Sustainable food cities

Helen Browning - 12 October 2011

I’m really excited to be speaking in Bristol this morning at a conference we’ve organised to launch a network of sustainable cities across the country. Making sure our cities are sustainable in terms of their food and health needs is a crucial challenge, and there are a number of different projects working hard on the idea in different cities around the country already. And while none of the projects are identical, with each city having its own diverse needs, there is obviously lots of common ground – giving people the knowledge and skills to access affordable healthy and sustainable food; helping to tackle food poverty and diet-related ill-health; promoting local economic prosperity for farmers and food businesses; and minimising waste, biodiversity loss and food’s impact on climate change can all be the outcomes of a sustainable city.

At the Soil Association we’re well known for promoting organic farming and certifying organic food. Less well known is that that the Association was founded, nearly 65 years ago, on a belief in the fundamental connection between healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet. Since taking up post as Director in the Spring, I have been looking at how our work needs to develop in the years ahead and I keep coming back that same basic connection.

We’ve learnt through our involvement in two of the biggest food related Lottery programmes of recent years – the Food for Life Partnership and the Making Local Food Work programme – that if you can inspire and educate people about food; if you can give them the skills to grow and cook better food; and if you can give them ways – whether through buying groups, CSAs, coops, catering or retail – to access affordable healthy and sustainable food on a regular basis, you can drive a fundamental shift in food culture, and with it all the social, economic and environmental benefits this brings. And with the evidence base these programmes are building there is coming a dawning recognition that, with the right approach, food can be an incredibly powerful vehicle for driving positive change, and it can be used for any audience and on any scale, from schools, universities and hospitals to villages, towns and cities.

With regards to sustainable food cities we are still very much at the start of the journey, and if nothing else, today’s event can play a part in bringing together some of the energy and creativity for the idea that is already bubbling up around the country. I really think the concept of Sustainable Food Cities could be one of those big ideas that can strike a chord with a much wider audience, and I hope that today we will see the beginning of a really powerful new UK-wide partnership that can build on all the amazing work to date and take it to the next level. Watch this space.

Helen Browning is the Soil Association's Chief Executive, and also is an organic farmer - she runs a 1,350 acre organic livestock and arable farm in Wiltshire. Her sausages and bacon can be found in the supermarkets, and her versatile team also run the village pub! Previously Director of External Affairs at the National Trust, Helen is also chair of the Food Ethics Council and was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to organic farming.

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Tom Andrews
20 October 2011 11:24

Kate Love the newoptmiists tag - I am a firm believer that ultimately it's all about people who can develop more positive visions of what theworld should look like - hence the Sustainable Food Cities idea. Would be good to catch up with you about this maybe by phone to give you an idea of where we're hoping to go with this. There was an attendee from Birmingham at the event. All the best Tom

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