During the pandemic, many of us have hoped to create a better future ahead, not just a return to the past. We need to create a positive vision together, and this thinks piece aims to help our Bridport community to evolve this for our food economy.
There are many insights we can learn from Covid, successes as well as oversights. Here are some key ones:
- The best time to respond to a major challenge is before, not during. Experts were forecasting a pandemic, and many more experts expect major disruption and changes in our food supply.
- Bridport has responded well to the Covid crisis, with collaboration between local organisations, volunteers, Town Council, and rapid invention to meet the needs.
- Massive behavioural change is possible when the need is urgent, and the public understands the need.
2. The context ahead of us
Yes, the future is uncertain, but there are some major trends already affecting our food supply, which are pretty sure to continue. A much fuller briefing on future context could easily be produced, but here are some key elements:
- Food disruptions: there’s a growing risk of major harvest failures, in global staple crops like wheat, soya, rice, and in veg and other produce from Europe, our main supplier. This implies major price rises, food shortages, and the need to adapt our diet.
- Farming changes: on top of the points above, big changes are underway for UK farming with new policies and funding post Brexit.
3. The opportunities for Bridport food scene 2030
We have the potential to increase our local food security and reduce climate change impacts. Farmers, growers and home growers in SW England can expand and adapt outputs to reduce the effect of supply shortages and price rises for imported produce. This has been explored in detail in a research report, Growing through Climate Change, commissioned by Seeding our Future. For a summary, click here, for full report, click here.
Here’s a vision of what it could be like in Bridport if we raise local food security substantially by 2030:
A. There is widespread understanding and active support for food security measures across the Bridport community
Food security should not be a contentious issue, but achieving widespread understanding and support will be a challenge, which we’ll need to explore and plan for. It could include involving a wide range of community organisations, events (e.g. the stall at the Food Festival), door-to-door leaflets and an ongoing process of dialogue and involvement.
B. The number of people buying locally produced food, and paying a small premium for it, has risen substantially
Fresh veg and fruit are a priority here, as these are mostly imported, but much of it could be grown locally. By 2030, we could see more local purchasing and production of other products, such as legumes, rice milk, flour, etc. Many local restaurants already feature local produce, and this could rise further if customers are asking for it. This should help our local economy, with food enterprises of all kinds being more financially sustainable, and more jobs being created.
C. Consumer-producer links have strengthened, and new producers are being supported
Market stalls and farm shops mean there’s already considerable one-to-one contact between producers and consumers in Bridport, but we lack a channel for collective dialogue. For example, producers could grow many items currently imported, but at a premium initially over current prices: they would need consumers to understand and commit to this proposition.
It was clear from Seeding our Future’s consultations in 2020 with established growers that they are close to capacity, and see a need for new growers in our area. Consumers can play a big role in enabling this:
- Committing to buy from a local producer, for example through a weekly box scheme.
- Putting money into crowdfunding or other ways to provide start-up funds for new entrants.
D. Food access initiatives have expanded with widespread community support
It’s pretty certain that in the years to 2030, food prices will rise a lot faster than incomes. Bridport already has several thriving food access schemes, which can form the basis for a larger, coordinated system which meets the increased need in future, but they are likely to need more volunteer and financial help.
E. During the 2020s, a Bridport Food Hub evolves as a catalyst and meeting point for local food matters
Food Hubs are well established in other towns, and can take many forms. In Bridport, we’re close to starting pilot pop-up events and elements for a Hub, ahead of creating a team and funding appeal for an ongoing physical location. The elements most favoured from consultations in 2020 are:
- Education and infotainment to help change consumer habits
- Promoting local produce and healthy, affordable diets
- Information resources on retailers, food access schemes, home growing, etc.
For a fuller explanation of the Food Hub idea, click here.
F. Food security proves the best shared concern to get widespread community engagement with other climate-related issues.
It’s clear that many people across Britain and beyond find the climate crisis overwhelming, and don’t engage with it. A significant minority in Bridport are concerned and actively involved, and one aim of the food security work is that this non-controversial issue draws in many more individuals and organisations in the town to address the many other urgent climate-related issues.
4. How do we take this forward?
This thinks piece comes from Seeding our Future, a small local team started by Alan Heeks. We have been exploring food security issues in Bridport since late 2019, working in partnership with Bridport Local Food Group and Transition Town Bridport. We have already created a dedicated website, www.bridportfoodmatters.net, and you can see more about SoF’s work here. In 2021 there has already been a marked rise in activity on food security both in local communities and at national policy level.
It is clear that neither Seeding our Future nor our partner organisations have enough capacity to fulfil this vision. The ingredients we believe are needed include:
- A substantial group of volunteers, to help with running events, involving other organisations, leaflet campaigns, etc.
- A few people with organising experience who can help to lead and manage this project
- Modest funding, potentially from grants or crowdfunding.
If you’d like to explore this further, please contact Alan Heeks: firstname.lastname@example.org, 07976 602787.