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Laurie King, from Sims Hill Shared Harvest, explains the need for a holistic approach to tackle food insecurity – and the projects, including Sims Hill’s new ‘community food centre’, aiming to do just that.

Photo: via Flickr CC

1,182,000 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis between April last year and this year, according to The Trussell Trust, a charity which runs many of the food banks across the UK. The number of people who cannot afford food is rising, and changes in policy need to address this. But this isn’t a call for making supermarket prices lower, this is a call for making a food policy which includes people’s access to land, community and education.

There are fundamental problems with a food system in which food is treated as a simple commodity for the financial gain of private companies at the expense of people’s health and quality of life. Food banks exist as a response to financial inequality, and have helped a lot of people in crisis. However, many food banks recognise that they struggle to provide nutritious food and rarely supply fresh ingredients.

Looking at the deeper roots of the problem, it’s clear that no one’s health, well being, connection to nature or social isolation is going to improve after being handed a can of rice pudding. The Food Poverty Report (2013) by Bristol City Council recognises that food poverty is linked not only to lack of financial security but also people’s access to resources such as cooking equipment, local shops and transport as well as social networks and skills.

In Bristol, we must ask ourselves how it is that in such a wealthy city we have over 20,000 children growing up in families that can’t afford a nutritious diet? We’ve had a thriving local food movement since the 1970s, but the poorest people in the city still do not have access to good, affordable food.

“This isn’t a call for making supermarket prices lower, this is a call for making a food policy which includes people’s access to land, community and education.”

Earlier this month, representatives from the council, food banks, schools, advice centres and charities gathered together for an event entitled ‘Feeding Bristol – How can we work together to end hunger and food insecurity in Bristol?’. So-called ‘holiday hunger’ for school children and local food production were the themes high on the agenda, along with the potential benefits of localising our food system.

“People taking responsibility for their local food supply can alleviate the inequalities suffered between high and low household incomes, improve the overall health of a population, and reduce the pressure upon welfare services,” explained David Parry, manager of Buzz Lockleaze, a social enterprise which engages people from one of the most deprived areas of Bristol with healthy food through activities in the community café, shop and garden.

The recently published A People’s Food Policy developed by a coalition of representatives from diverse food and social justice organisations including the Land Workers’ Alliance, makes just this point. We need to challenge industrialised agriculture based on monocrops, mechanisation, pesticides and artificial fertilisers, and move towards a system of farming based on sound ecological principles. One of the central themes of the publication is getting more government support for community-run food initiatives and to recognise the importance of these projects for everyone’s health and well being.

Bristol initiatives

photo: Sims Hill Shared Harvest

I am involved with Sims Hill Shared Harvest, a community supported agriculture (CSA) project based at the Feed Bristol site in Frenchay, which is at the forefront of connecting food aid and farming. Working with the Real Economy, we are piloting an element of the Community Food Centre model, first tried in Canada, which offers a holistic approach to food aid through a range of activities to give people access to locally produced food and life skills.

At Sims Hill, group members participate in growing vegetables and cooking, also taking a share of vegetables home. Sims Hill is a space for people to experience a connection to nature and to a community, as well as offering meaningful work on a CSA. The project is working with advice organisations and NGOs to include those that are struggling to access fresh food.

Integrating food aid and local food production is also on the agenda for the national charity Feeding Britain. “Farming and local food production plays a pivotal role in food aid. Long term strategies towards eliminating food poverty in Britain should put people and the environment at the heart of its efforts,” says Feeding Britain’s programme coordinator Annie Olivier. “Through knowledge sharing, and a grassroots approach to informing policy, it is hoped that we might find a way towards a zero hunger Britain that both empowers land workers and makes high quality foods more accessible to the poorest families.”

The recent Feeding Bristol conference – Bristol is one of the pilot cities for Feeding Britain – and the wider Feeding Britain initiative demonstrate that disparate sectors and services of our society are beginning to collaborate. There is great potential for Bristol to set a new standard which links local production with food poverty and recognises that you cannot fix the problem of hunger without moving towards a more local, transparent and fair food system.

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