FOOD FOR THE REGION

5th & 6th October 2021

A Major Conversation about our Regional Food System, brought to you by Swansea Environmental Forum, Grwp Resilience and 4theRegion.

Hosted over Zoom over two consecutive days, the Regional Food System Conference brought together over 100 people to discuss the issues and opportunities relating to our food system in South West Wales.

REGIONAL FOOD ROUNDTABLE

Prior to the conference, we invited thought-leaders and experts to discuss their perspectives on key issues and opportunities relating to our regional food system, including Patrick Holden from Sustainable Food Trust, Katie Palmer from Food Sense Wales and Jane Powell from Food Society Wales.

View our Food & Farming Playlist here.

EVENT COVERAGE

ARISING ACTIONS & THEMES

Capturing the key messages from this two-day co-production event, here are some of the recommendations and responsibilities for communities, businesses, organisations and individuals at every level.


Local Authorities & Policy Makers

  • Continue conversations with local authorities to offer land up to community groups.
  • Create an assembly made up of people to keep up these conversations and take some of the ideas forward into forming solutions.  Councils and the Welsh Government need to be involved so that they can tackle all the barriers being faced.
  • We desperately need an overarching food and farming strategy for Wales that links up climate, biodiversity, health and economy.
  • Ensure that government departments work together with organisations both regionally and locally
  • Education/health/local government all need to work hand in hand to ensure the survival of food and farming in Wales that enhances our environment.
  • Taxing unhealthy food and subsidising fresh/local food would go a long way to solving the poverty trap.
  • Many government groups are still working in silos, who can we get to put pressure on them to collaborate?
  • Make it compulsory for County Councils to free up unused land for growing projects.
  • Increase government support to grow healthy food.
  • Communication from local authority with the local community early in the process of assigning land use.
  • Councils and the Welsh Government need to be involved so that they can tackle all barriers being faced.

Communities

  • Local food not only improves our food security but also improves the resilience of our local economies, especially our farming communities, who need support from all of us to transition to sustainable and regenerative farming. 
  • Across the UK producing 50% of our food leaves people highly vulnerable – that needs to increase upwards to at least 80%
  • There needs to be less divide in society, especially with food inequality.
  • Scaling up of public community gardening schemes and education on how communities can grow a small but significant amount of fresh produce.
  • Make community orchards more commonplace.
  • Increase the number of community supported agriculture projects.
  • Increase access to affordable and nutritious food across small, rural communities.
  • Community food growing needs to be fully inclusive, with funding and training. 
  • These events could become the norm and an established feature of every community; 
  • Build the awareness of the power of the collective.
  • Community gardening should be firmly established as alternative social prescribing for people.
  • Increase the importance of embedding a new culture which could be via linking up stakeholders and creating networks.
  • Connect people who would like to learn more about farming with farms who need pickers, milkers etc.
  • Replace the present, highly centralized industrial food model.
  • Community shared meals can bring people together.

Individuals

  • It is difficult for a lot of people to get food that is affordable, locally produced and environmentally sustainable.
  • We all need to be empowered food citizens
  • Get to know your own local area, what is produced there, how you can access it, even forage for it. 
  • Instill people with the skills and resilience to face challenges. 
  • It’s for each individual to come together with interest groups to ensure these conversations continue.
  • Cost of real quality food is really prohibitive to many families, especially with all the reductions in universal credit and increases in fuel and energy bills.
  • Spread the word on what local initiatives exist. Increase awareness, both of community activities by consumers but also for community projects to be aware of grants and support they can apply for.
  • Grow what you can using what space you may have.
  • Realise the value of your food if you grow it yourself.
  • Share and donate surplus food. Engagement through different and more empowering models than food banks.

Businesses & Producers

  • Farmers and growers need to upscale growing to make it financially efficient. 
  • We need to accept what we are able to do in Wales – some things we can do, some we can’t.
  • We need the right people working in business to break down silos and work together.
  • Tackle the struggles of competition against factory farmed produce.
  • Meat, dairy and plant based diets are not a black and white issue. 
  • Focus on producing high quality vegetables, fruit, grain, meat, milk and eggs using regenerative practices.
  • Create opportunities to show how important skilled chefs and producers are to our economy.
  • Engage with hospitality businesses to ask what products they need.
  • We must facilitate local producers to remain viable and quickly ramp-up opportunities for new entrants into farming and horticulture.
  • We need to involve tech specialists to assist food producers in collectively getting fair prices at markets/or direct to consumers.
  • Enable closer connections between small food producers
  • More engagement and understanding of what produce is produced locally. Perhaps tours could be a way of showcasing local producers.
  • Wales has limitations in terms of the climate, it doesn’t enable us to be that efficient.
  • It’s always going to be a problem in Wales just because of our land base and our climate.
  • Increase knowledge of what’s already here for producers, such as local food washing facilities, abattoirs, depot points, etc. 
  • Create an accreditation or branding for businesses to showcase that they are proud to be users of local, sustainable produce.
  • Put pressure on supermarkets to be local and use this as a way to reach different consumers who may not engage in the food system in other ways.
  • Highlight the importance of informal distribution links between producers and consumers.
  • Stricter labelling of food explaining where it comes from, resources used to produce it, carbon footprint, etc.
  • Scale up and increase the number of local food partnerships.
  • Work with supermarkets to increase the amount of local produce.

Procurement

  • There is a huge opportunity to take control over our local supply chains. 
  • Shortening of supply chains and localisation could be key in helping the reliance on food banks and how far we travel to get produce.
  • Wales could be a first for completely self-sufficient growing and local distribution of food.
  • We should compare the issues with the food supply chain to historical issues faced in communities with coal.
  • Increase the value of food in our procurement system.
  • Brexit is an issue, some supply chains have become longer as a result.
  • Procurement locally for hospitals and schools would generate business locally and help keep people healthy. 
  • The supermarket price ignores the social and environmental costs which society has to pay.
  • There needs to be demand to drive the supply and for the producer to change their route to market. 
  • Milk vending machines have allowed farmers to cut out the middleman and make a better return, without a major cost to the consumer. 
  • The true cost of producing cheap food needs to be transparent and damage to the soil, biodiversity and climate must be built into the costs.
  • More joined up system to create scale – not about making individual suppliers bigger necessarily, more about joining them

Education

  • Education surrounding growing food, cooking and food confidence is key for future generations. 
  • Growing, producing, cooking and preparation skills are lacking in the curriculum. 
  • More education is needed on seasonal eating.
  • Every school ought to ensure that every child takes part in growing, harvesting, preparing and eating food.
  • Use primary schools as a way to cascade knowledge about food systems across generations.
  • Educate people on foragable foods, edible flowers and remove the stigma surrounding food procured yourself.
  • Supermarkets should engage with local schools and communities, teaching and supporting local growing groups/educating individuals and communities on how to cook.
  • Schools could organise trips to farms and encourage a hands-on approach to learning about the food system.
  • The task may be not to change the curriculum, but to support teachers in delivering it. 
  • Schemes such as Healthy Schools can help teachers.
  • Horticulture and agroecology usually aren’t covered until higher education.
  • Tell children and young people the truth about food production and give them power to make decisions.
  • Make learning about cooking more creative and fun. Many food-box schemes use interesting methods to educate.
  • Remove the stigma of jobs being “low-skilled” in the farming industry.
  • Youth groups, scouts and guides can help with education outside of school.
  • There are a lot of opportunities for young people within the food sector and education.
  • Invest more into education and extra-curricular activities such as producing and growing.

Environment

  • The climate emergency is a huge challenge, especially with health and food security.
  • Be clear and aware on the impact our global food systems has on climate change
  • Reduce the number of animals and animal products being shipped across the world.
  • We need to address single use plastic and throwaway waste. The plastic wrap our fruit and vegetables are wrapped in, as well as single use utensils often found in catering and retail.
  • We need to do better than recycling, we need to reduce waste of all types.
  • Knowing how to correctly store produce is important to reduce food waste.
  • We need to think about how our food systems adapt to the effects of climate change like drought, flooding, wildfires etc. 
  • Food waste that goes into landfill is a huge contributor to emissions. Food waste needs to be tackled if we are to reduce our emissions.
  • Wales’ economy is very reliant on an industry (steel) that is a huge contributor to climate change
  • Desperately need the end to battery chicken farming, cruel, not nutritious as a food source and bad for the climate. 
  • The issue of ammonia pollution from the poultry industry has a large impact on air quality.
  • We have to remind ourselves that humanity is devastating ecological systems and all our local actions should be avoiding anything that might tip this beyond a point of no return
  • Address the environmental impact of the food system by changing the way land and seas are managed
  • Adoption of more sustainable farming, forestry and fishing practices. 
  • Promoting sustainable agricultural and agroecological practices that work with nature to reduce artificial inputs and lead to a reduction in pollution. 

Land & Forestry

  • We need to encourage regenerative practises such as food forests and agroecology.
  • Mixed farming seems to have little support and monocultures are encouraged.
  • 14% of land in Wales is suitable for arable cropping. It has to be examined if we can use land to grow in different ways, using agroecology and urban spaces.
  • Land is expensive to buy, and farmers are reluctant to lease for a sufficiently long period.
  • Free ranging chickens much prefer to forage in broadleaf woodland than on pasture; if the woodlands are well planned, they can be used for food production too.
  • Consider agroforestry and permaculture solutions in strategies for community food resilience. 
  • Planting trees to make forests can be beneficial for food. Natural woodlands are also food forests.
  • Trees and hedgerows can work harmoniously with farming.
  • Look at creative methods of growing, such as vertical farming.
  • Increase access to growing spaces for communities.
  • New developments should consider community allotments and green space.
  • Use empty buildings to create more markets, greengrocers, butchers, etc. Make these affordable to run by reducing business rates.

Health

  • There are health implications with pesticide use and soil contamination.
  • We need to prioritize soil health, measurement of crop quality and nutrient density
  • We need to tackle aggressive advertising and remove processed food as easy choices.
  • Reliance on processed food can lead to diet-related health issues. 
  • Increased plant production can drive a release of land to support more tree planting or bioenergy crops. These measures imply a shift towards meeting healthy eating guidelines that would also have a positive impact on human health.
  • Poor mental health in agriculture is high. We need to increase support for workers in the industry.
  • Raise awareness of resources; Many farmers don’t know how to access other markets, grants, etc.
  • Remove the term “organic” as a marketing buzzword and replace the labelling to legally contain all the chemicals it contains.
  • Bionutrient meters can measure nutrient density in food in real-time prior to purchase.
  • If we don’t get diet related disease under control, we risk overwhelming the NHS or having to cut other public services to pay for it. 
  • Healthy food requires understanding of what foods and nutrition sustain good health.

General Comments

  • Meat and dairy make up only a third of the calories we eat. Yet 85% of UK farmland is used for feeding and rearing livestock. However about 80% of Welsh land is Less Favoured Area and is suitable for growing grass but much more challenging for growing fruit and veg – this is why we have lots of sheep in Wales converting the inedible grass into edible protein.
  • It’s important to understand why we make the choices we make. How important is it to eat bananas and avocados? Is it natural to eat food that doesn’t grow in the climate in which you live? The further we get from the source, the producers, the more unaware we are of the impact of our choices— unfair trade, human slavery, inaccurate reporting of pesticide use, etc. At what point is it not worth the convenience?
  • Community discussion events as the norm.  Bringing together a full, inclusive cross section of the community – farmers, landowners, suppliers, shop owners and supermarket managers, ordinary people from every sector of the community, activists, everyone – to listen to each other, talk and discuss together, broaden their perspectives, develop mutual understanding and debate what to do about it; share ideas and start to form collectives to make their ideas happen.  
  • We should realize the benefit of the natural world, the wonder of encouraging the wellbeing benefits of actually connecting with nature . This is also  all very much about working within communities because we’re all in this together as well, so bartering, swapping, exchanging, sharing ideas, always being open to new ways of doing things, listening to others, and working together. It’s really a big part of the way forward.
  • The starting point for addressing the environmental impact of the food system lies in changing the way land and seas are managed, with the adoption of more sustainable farming, forestry and fishing practices. Precision farming, agroecological systems, agroforestry, low-impact silvicultural systems and innovative horticultural systems, are options being looked at to change land use. Promoting sustainable agricultural and agroecological practices that work with nature, will reduce artificial inputs, leading to a reduction in pollution. While the volume of production may also be reduced, profitability for landowners is often improved due to a reduction in costs. 

 

NEXT STEPS

Thank you to everyone who took the time to attend and contribute to the wide ranging discussion. This is just the start of what we hope will be an ongoing conversation leading to real change involving our regional food system.

We will be updating this page with the full event report and a full Manifesto using ideas, comments and opportunities shared in the event.

There was a consensus that we should keep this conversation going, with a regular regional community-led food system forum through which people can engage meaningfully with decision-makers, producers, retailers, farmers and each other.

If you are a regional organisation that recognises the need to involve communities more in your service design, strategy or policy development, or if we can support your upcoming consultations or community engagement objectives, please get in touch. We welcome the support of regional partners and look forward to hearing how you intend to address the recommendations of this conference.

And if you are someone who would like to stay involved with conversations and activities relating to food and farming in our region, one way you can do this is to reach out to us (email zoe@4theregion.org.uk)

We will also be emailing all conference attendees with future events that we think you will be interested in – and we invite you to keep us posted about your projects and initiatives so that we can share, connect and support!