Slow Food Youth Network Scotland

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I recently went along to one of the first meetings of the newly established Slow Food Youth Network in Scotland. Slow Food has been on my radar for a while, but with the exciting development of the SFYN, I finally managed to go along to find out more.

The establishment of the SFYN in Scotland occurred on the back of Carlo Petrini’s (SF founder) visit to Scotland in February (see earlier blog post) and is being driven for the meantime, during the initial stages, by Charlotte Maberly of QMU Gastronomy (her description of SFYNS below).

SFYN Scotland – what it is?

SFYN is an international network of young people who care about Good, Clean, Fair food for all. It is based in the Slow Food philosophy, supported by that international movement, but is its own entity. SFYN is a dynamic and flexible platform for speaking out about food issues which can include young people from all backgrounds and professions who care about food. In Scotland, it will be a positive voice of Scotland’s youth that is able to respond to local issues, but which is connected to a wider international network. More about SFYN international

What are we going to do?

SFYN Scotland’s online presence will connect young people across Scotland and internationally, to raise awareness, cultivate dialogue and create action around food issues.

SFYN often uses public, inclusive and visually engaging events to speak out on food issues. These include Eat-InsDisco Soups (click link to learn about culinary disobedience :), Film Festivals, public lectures, educational workshopsDrink-Ins, art exhibitions & installations, food growing projects … and anything else that can be imagined! 
 SFYN Scotland
Here are some things I learnt at the meeting:
  • There are many branches of the SFYN across the world – the group in the Netherlands is a particularly strong, active example.
  • SFYN – offers a single platform/voice for good, clean, fair food – crucially it is a platform for many voices – meaning it has a greater presence and power.
  • 97.3% of food in the UK is bought in supermarkets.
  • SF – focus on cultural diversity, biodiversity and indigenous food diversity through projects such as Ark of Taste and Terra Madre.
  • SF ethos is to celebrate and enhance the good, rather than focus on the bad – all about inspiring positive change.
  • SFYN – also a platform for campaigning effectively – a mechanism to teach others and affect change in local areas.
  • SFYN – there are no rules and no big infrastructure – it is very flexible and can do a huge range of things and respond to local issues – all from a perspective of positive change. It is organic and not reliant on funding.
  • SFYN Scotland aims to close the rural-urban gap in Scotland.
  • SFYN UK is holding a major event in Bristol on May 4th – an ‘Eat-In’ – for more see here.

Slow Food in Scotland links:

SFYN Scotland – facebook & twitter

Slow Food Scotland – formation at UK AGM & twitter

Slow Food Edinburgh website & twitter

Watch this space (or twitter) for the official launch event of SFYN Scotland!

The first farm of its kind in Scotland

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Posted here by Peter Crosskey on Sunday, April 19, 2015

Whitmuir Community Farm, a few miles south of the Scottish capital Edinburgh is selling itself to the local community. Literally. For a couple of years now, Whitmuir Community Benefit Society has been selling shares in the working organic farm, with a view to securing the future of the educational work that already goes on there. “Transferring the land from private ownership to community ownership not only protects the long term future of the farm, but also allows greater collaboration with the educational and science sectors than is currently possible and enables the development of accommodation and teaching facilities on site,” explains Pete Ritchie, director of Nourish Scotland, who is currently farming Whitmuir with his partner, Heather Anderson.

The process of selling shares was launched in 2013, with the first share being bought for then five-year-old Maya by her family. The launch event was also attended by the Scottish Parliament’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead. There are now 14 shareholders under the age of 16 and the Whitmuir Community Benefit Society is well on its way towards reaching its first target of GBP 400,000.

This year Whitmuir has funding for a 2,000 square metre project, to show visitors just how much food can be grown on two hectares of arable land, along the lines of the ARC2020 study. The project will test a rural food waste recycling scheme for up to 60 households and work with two local primary schools to recruit up to 40 community growers to grow vegetables for the schools.The long term aim to develop a Living Learning Space where future generations can learn about food production and its place in the environment. The educational aspects of Whitmuir have been accelerating over the past seven years and the farm now hosts around 50 tours a year as part of the 80,000 visitors to the farm shop, gallery and restaurant.

Whitmuir has a very wide base of support. MEP Alyn Smith describes it as: “…a truly inspirational example of sustainable organic farming.” He went on to say: “Scotland’s got a good story to tell when we talk about high-quality food, and consumers knowing that they’re getting fresh, organic produce is a significant part of that.”

Local SNP candidate Emma Harper is particularly impressed by the scale of the educational programme at Whitmuir: “As a nurse educator I am especially impressed by the focus on education at Whitmuir, in that both visitors and the local community can reconnect directly with farming and food production.” Over the past five years, Whitmuir has hosted 355 educational events for a wide range of audiences, from primary schools onwards.

In April, work starts in earnest on the two thousand square metres project. Heather Anderson explains how Whitmuir will put the “local” into local food. “From April 2015, with support from the Climate Challenge Fund, the farm will be working with two local schools to grow vegetables for the schools. Every person on the planet has 2000 square metres of arable land and 4000 square metres of pasture, so the site will demonstrate the land use decisions we can make in Scotland, like similar projects round the world.”

FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: A SCOTTISH CONTEXT

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 Food Sovereignty was first proposed by the international peasants’ movement La Via Campesina in 1996. At its heart, it asserts that the people who produce and consume our food should be at the heart of our food system, rather than allowing global agribusiness to control the supply of this essential resource, exposing our food system to the vulnerabilities of the global financial market.

At an international conference in Mali a year later, the Declaration of Nyeleni was drawn up by over 500 food producers from 80 countries around the world, and laid out the six core ideas behind Food Sovereignty. Over the last few years whilst working on sustainable food projects in Scotland, we’ve been struck by the fact that, although originally written up primarily by peasant farmers from developing nations, the six pillars of Food Sovereignty are hugely applicable here in Scotland too. It is these principles which will guide the work of Common Good Food as week seek to build a better food system in Scotland, and below we consider the challenges we face.

You can read the full Decleration of Nyeleni here.

1. Food Sovereignty focuses on food for people

The basic purpose of a food system is to feed the population in a way that is fair and sustainable. It provides the nutrition essential to all human life, and is not a commodity that can be traded on the global financial markets like any other. In Scotland, as well as housing international banks that play with our food resources in this way, we are just as guilty as the emerging economies of the Global South for not focusing on food for people.

We have a government food policy which repeatedly prioritises high-end luxury food for export over producing nutritious staples for the local population. We continue to promote and subsidise the Scottish whisky industry as the example of how good Scottish food and drink can be, with 35% of our nation’s biggest crop, barley, going directly to making the golden tipple. When ministers justify this by repeatedly stating the industry is worth over £4bn per year to the economy (and ignoring the £1.1bn cost to society due to alcohol abuse each year) they reinforce the prevailing view that food is first and foremost a tool for economic growth, and not a way of feeding our population. Food Sovereignty challenges this, and asks fundamental questions about what food is for.

2. Food Sovereignty values food providers

It’s been a long time since we’ve truly valued food providers in Scotland. Our crofting laws may be unique, but they were motivated by the need to tie just enough peasants to the land so that large landowners had access to ready labour at certain times of year, not through any concern for the small-scale farmers themselves.

The dominance of our food retailing sector by so few large companies means they can cream off massive profits whilst paying our key food providers less and less for their products each year. There’s an irony in the fact that UK consumers will happily pay more for Fairtrade branded food from around the world, whenmore than half the dairy farmers in UK have gone out of business since 2002because they can’t get a fair price for this most basic of foodstuffs.

True, the economic viability of farming in Scotland is tied into a complex global market, made even more intricate by the baffling world of EU policy and subsidies. Whilst campaigning for change at this top level though, there is much that can be done locally to create a culture that truly values food providers. We can promote farming as a valuable and exciting career choice, providing quality training and support for new entrants to the sector along the lines of Nourish’s New Farmers Programme. We can make full use of the coming powers in the Land Reform and Community Empowerment Bills to make land available for primary food production. And we can reclaim the values of the Co-operative movement from a certain corporate behemoth, creating retail and distribution models controlled by producers, workers, and consumers equally.

3. Food Sovereignty localises food systems

We’ve spend the last few years working with the Fife Diet, exploring how we can use local food as a starting point for a sustainable diet, and we’ve come to realise what a huge mountain we have yet to climb on this front. Local food is not a fashion trend to be claimed by celebrity chefs and expensive restaurants, and it’s not just about frequenting your local farmers market. It’s about building short supply chains and infrastructure that not only gets fresh, healthy and affordable food into the communities that need it the most, but also provide the mechanisms which make small scale and sustainable farming economically viable, especially in terms of food processing.

We need mills close to arable farming areas, which allow farmers to grow and process small batches of grain themselves; local abattoirs, especially in crofting communities, so home-reared animals don’t have to be trucked to Dingwall for slaughter; above all else we need localised distribution and retail systems which ensure hard-working producers can get their product to the local population and know it is likely to be sold. Localised food systems don’t just mean lorries off the road and therefore lower carbon emissions – fully functioning local systems are the key to reducing costs and making local food an affordable, egalitarian option.

4. Food Sovereignty rejects corporate control of the food system

Perhaps above all else, this is where the food system in Scotland is most removed from the emergent economies around which the principles of Food Sovereignty were drafted. It’s hard to imagine life in Scotland without the big supermarkets on the edge of every town, without vending machines full of Coke products, or international purveyors of sugary confectionary sponsoring some of our biggest sporting events – this is the landscape we have grown up with, and we rarely question its validity.

But this is the challenge that the Food Sovereignty movement in the west faces, and Common Good Food wants to inspire popular imagination and demonstrate what food without corporate control could look like. We also want to encourage people use our collective voice and democratic rights to challenge any further corporate capture of the public sphere by giant food conglomerates, for example, the cynical attempts of the big four supermarkets to increase their brand recognition amongst our children through sponsoring education programmes in schools.

The recent activism against TTIP has also reminded us in the west that we are just as susceptible as the Global South to corrupt trade agreements, negotiated by unelected officials behind closed doors, which directly impact on the autonomy and sustainability of our food systems. Food Sovereignty is an international fight in which movements from around the world can join together to push for change in our own backyards.

5. Food Sovereignty builds knowledge and skills

Re-skilling and knowledge building will be a core part of the work of Common Good Food. Learning not just where our food comes from, but how you can participate in food growing, is the first stage for many people in demystifying our food system. When we realise that all food starts with fertile soil and a human hand, we begin to question the industrialisation and corporatisation of such a simple and essential daily task – eating.

We often talk of having lost skills, but that’s not entirely true – while many of us have become disconnected with the art and science of food growing, there are still thousands of people across the country working away on plots and in back gardens, nurturing generations of local knowledge. Common Good Food wants to work with communities to tap into this vital resource, and give everyone the opportunity to participate in our food system in the most fundamental of ways. Last year, we held the first national orchard gathering in a generation,  bringing together fruit novices with orchard experts to share learning and inspiration. This year we want to do the same, but focussing on seed saving – our crowdfunding campaign is raising money now to help make this happen in the Autumn.

6. Food Sovereignty works with nature

The Fife Diet explored food’s relationship with climate change, and how consumer choices can help mitigate some of the massive CO2 emissions produced by the food and agriculture sector – up to 1/3 of global emissions by some estimates. But the challenges we face go way beyond climate change – for too long we have applied a capitalist perpetual growth model to our food systems, assuming new technologies and developments will allow us to keep taking resources from nature to feed ourselves. We can’t – some things are just finite, and we have to work with, not against, nature to make the most of these.
On top of damaging climate change emissions, we have to address issues around how we use and manage water, how we make best use of the limited land we have in Scotland, and how we care for perhaps the most vulnerable of nature’s resources – soil. Anyone who has driven through Angus on a dry and windy day and witnessed this precious resource blowing through the air, drifting at the sides of the road like sand dunes, will have witnessed the scale of the problem we face in Scotland with soil degradation. Decades of intense agriculture in fine, silty soils has stripped our land of much of its fertility and its ability to nurture itself. And as we approach the impending peak of phosphorous production, and begin to run out of the processed additives big agribusiness relies on to make the whole system work, we also start to run out of time to come up with sustainable, working alternatives.
Common Good Food wants to explore ways to work with nature and build closed, self-sustaining systems, using organic principles, permaculture design, agroecology and forest gardening techniques. We’ll be working on a community, small-scale level, but hope to inspire and demonstrate that change on a local level can lead to a bigger system shift.
How we fix our food system is a massive question: we don’t have all the answers. But we think a Food Sovereignty approach provides a valuable framework to explore solutions both in Scotland and further afield. If you agree with us and like what we do, please help us get our exciting new project off the ground and click here to support our fundraising campaign running until the 26th April.

Fife Diet Achievements and Reflections

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Mike Small reflects on the Fife Diet (published here)…

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‘Why don’t we eat more food from near where we live?’ 

This was the simple question that began the Fife Diet – a year long local food experiment which has since morphed into an exploration of what sustainable food looks like, and a hundred more questions. Over an eight year period it has developed from a simple idea framed around ‘local eating’ to a complex holistic one about sustainable food, environmental justice, globalisation and culture.

We set out to build a sustainable food movement that popularised eating healthy, local produce in Fife. We started from the understanding that there is something fundamentally wrong with the food system but also from the thought that we can, if act collectively, do something about it.

We are delighted beyond our expectations at the support it has received and the impact it has had. We believe the projects success was based on its authenticity – i.e. ordinary people trying to do this for the first time, but also based on a fundamental truth, that is that we as a society will have to actually change our own behaviour, institutions and experiences to meet the challenges of climate change and that no magic bullet, techno-fix or legal sleight of hand will wish-away the reality we are all part of.

Crops are planted

The last eight years has made us realise that food has become central to the precarious economy, it has become a form of social control, and, while it remains a means for great change and a source for love, community and solidarity, it has also been captured and turned against us.

The ‘restorative practice’ of a better food system will only be victorious if we want it enough. But we think it’s there right now on the table in front of us.

Real progress won’t be made until we end hunger in Scotland and the disgrace that are food banks. It won’t be made until we regain control over our retail experience, and confront the profiteers that benefit from products that fuel our children’s obesity. It won’t be made until we create opportunities for the ‘right to grow’ and create an expectation of quality healthy food in our public institutions. Some of these arguments are put forward in ourFood Manifesto.

There’s a whole lot more to be done if we want to be taken seriously as a ‘Good Food Nation’. We think that debate is just starting, not ending.

Here’s some of what we consider to be our key achievements on that journey:

CELEBRATING OUR OWN FOOD CULTURE It’s worth remembering that when we started we were met by a mixture of incredulity and poorly-disguised scepticism. People really didn’t think that you could eat food from Fife, and survive at all. It was just unthinkable, unimaginable.

CARBON SAVINGS In 2011-2012 we saved 1019 tonnes of C02e. Then, in a three year period (April 20912- March 2015) we saved a further 6976.37 tonnes of C02e. These are immediate savings, by diverting food waste from landfill thereby avoiding creating methane, for example, or by sequestering carbon and enriching soil with compost, but also by eating locally, growing our own food, eating organic, changing the meat we ate (and eating less of it).

OUTREACH We held or attended over 500 outreach events over the three years, engaging with 15,520 people.

GROWING SPACES

We established a community food growing garden, a wildlife and forest garden and a vibrant volunteer and community group who are maintaining them. We hosted 57 events at the garden, including the children’s gardening club, large community lunches and volunteer sessions.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT We ran 79 weekly children’s gardening clubs (79 clubs over three years) and hosted 7 large-scale community events.

LEADING THE WAY We were part of building a new food movement in Scotland that encompasses the right to food, championing small producers, insisting on sustainability as a measurement of quality in food production and celebrating food sovereignty.

NEW ORCHARDS We planted 7 orchards around Scotland from Galloway to Sutherland with our Silver Bough tour (‘ a cultural conversation about apples’).

SCHOOL LUNCHES PILOT We collaborated with Fife Council and the Soil Association in a pilot project exploring regionally sourced, healthy, sustainable and organic school lunches.See here.

INSPIRATIONAL PRINTED MATERIAL We published a series of inspiring posters, postcards, booklets and other materials including recipe books, calendars, guides onnative apple varieties and a booklet on gardening with kids. We also produced a free Ebook for our members of Collected Recipes from the life of the project.

BIRTHING THE ORCHARD COLLECTIVE We curated and hosted the National Orchard gathering and helping the Orchard Collective into existence.

THE BIGGER PICTURE We are proud to have been part of a wider movement and welcomed the collaborative work over the past eight years with such groups as Nourish, the Soil Association, Slow Food, Permaculture Scotland and Transition Towns.

Space to Grow – Edinburgh

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Just discovered this project, Space to Grow, working on the grounds of Lloyds bank in Edinburgh – blurb and more info below.

We are a group of colleagues with a mission to transform land across our company’s UK offices into working gardens that enhance community and environment.

Space to Grow aims to strengthen community connections and promote long term sustainable development and social impact by encouraging colleagues to work together to create valuable garden spaces through the use of responsible and sustainable methods. We will work with local communities to decide how each garden would create the greatest benefit.

Our first garden is well underway and will be in Edinburgh, with a second garden being developed in parallel in Copley.  We are also continuing to work on identifying local charitable and community organisations who can benefit from these and other sites in future.