polkey, one of the organizers of the Ceredigion event and herself a trainer. “We are all helping to satisfy people’s thirst to have they say, be heard and, most vitally, be part of the change that many of us know is needed for a more sustainable and just world.”

Angie explains how important it is that the Assemblies have an impact. One of the five events stimulated local action groups to form, but as she says, “the significance of the others lies as much in the inspiration they created, which will shape future relationships, as well as the feedback that has been shared with elected representatives and local Council.” It is a fundamental tenet that the participants know why the Assembly has been called and what will happen to the findings, because otherwise “people will feel disillusioned and that their time has been for nothing”.

Deliberative democracy for Wales

The People’s Assemblies described here were citizen-led and unfunded, but the principle is also used when Citizens’ Assemblies are commissioned by governments who want to make difficult ethical decisions with public buy-in, such as the abortion laws in Ireland. They use an approach similar to the recruitment of jurors to ensure that the groups are representative, and they typically run over several days or weeks with professional facilitation. A recent OECD study reviewed about 300 government-commissioned events on five continents, and a good practice guide is also available.

Wales held its first Citizens’ Assembly at Newtown in July 2019, to discuss how citizens could engage with the National Assembly for Wales (now the Senedd), and since then there have been calls for Wales to make more use of them in the recovery from Covid. The ground-breaking Well-being of Future Generations Act already sets out a process whereby public bodies are required to collaborate with the public in creating an ecologically sustainable Wales, but it is not enough on its own, as David Thorpe explains in a recent blog for the One Planet Centre.

He calls for Citizens’ Assemblies to work with the Public Services Boards of every local authority, and for the Boards to be held accountable to them. That would raise awareness of the Act and tap into the energy and expertise of community groups, which has been so much in evidence during the coronavirus pandemic. Professor Laura McAllister of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre made a similar point in the Western Mail recently:

“We have a chance to reverse normal political relationships, for the public to be in the driving seat via something like a more expansive citizens’ assembly…If a consensus was reached, we could then hand over our blueprint to the parties and test their genuine appetite for change.”

“Trafodwn is a good term for this newer version of deliberative democracy,” says Vicky. “It is organised from the ground up, with both sides of the divide wanting to meet and sort things out. Something is stirring.”

Watch an interview with Vicky Moller, explaining ‘Trafodwn’ and the Aberystwyth event (12 mins)

For a full account of the five Assemblies, including the main conclusions from the Ceredigion event, click here.

Jane Powell is a volunteer coordinator of the Manifesto and took part in the Ceredigion Assembly. She writes at www.foodsociety.wales.

How local authorities and community groups can re-set the food system

By Jane Powell

There has rarely been a more potent time to talk about change in the food system. The pandemic has brought unprecedented interest in local food suppliers and homegrown food and sparked a surge in community activity. But while for some, cooking and gardening have been new-found pleasures, there are others who are unable to go out to the shops or cannot afford to buy food. According to a YouGov poll of Welsh adults in early April conducted by the Food Foundation and shared by Food Sense Wales here, an estimated 13% were not getting enough to eat in lockdown, many of them skipping meals. All this shows the need, and also the potential, for change. Could it be time for food democracy, joining citizen action with government policy?

For many years now, community food projects of all types – gardens, surplus food distribution projects, food banks, healthy eating programmes, food cooperatives and hubs – have been quietly trying out new ways of engaging the public with good food. They may lack influence with national government, but they do have a chance with local authorities, who have statutory roles involving food, such as environmental health, trading standards and the provision of allotments. Councils are close enough to their local communities to develop the personal relationships and practical collaborations that build trust. Crucially, they also work with food businesses, buying ingredients for school meals and other council facilities. Some even own farmland.

The response to Covid-19 has put the spotlight on local food relationships and gives some pointers towards what might come next. In Ceredigion for instance, Council staff are keeping in touch with 2,500 of the county’s most vulnerable people, phoning those considered most at risk weekly and supplying 900 of them with boxes of food. Initially these came from Welsh Government, but Ceredigion led the way in negotiating a cash payment instead, and is using it to buy more locally produced foods from Castell Howell as well as fresh produce from Jones and Davies in Llandysul. They plan to re-double their efforts to support local suppliers when the crisis is over. ‘Much of the pressure for this is coming from local dairy and meat farmers,’ explains Cllr Alun Williams, ‘but it is heartening to see across-the-board consensus about this. We have an opportunity to re-set the food system.’

In Cardiff meanwhile, a Covid-19 Food Response Group was set up early on. It began with emergency food distribution but recently supported Edible Cardiff to distribute nearly 14,000 plants, seeds and growing kits to households in the city (pictured above). Food Cardiff coordinator Pearl Costello describes how important it was to nurture good relationships between the Council and local volunteers. ‘It’s not just going to the Council and saying “can you do this?”, it’s saying “we’re here as a resource”…one of the things I didn’t want it to be is quite top-down, and thankfully it’s not that. It’s about collaborating and channelling resources to where they are needed.’ Food Cardiff have issued a briefing paper for other local authorities based on their experience.

Free school meals are another way that local authorities help families most in need. Some authorities have been issuing supermarket vouchers during lockdown, but in Cardiff cash payments are given so that parents can buy the food they want. In Caerphilly meanwhile, the catering service is working with Castell Howell and other suppliers, as well as a team of volunteers, to supply five frozen meals a week, not just in term time but through the Easter holidays as well. They are also supplying bread and milk.

A great advantage of local government is the flexibility. Responses can be adapted to local conditions and draw on the knowledge that is held in communities, and people can work together in ways that suit them. In Cardiff for instance, the council is part of a formal food network. Food Cardiff is a partnership of over 30 members including public bodies, businesses and charities which since 2013 has been part of the Sustainable Food Places project (formerly Sustainable Food Cities), with a full-time coordinator.

In rural Ceredigion meanwhile, where no such partnership exists yet, a creative network of mutual aid has emerged by other means, with home deliveries of food and medicines by volunteers. New supply chains are springing up: a vegetarian baker in Cardigan has teamed up with a local butcher to get their bread out, pubs are doing meals on wheels, and community growing projects are producing supplies for home vegetable growing.

At the same time, a patchwork of local responses has much to gain from being part of a bigger story, finding common cause and identifying guiding principles that can be pushed upwards into national government. The Well-being of Future Generations Act provides an important opportunity, with its call for a social and economic transformation towards low-carbon prosperity and local resilience. Covid-19 is a foretaste of the deep change that will involve, and food is an obvious rallying point.

Meanwhile, there are some tough challenges to solve. One is the big retailers, who are the main suppliers of our food but conspicuously absent from, say, the Food Cardiff partnership. They do of course contribute to their local communities, especially in supplying surplus food and with cash sponsorship, but it is an unequal relationship which is governed as much by expediency and the edicts of Head Office as by a real care for the needs of a community. Their supply chain logistics do not favour local food production, either.

Another area that is perhaps not properly included in local authority food activity is farming. Some do source catering ingredients from local suppliers, and politicians have called repeatedly for more use of public procurement to regenerate the local economy, while a new project to stimulate the ‘foundational economy’ of which food is a part is due to start in Carmarthenshire soon. But it is not a consistent approach. Pembrokeshire County Council for instance cited ‘severe financial pressures’ as a reason for rejecting an offer from a local group who wanted to set up a community farm. Meanwhile, as Ceredigion County Council considers an application for a controversial intensive poultry unit, it must decide on the basis of planning considerations only. There will be no discussion of the type of farming that would best serve the area.

How can we develop local food democracy, allowing the public to channel their ideas into local and national government and ensuring a food system that reflects what people really care about? There are some exciting initiatives on offer at the moment: People’s Assemblies, the expansion of the Sustainable Food Places project in Wales, the Our Food initiative in Crickhowell, and countless small-scale interactions. This is what the Well-being of Future Generations Act was made for, with its new ways of working between community groups, councils and businesses. As Jane Davidson, one of its architects, says:

‘A food system that looks after future generations will support local communities, create innovative low carbon jobs, tackle climate change, enhance biodiversity, address inequality and proudly celebrate the Wales brand to the world. It can do this through thinking long term, preventatively and by encouraging innovative, collaborative opportunities between public services and food businesses, small and large. COVID has highlighted the risk of not having a food system, so now let’s take the opportunity to build one fit for our age – for Wales, by Wales.’

Now is our moment, and we must seize it.

Image: Food Cardiff. Almost 14,000 plants, seeds and growing kits have been distributed to families in the city, by 70 volunteers across 60 projects.

Jane Powell is a freelance education consultant and volunteer coordinator of the Manifesto. She writes at www.foodsociety.wales.

Building democratic food systems following COVID-19

By Ludivine Petetin

Amidst the grimness of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to see the opportunities arising from it. However, all over the UK and Wales there are pockets of hope and good practice that indicate how food systems could become more resilient. This blog post is based on an open access journal article that I wrote in April 2020 entitled ‘The COVID-19 Crisis: An Opportunity to Integrate Food Democracy into Post-Pandemic Food Systems’.

1. Interconnected food supply chains

The disruption within food systems and the lack of certain foods on the shelves is highlighting the interconnectedness of our food supply chains. Looking outside the UK, some countries have put in place measures to restrict the export of staple foods. They have done this for two main reasons: to guarantee their stability and avoid civil unrest, and to ensure their own food security. However, such export restrictions will have consequences for the world market in terms of food availability and price volatility, and ultimately could lead to international food shortages and a possible worldwide food crisis – affecting the most vulnerable.

Within the UK, disruptions to the ‘just-in-time’ methods of the food supply chain have indicated how closely linked all actors are: the farmer grows cereals, the miller grinds the grain, another company packages the flour, different people again take care of logistics and transport, including delivery drivers, and (often) the supermarket sells the flour – and this is not an exhaustive list. Indeed, flour is a good example of a staple food that is elusive on the food shelves – indicating how intricated but fragile the food supply chain really is.

Under the circumstances, there is a risk of a return to less environmentally friendly practices. Calls to intensify food production in response to shortages could threaten the move towards further sustainable agriculture. However, and more positively, this crisis should be seen as an opportunity to use more sustainable techniques, such as agroecology and agroforestry, and to redesign food systems post-pandemic by building a new model of multilevel food governance based on food democracy.

2. More democratic food systems

In Wales, we have seen how some local farmers, suppliers and shops have been particularly resilient in supplying the local population. In and around Cardiff, butchers like Oriel Jones and Martin Player have modified their businesses to increase their online presence and add home deliveries – indicating the ability to quickly diversify. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable box schemes, such as the Welsh Food Box Company and Paul’s Organic Vegetables, have responded to the increased local demand. It is to be applauded that the local population can count on its local shops and growers and it is to be hoped that this momentum for local, sustainable and healthy food will remain post lockdown.

My article suggests four characteristics for a ‘food democracy’ model to build upon to increase the reliability, locality and resilience of food systems post-pandemic (combined with longer, sustainable food supply chains). Some of these new approaches are already emerging  during COVID-19, whilst others still require improvement:

  1. True information, genuine choice and alternative products being offered to consumers: this is demonstrated by the increased interest from citizens in where their food comes from (i.e. food provenance) as well as how it was produced, with a shift in consumption pattern towards local fruit and vegetable box schemes, local butchers and bakeries.
  2. Upstream engagement and a bottom-up approach in the decision-making process: this starts with local authorities being more involved in supporting local food production, and feeding into the future agri-food policy still under formulation by Welsh Government. They should act upwards, and Welsh Government should be ready to listen to them.
  3. Good health, food safety, sustainable agriculture and environmental protection, improvement of the rights of farmers and agricultural workers and their opportunities: strengthening and shortening food supply chains, leading to fewer food miles, less packaging and processing; also active participation by the public, for instance in harvesting fruits and vegetables.
  4. Restoration of faith and trust in the food system, its institutions and in farmers: this includes a stronger and fairer role for the farmer; transparent food supply chains with fair dealing; a local population interested in supporting local producers either by buying their products or becoming an agricultural worker; and stronger links between supermarkets and local producers.

3. Multilevel food systems

The COVID-19 crisis shows how food supply chains and agri-food policies functions on many levels, from the local to the international. Political decisions on agri-food made at one level impact on all the others. What is needed is increased coordination between the different levels of governments and governance within Wales and beyond. This should lead to agri-food policies that are joined up and support primary producers and local shops.

The ‘Sustainable Farming and our Land’ document published in 2019 is no longer sufficient to solve the issues faced by the sector post COVID-19. The pandemic makes it clear that agriculture and food policies can no longer be kept apart. They need bringing together, as the new President of the EU Commission is aiming to do with its new Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. A holistic, forward-looking approach towards agri-food systems built on a multilevel agri-food governance is the way forward for all level of governments – from local authorities, to Welsh Government and beyond.

Dr Ludivine Petetin is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the School of Law and Politics and the Wales Governance Centre of Cardiff University. Her expertise lies in agri-food issues and international trade as well as the challenges that Brexit and COVID-19 pose to these areas.

A new food and farming conference for Wales

One afternoon in January 2010, some 50 farmers and others gathered in a mediaeval library in Oxford to debate the future of food and farming. Meeting at the same time as the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference, they were interested in a new approach to food and farming, one which puts food producers at the centre, and challenges the establishment approach of high tech methods for global markets. The idea caught on, and so the Oxford Real Farming Conference began.

This conference, now in its tenth year, is centred around farmers and growers, and draws in scientists, caterers, nutritionists, economists, artists and policy-makers, with the aim of exploring together how we can develop a better food system. The result is a highly energizing and inspiring brew which gives an annual boost to a growing movement  of food activists from all walks of life. This year’s event attracted 1000 delegates to Oxford Town Hall, half of them farmers, with dozens of workshops, fringe events and informal gatherings, all leavened with art, poetry and good food.

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Colin Tudge addresses the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2017

In the words of Colin Tudge, co-founder with Ruth West of the ORFC and of the Campaign for Real Farming, the purpose of the event is to promote ‘enlightened agriculture’, that is, ‘farming that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, forever, with food of the highest quality, without cruelty or injustice, and without wrecking the rest of the world’. It’s based on the four principles of agroecology, food sovereignty, economic democracy and respect for traditional knowledge, and by drawing together different elements of the food system it presents a vision of a new relationship between food and society.

There has always been a strong contingent from Wales, and this year we had our very own session centred on the Wales Food Manifesto. Chaired by Alicia Miller of Troed-y-Rhiw Organics, it covered nutrition (Pamela Mason, author of Sustainable Diets), small-scale growing (Nathan Richards, grower at Troed-y-Rhiw), Welsh language and rural culture (Dr Eifiona Thomas-Lane of Bangor University). schools and education (Jane Powell of LEAF Education), environment (Arfon Williams of the RSPB) and how to encourage a new generation into farming (Gerald Miles, Caerhys Organic Community Association and the Landworkers Alliance).

Together with delegates from Wales who were in the audience and added in ideas to do with fisheries, gardening at home, school meals and other areas, we explored some of the possibilities for bringing farming and the public closer together in Wales, and encouraging new approaches to food production. We also aired the idea of doing our own version of the Oxford conference in Wales and found enthusiastic support – so that’s what we’re doing.

The Wales Real Food and Farming Conference (or in Welsh, Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru) will take place at Aberystwyth University on 11 and 12 November 2019. We inserted food into the title because food is what brings us together, and we don’t want to suggest that there is anything unreal about the excellent Wales Farming Conference. The conference will welcome anyone who is interested in a fresh approach to farming and growing in Wales.

We want farmers and growers to thrive, to be appreciated by their local communities, to be rewarded for what they do, and get the support they need to produce healthy food for everyone, in a fair and responsible way that builds biodiversity and human culture. We invite anyone with an interest in that to join us – suggest a workshop or a speaker, join the organizing team, and of course buy a ticket and come along for a whole new event in Welsh food and farming.

For more information and to register your interest, see http://wrffc.wales or http://cgfffc.cymru. Bookings will open over the summer.

‘Well-being Wales’ – agroecological food and farming transitions

By Sam Packer

Farmers know a thing or two about the weather, and it’s clear that the winds are changing fast. A bodged Brexit has put farming on the ropes: Welsh lamb, dependent on the EU export market, looks particularly at risk; devolved administrations have been excluded and sidelined through Westminster’s flagrant use of Henry VIII powers; trade-deals pose enormous threats to the sector, with a flood of bargain basement food likely to undercut domestic producers.

Brexit is, nevertheless, somewhat of a smoke-screen to the more fundamental challenges we face to global planetary health, manifesting in the interrelated crises of diet-related ill health, climate change, antimicrobial resistance and biodiversity collapse. In these turbulent times the status quo of food and farming needs a rethink, and fast.

The way we farm is connected to the way we eat; ask anyone to look at the land and reflect – is that where my meal was made? The answer is, most likely not: your protein was grown in the Amazon, your oils in Malaysia, your fruit Spain, your wheat Ukraine. Gazing on a landscape of livestock, many – one third of the UK population is estimated to be flexitarian – are well placed to ask the question, is this land feeding me?

Disconnected from the means of production, we are mindlessly fuelling these crises, for example, deforestation for palm oil – a major ingredient in ultra-processed (junk) foods – contributes to our obesity crisis.

Even in Wales, the disconnect is damaging; despite 80% of Welsh land being under agricultural management, many children barely visit a farm. Bringing people closer to their food production has multiple wins – education, health, community cohesion – and putting farmers in the seat of power to make that change must be a priority for future farm policy. Farms such as COCA (Caerhys Organic Community Agriculture) in Pembrokeshire should be front of mind as part of this social food revolution – pioneers such as Gerald Miles should be given a national platform.

The Well-being of Future Generations Act demands that law, policy and public money are developed and used in the interest of those that follow. It is an extraordinary opportunity to drive the food and farming system towards one that considers public health, climate resilience and nature – but until now we have largely overlooked the vehicles that will take the food system there.

Plaid Cymru have had a go, hitting the headlines in 2018 for proposing a bold vision for Wales to be 30% organic by 2030. This may seem a tall order, but Austria has achieved 22% of farmed area under organic already, and across Europe organic land area increased 18% between 2012 and 2016. The biggest driver of this change is market demand, which is outstripping production considerably; in the same period the EU organic market grew 45% to €30bn, while in the UK it is a fast-growing £2bn food market and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Without policymakers responding to these challenges, they risk leaving the Welsh food and farming sector behind. There must be support for adaptation and innovation across the sector, and crucially, this will need to privilege systems that enhance ecological resilience. Thriving diverse landscapes, full of life, full of food are a cornerstone to thriving rural communities.

Here’s some ideas to kick-start the food transition to ‘Well-being Wales’:

  1. Fruit and veg first: A Wales empty (less than 0.2% of land) of fruit and veg production is a weaker, unhealthier place. High quality fruit and veg must land on the public plate – and domestic producers with support can fill the void. Wales must make good food the easy choice for schools, hospitals and care settings.
  2. Biodiversity, in-the-field: Out of sight our soils are losing life, compacted, eroded. Wildlife lives on scraps at the edges of monocultures, our road-verges and back-gardens often support more diversity than our fields. Wales must commit to in-field biodiversity where farmers can be simultaneously profitable and work with nature.
  3. Farming in 3D: Trees and farming are a fabulous partnership, Wales should commit to agroforestry full-pelt – 25% of Welsh farms integrating trees and agriculture by 2025 would not only bring well-needed business diversity (timber, fruits, nuts) it would go a significant way to meeting Government ambitions for tree planting.
  4. Quick gains with proven systems: organic farming may not be the silver bullet for sustainable food systems, but it is market-ready, verifiable and exportable; it might be as close as we’ve got. Committing to a widescale and rapid transition to agroecological systems – such as organic – should be front page of a future Welsh food and farming strategy.

Welsh citizens must harness this unique moment to make food and farming fit for future generations – tell your politicians, listen to your local farmers and land managers, and imagine what ‘Well-being Wales’ means for food and land.

Sam Packer is farming and land use policy officer at the Soil Association, where his work focuses on horticulture, agroforestry and climate change. Prior to this role he has been a grower/ teacher for mid-Wales community food project Mach Maethlon, contributed to the Food Values Wales project, and worked at Coed Cadw, Woodland Trust Wales. He can be contacted on spacker@soilassociation.org or @samtpacker on Twitter.

Image: Creative Commons

Once in a lifetime: bringing food and farming closer together in Wales

By Jane Powell

Our departure from the EU provides an opportunity for citizens, groups and organisations to bring about deep change in the food and farming system in Wales, and the UK. Let’s put food at the heart of this transformation.  

When we leave the EU, the familiar system of farm subsidies will come to an end and it will be up to the governments in London and Cardiff to devise a new system of public support.

The UK government is working on an Agriculture Bill which is out for consultation until May. It is mainly concerned with England, but it does contain a section on frameworks for dealing with the devolved nations. This will determine the regulatory baselines and the power that the Welsh government will have to make its own policy.

Speaking at an NFU conference in Birmingham in February, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, set forth five principles that will guide a new Welsh land management policy.

The first four are: to keep farmers on the land, to ensure a prosperous agricultural sector, to ensure that public spending delivers public goods (meaning environmental benefits) and to make the support system accessible to all.

Bringing up the rear at number five is this:

“We must not turn our backs on food production. Where sustainable production is viable, we must help our farmers compete in a global marketplace… Food is core to Welsh farming values and is emblematic of our nation. We already have a thriving food and drink industry and this is the time to advance it.”

It is good to see the link being made between farming and the food industry. The Welsh Government’s Food and Drink Action Plan for 2014-2020, Towards Sustainable Growth, recognizes that 170,000 people are employed by the food and drink supply chain in Wales and that it is an important contributor to exports, jobs and general prosperity.

However, food is much more important than this, as the government’s own underlying Food and Drink Strategy for 2014-2020, Food for Wales, Food from Wales, makes clear. It is also about health, culture, education, food security, environmental sustainability and community development.

So let’s not talk only about jobs and exports, important though those are. Food is central to the way we hold together as a society and feed our young, the old, the sick and the vulnerable. It is the foundation on which future generations will literally grow.

As we embark on a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to set a new course for land management and all that flows from that, it is imperative we take a broad approach, recognising the complex relationships between our food, farming, society, economy and environment.

A systems approach to food and farming

Let’s look at a few things we might want to do if we thought farming was, at least in part, about producing food for the people of Wales.

For one thing, we would align farming with public health as well as the environment, so that we grow food that meets our nutritional needs. That would mean putting more land under horticulture, in particular. This is the focus of the Peas Please campaign, which brings together government, farming, supermarkets and caterers in a concerted effort to have the UK eat more vegetables. We might also grow more grain for human consumption.

We would use the power of the public purse to support this new model of farming, getting Welsh-grown food into public sector catering, such as schools and hospitals. Professor Kevin Morgan in his 2015 Senedd paper Good Food for All enlarges on this point and calls for a programme to train procurement staff in ‘values-for-money’ purchasing which stimulates sustainable food production and underpins education and community development.

We would also want to make sure that the public, and especially young people, understand how food is produced, so that they can support nature-friendly, high welfare farming with their votes and their shopping choices.

That would mean supporting links between farms and schools, backed up with gardening and cookery to help young people make the connection between nature, food and human health.

It would also mean supporting food festivals to tell the story of farming (and fishing), as well as promoting community gardens which introduce growing skills to so many people.

All this would encourage the public to place a higher value on food generally, and to waste less of it. It would create a climate where people were willing to pay more for high quality produce, and so generate more rewards for the people who work so hard to produce it and bring it to our plates.

Finally, we would want to enshrine the inseparability of food, farming, the environment, health and culture in a new alignment of organizations and policies that ensures that we gain as much benefit as possible from joining the dots. Local groupings such as Food Cardiff are an example of what can be done; we need to work nationally as well.

It is human nature to divide into competing interest groups, or siloes that ignore each other, and so we need to make a positive effort to work for unity and understanding. We call on the Welsh Government to engage with civil society and business and unlock the power of food to bring us together into a new vision of a healthy nation.

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.

Download the report of our public meeting: Food Network Wales 9 Feb 2018 report

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

Llun/picture: Anthony Pugh

Wales Food Manifesto: An invitation to shape the next draft

Andy Middleton mugshotThis article was written by Andy Middleton following the launch of the Wales Food Manifesto at the National Botanic Gardens on 9 February 2018. Andy is a environmental activist and social entrepreneur who is Founder and Chief Exploration Officer at TYF St.Davids, a Founding Partner at the Do Lectures, a Non-Exec Director on the Board of National Resources Wales and a member of the Innovation Advisory Council for Wales.

There’s a forester’s saying that the best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago, and the next best time is today. The same goes for changes to our food system needed to restore resilience and productivity to the natural systems that provide us food, water and resources. A wide range of organisations have been calling for transformational change to the way we grow, process and consume food, with far-reaching recommendations that would shift an industry on its axis if adopted widely.

The World Health Organisation have made causal links between red meat and cancer, and recommend reducing its consumption. Compassion in World Farming are calling for an end to factory farming to preserve the world’s biodiversity. Research from Cambridge University and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change call for reductions in meat and dairy consumption for carbon reduction.

Brexit meanwhile brings its own set of challenges that need to be balanced by an understanding of the trade deal balances between UK and food exporting countries. In new technology, innovators such as Aerofarms and Growing Underground are extending the boundaries of possibility with hydroponic growing whilst  ‘safe meat’ businesses such as Memphis Meats question our assumptions further. Changing diets are shifting meal choices towards meat-free menus, with nearly a third of UK dinners now vegetarian or vegan dishes.

Humanity is already making new choices about the food that it grows and eats. In Wales, we can plan a route to a resilient future by putting food and farming at the centre of a journey that leads to the wellbeing of citizens, communities and nature.

The principles and actions in this latest draft of the Wales Food Manifesto are offered for the discussion, improvement and debate that leads to the scale of response needed.

Download the second draft at Food Manifesto Wales Second Draft Apr 2018, then please let the team at Wales Food Manifesto know:

  1.  What changes would you would want to see for you and/or your organization to declare support for the ten principles?
  2. What comments do you have on the calls to action? Would you choose different ones?
  3. Can you help us work out how to achieve these goals? For instance, maybe you or your organization are already working in these areas and can share your thinking, or maybe you could commit to actions that would inspire others to join in.

Please reply to hello @ foodmanifesto.wales, neu ysgrifennwch at helo @ maniffestobwyd.cymru.

(You can see the current draft here: first draft of the Manifesto)

 

 

 

Can our young people shape the food system for the better? Let’s take more farmers into the classroom

By Jane Powell

We often hear how young people have become disconnected from food. They don’t know where it comes from and they can’t cook a meal. Of course that matters and we need to do something about it, but if we turn the problem around and ask how young people can help shape the food system, we have a much more interesting question.

Let’s visit a classroom in rural west Wales, where a class of 13- and 14-year-olds are studying local and global food as part of their geography course. They check over the menu from a local restaurant and discuss the arguments for regional food: it’s fresh, it boosts the rural economy and creates jobs, and it saves on transport and therefore carbon emissions. But it may be expensive, and going to the supermarket is so much easier.

Also in the classroom is a dairy farmer, we’ll call him Neil, here to talk about his work and help with their discussions. The pupils have been preparing for his visit with help from their teacher, who has helped them get a picture of what farmers do and think up some questions for him. She has also had to help them over a few prejudices absorbed from the media.

Although this is a rural area, most of the pupils have no direct experience of farming, and they are curious to meet someone from such a different walk of life.  The fact that Neil is an ex-pupil of the school, and that most of them presumably consume dairy products on a daily basis, only underlines the gulf in understanding that has grown up between farmers and the public.

Neil is apprehensive. He tweets: “About to talk to a classroom of year 9 pupils… #lambtotheslaughter”. It’s a while since he was last in a classroom and he is not sure what to expect, but he is interested to take the temperature of public opinion.

Standing in the front of the curious teenagers, he talks about the family farm where he produces milk, beef and animal feed. He explains the double impact of Brexit: the loss of European subsidies, without which (unless the UK government picks up the tab) many farmers might go under, and the change to our trading relationship with the EU, which could deprive farmers of a big chunk of their market.

One pupil ventures a question: has he diversified? Yes, he has converted farm buildings into holiday cottages. He has also looked into bottling his own milk, which would mean that he could sell it for £1 a litre instead of 24p. The trouble is that he would then have the job of marketing it himself which carries a high risk. You can’t stockpile milk till the price goes up.

So he goes for the simpler option of selling his milk to a big dairy, his animals to an abattoir, and grain to an animal feed mill. His produce therefore bypasses the high-end tourist restaurant with its venison and crabs and leaves the county, along with the profits from the various supermarkets where most people do their shopping.

As the discussion continues, it becomes clear that the pupils and the farmer have made the same deal: commodity farming and supermarkets, rather than the local diversified food chain so beloved of the tourists. It falls short of the ideals we have been discussing, but it’s easy to see why.

There are powerful forces of policy, convenience and lifestyle that have taken our food systems inexorably away from labour-intensive mixed farming, small herds, specialist shops and weekly markets, to the system we know today. And Britain has since the industrial revolution had a policy of cheap food for the cities, which has made it hard for us to develop a food system that is flourishing in its own right, and means that Brexit could produce a step change in the wrong direction.

Yet it doesn’t have to be like this. If there were the demand and the infrastructure – and of course the willingness to pay – farmers like Neil could grow at least some food for local markets, insulating themselves from the ups and downs of global trade and becoming less reliant on subsidies.

Research suggests that this might not be an impossible dream. As Amber Wheeler found with her 2013 study Could the St. Davids peninsula feed itself? local food self-sufficiency is theoretically feasible in at least one part of rural Wales (and see Simon Fairlie’s Can Britain feed itself). We might not aspire to such hard-core self-sufficiency, but it is surely worth exploring.

To reshape our food system so that farmers were supported by local markets would take concerted action by policy makers, government, business and the public. It would require a very strong motivation to reverse decades of urbanization and globalization.

But then, isn’t that sort of collaboration exactly what the Well-being of Future Generations Act is supposed to promote? And a recent report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy on the implications of Brexit for agriculture calls for long-term collaboration between government, business and others to build the agri-food sector and increase the resilience of rural communities.

We didn’t come up with any answers in that geography lesson, but the question hung in the air. Maybe our young people can change the world, given the right opportunities. Maybe our schools can be a crucible in which new visions can develop.

Afterwards, a relieved Neil tweets again. “Really enjoyed talking to the pupils this morning. Future’s bright”. There may be challenges, but if we face them together, who knows what we might achieve. I think we all felt the excitement of new possibilities.

Jane Powell is Wales Education Coordinator for FACE,  which works with schools to help children and young people understand the connection between farming and their daily lives. Last year FACE became part of LEAF. She writes at www.foodsociety.wales.  

Manifesto for food to nourish a healthy society: the opportunity

By Jane Powell. This article was published in the Western Mail on 13 February 2018

A report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy published last month forecasts tough times ahead for Welsh farming. It recommends, amongst other things, investment in longer-term partnerships between government, food retailers and others to grow business networks across Wales.

Meanwhile, in other circles, there is concern that the food industry is suffering from a skills shortage (and an image problem) and that it needs to do more to tackle public health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

Elsewhere again, there are social concerns. Increasing demand for food banks has led to the formation by Welsh Government of a Food Poverty Network. Children are growing up in a world where food comes from the supermarket shelf, and there is an epidemic of loneliness: people of all ages who eat alone, and not by choice.

It seems that the crisis facing farming is part of a much bigger picture of social disconnection from where our food comes from, where competing points of view struggle for air time in the rush to promote simple solutions. The pressures of Brexit only serve to intensify the discord.

But if the threat to farming subsidies and export markets provides a painful stimulus to action, it also gives us permission to think more deeply than before and question received truths. Discussions about food readily reveal ideological splits – the current debate about meat-eating being just one of them – but food by its very nature also brings people together.

While we may have very different views on what constitutes sustainable food production and makes for a nutritious diet, we can nevertheless agree on some shared values. We surely all want to see a Wales where everyone has enough to eat, food is of high quality, and we are fair in our dealings with each other.

Fortunately, we have some new structures to support a fresh approach to food. One is the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, which requires public bodies to act in a more collaborative way with business and civil society, and thus gives NGOs a new opportunity to step up and be heard. Another is the Assembly’s Rethinking Food in Wales consultation (closed, but still in progress).

There are also many encouraging initiatives that use food to cross sectors and silos. The Nature Friendly Farming Network honours the unity of food production and care for the environment. Food Cardiff brings together the public sector, academia and community groups to tackle problems such as school holiday hunger. The UK campaign Peas Please includes supermarkets, farmers, caterers and others in a bid to increase vegetable production and consumption.

There is a bigger question here. Could it be that the future of food and farming is not simply a practical challenge, to be sorted by new partnerships, but also a means to creating a more connected society and thus tackling many of our social ills? Food creates a human connection which is ultimately closer to most people’s hearts than money. We want a thriving economy, but it should be in support of human happiness, not the other way around.

That is the thinking behind the Wales Food Manifesto. The process began in 2015, with the support of Sustainable Futures Commissioner Peter Davies and former environment minister Jane Davidson, and can be described as a conversation that is gaining momentum. The aim is to develop food policy from the bottom up, with regular blog posts on our website from individuals and organizations.

Last week the Manifesto took another step with a public meeting at the National Botanic Garden, where speakers from the RSPB, NFU, Transition Bro Gwaun, Wright’s Food Emporium, Just Food Abergavenny and Food Cardiff set out their aspirations and considered how a national food network or alliance could support them to be more effective, for the good of everyone.

Taking part in the discussions which followed were representatives from different parts of the food chain from field to fork, as well as groups with a community or health focus. Some were senior members of staff in national organizations, some were self-employed people taking a day away from their businesses, while others were volunteers making inspiring contributions to their local communities through gardening, shared meals and debates.

We need all points of view to get the full picture, and last Friday was just a beginning. We won’t agree on every detail of the perfect food system – far from it – but by coming together to learn from each other, we can find some new ways forward.

Os hoffech ddod yn rhan o’r Maniffesto a helpu llunio’r system fwyd yng Nghymru, dilynwch chi yma neu e-bostio helo [at] maniffestobwyd.cymru.

If you would like to get involved with the Manifesto and help shape the food system in Wales, please follow us here or get in touch at hello [at] foodmanifesto.wales.

How paying subsidies to farmers saves us money in the end

By Megan Perry, Sustainable Food Trust

When Britain leaves the EU, farmers will no longer receive direct payments from Brussels, and the UK governments will have to make their own policy on subsidies. Some people will see this as an opportunity to reduce costs, but the Sustainable Food Trust’s new report The Hidden Cost of UK Food suggests that cutting subsidies might be a false economy.

The report shows that agricultural subsidies make up a comparatively small proportion of the total costs of UK food – just 2.5p for every pound spent on what we eat. That’s because there are huge hidden costs in the food system, such as the health care bill caused by poor diets, and the environmental impacts of intensive farming. Farm subsidies, meanwhile, will be pivotal in shifting our food system towards more sustainable practices, saving us money in the long run.

The report highlights the damage that our current food system causes, and the huge economic cost of this to society. Food appears to be cheaper than ever in the UK, yet the price we pay at the checkout is masking a hidden cost. In reality we are paying for our food twice – for every £1 we spend on food in the shops, we pay another £1 in other ways.

One example is healthcare. With a whole range of negative impacts, from pesticide poisoning to antimicrobial resistance, food-related healthcare costs account for an extra 50p of every £1 spent on food. Broken down, we can see the severe impact of poor diet, as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer rates continue to rise. Cardiovascular disease is particularly significant, forming 9.2% of NHS costs, at £2.5 billion per annum. Obesity costs around £3.95 billion, while treatment of malnutrition in the UK costs £7.3 billion annually.

How is our food system helping to create this problem? The rise of supermarkets and promotion of processed food is one aspect that has led to decreasing nutrition in our diets. As retailers compete to cut costs and lower prices, we’ve seen food increasingly packed full of cheap, processed ingredients that are also addictive, such as sugar. Another aspect with serious and far-reaching repercussions is the loss of diversity in the foods produced, particularly the narrowing of the range of crops grown, and the loss of crop varieties.

Many diets now rely on a small number of staple crops, such as wheat, maize and soyabeans, while the diversity of food produced in general has seen significant decline. In Wales, for example, the amount of land producing vegetables has declined by half in the last 40 years. This not only impacts our health, but threatens future food security and reduces habitats for wildlife.

Aside from diet, our food system directly impacts our health through production practices, and the costs of these can be huge. Antimicrobial resistance, for example, is a problem created in part by the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production, which is now having a catastrophic impact on our ability to treat even some minor infections. It is estimated that the economic cost of antimicrobial resistance in the UK is £10 billion per year, and around £2.34 billion of this is likely attributable to livestock production.

There are also, of course, health costs associated with exposure to pesticides, particularly to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and these can amount to £12 billion per year. Many of us unwittingly come into contact with pesticides via residues in food and water, or we may be exposed to them directly in our environment. In fact, one study found that almost 5% of all fruit and vegetable samples tested contained one or more pesticide residues above the legal limit, while a quarter of all surface water reservoirs used for drinking water in the UK are at risk of exceeding EU pesticide limits, according to the report.

Environmental pollution and degradation associated with food production also generates major economic costs that many of us may be unaware of. In fact, environmental impacts account for an extra 36p for every £1 we spend on food. Agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions cost society £10.35 billion per year in the UK, while costs from nitrogen pollution are estimated to be £11.88 billion, or about £185 per person per year.

Soil degradation is another major issue. Over 99% of human food calories come directly or indirectly from plants grown in soil. Food security for the global population depends on maintaining soil health to ensure its long-term productivity. Soil contains 25% of global biodiversity, and over 98% of the genetic diversity in terrestrial ecosystems, and provides habitats for insects, invertebrates, microorganisms and small mammals. Soil also stores approximately 2,500 billion metric tonnes of carbon, essential for soil fertility, water retention and plant health. However, most croplands have already lost 40–60% of their organic carbon to the atmosphere. Globally, more than half of all soils are now classified as degraded or severely degraded. In the UK, the economic cost of the loss of soil carbon is estimated to be £3.21 billion per year.

These are just a few examples of the most significant costs generated by the negative impacts of food production in the UK. There are numerous others, including water pollution, food importation and biodiversity loss. The food system is not serving its people or the environment. There is currently little financial incentive for food producers or businesses to do the right thing. They do not have to pay for the damage they inflict and they are not rewarded financially for the care and conscience they give to the countryside.

This urgently needs to change, and with Brexit on the horizon we must ensure that future food and farming policy internalises the hidden costs back into the food system, creating the right incentives for sustainable progress. The continuation of subsidies is essential to  reward farmers for positive practices which protect the environment and support human health.

There is clearly a lot of uncertainty around the future of food policy in Wales, as indeed there is across the rest of the UK, but Brexit provides an opportunity for Wales to lead the way, and outline a genuinely sustainable future for food and farming.

Megan Perry studied International Politics and then gained a Masters degree in Food and Water Security at Aberystwyth University. She now works full time as Policy and Communications Officer for the Sustainable Food Trust. She lives on a small farm in Somerset where her family rears Black Welsh Mountain sheep.

Picture: Gary Naylor