UK Aims for 100 'Sustainable Food Cities' in Three Years: First Six Announced
The UK has launched a network of pioneering "sustainable food cities" which aims to get public agencies, NGOs, businesses and communities to collaborate in making healthy and sustainable food a defining characteristic of where they live.
Following a very tough selection process six cities have been selected from a shortlist of 12 to receive funding to employ dedicated Sustainable Food City officers over the next three years. The cities are: Belfast, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Stockport. All of them will share £1 million as seed funding to help them improve access to local, affordable and sustainable food.
More than 100 urban areas across the UK are expected to have joined the Sustainable Food City Network by the end of its three year programme.
The Belfast Food Network has already been helping to develop the city's access to healthy, fresh, local and seasonal food through a network of independent retail shops, restaurants and institutional catering provision. It is offering training in growing and cooking fresh food.
The aptly named Jim Kitchen of the Belfast Food Network said, "In Belfast there are lots of excellent growing projects and health improvement campaigns. Our objective is to pull together many of these initiatives and get Belfast the recognition it deserves as a Sustainable Food City."
Bournemouth and Poole
The Bournemouth and Poole Sustainable Food Partnership's work has been focused on developing a business-to-business network to enable an increasing number of local products to become available, and developing community urban food growing network that will share skills, experience and good practice.
Miles Mahoney, who works at a community garden, said: "On a daily basis I see the benefits that food growing brings to people's health and well-being so to be part of a wider partnership will make it more affordable to buy great products."
Cardiff Food Council, also established last year, includes a large proportion of health workers as well as representatives of the municipality and Cardiff University. Its sustainable food city officer will work with schools, businesses and the local authority to turn the city into an exemplar model of what a sustainable food city would look like.
"Over the next three years we will enthuse and encourage businesses and individuals to approach food in a sustainable way by changing the way they buy, use, prepare, serve and eat food," said the chair of Cardiff Food Council, Eryl Powell.
The Liverpool Food Alliance is a network of food growers, composters, buyers, cooks and consumers. Cllr Jane Corbett, mayoral lead for tackling poverty, said: "We want food to be at the heart of a healthy, wealthy and fair Liverpool with local businesses involved in food supply and everyone having access to fresh, affordable food."
The network is led by social enterprises and community organisations including founders Food for Thought, Rotters Community Composting, Fareshare Merseyside and arts and health enterprise Squash Nutrition.
Newcastle upon Tyne
In the north-east of England, Food Newcastle, a cross-section group of public, private and community representatives, has created a Food Charter to which anyone may sign up, and pledge to make small or large changes in relation to food.
Jamie Sadler, the Chair of the Food Newcastle Steering Group, said: "We've worked closely with Newcastle City Council and the area's most passionate food experts from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors to create our new Food Charter, which we hope will inspire people to make a change. We want as many people and organisations as possible to endorse the Charter and to work with us on the Action Plan to make Newcastle a truly sustainable food city."
Stockport Sustainable Food Strategy plans to develop an existing range of programmes around healthy eating, food access, community growing and food enterprises. It includes 12 new community orchards, setting up a co-operative community store, work with the central market and courses on cooking to promote health.
Chris Walsh of the Kindling Trust said: "We want to revolutionise the local food supply and make Stockport an example to other towns and cities across the country."
About Sustainable Food Cities
The Sustainable Food Cities Network is not a UK government initiative. It is instead the product of an alliance of public, private and third sector organisations that have come together in a belief in the power of food as a vehicle for driving positive change.
The Network is run by a coalition of NGOs led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain, and is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
Tom Andrews, programme manager of Sustainable Food Cities on behalf of the Soil Association, which promotes organic growing, said: "The Sustainable Food Cities programme is about using food to improve people's health and wellbeing, creating new businesses and jobs and reduce our impact on the environment. Food is not only at the heart of some of today's greatest challenges but is also a vital part of the solution."
The initiative has extremely high aspirations. It wants to "create cities where every school, hospital, restaurant and workplace canteen serve only healthy and sustainable meals; where everyone has access to affordable fresh, seasonal, local and sustainably produced food no matter where they live; and where people of all ages and backgrounds have opportunities to learn about, grow and cook food."
Tom says he believes that people have "a right to eat healthy and sustainable food is embedded into every relevant policy and strategy".
Ben Reynolds, Network Director at Sustain, added that because over 80% of people "now live in urban areas, they can have a huge impact on our food system. What we grow, buy, cook or throw away can not only improve the health and well-being of our families, but also protect our countryside, wildlife and precious marine life, while improving the livelihoods of people on our doorstep and millions of miles away. The Sustainable Food Cities programme will help local communities to make that happen."
Some of the work has been already pioneered in Brighton and Hove, the UK's first self-declared One Planet City. Clare Devereux, who has been folding this project for an organisation called Food Matters, said that this experience "has shown just what can be achieved if you get the right individuals and organisations together to develop a common vision of how they want to change their food system and then support them in turning that vision into reality. For many years, Brighton and Hove has been ahead of the game, but it is amazing how quickly and enthusiastically other towns and cities are now adopting similar approaches and starting to catch up."
Sustainable Food Cities could certainly be the start of something big: a revolution in cities' relationship with food.
[Pictures courtesy EAT Festival, Newcastle.]