Monday, February 29, 2016

Developing a Strong and Sustainable Local Food Economy

The very first post published on this blog, back on 29th June 2006, was about Food Miles; the distance food travels before it arrives on your plate. So it was very interesting to read about the report by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr John Lever, an expert on sustainable communities and food systems, into the food hub initiative set up by Kirklees council up in Yorkshire, home of the pudding.


The key sentence for us here in Redbridge, and for our Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Mark Santos, is this:
Local authorities should follow Kirklees Council food hub to improve health and wellbeing and boost the local economy
But while the report describes and praises many aspects of food strategy and community developments in Kirklees, it also flags up causes for concern, such as a decline in attendance in local farmer’s markets and food festivals in the district. They are being shunned by some producers because of higher rents and lower takings.

Larger food festivals run by Kirklees Council are seen to focus on bigger businesses from outside the area at the expense of local enterprise, claims the report, which adds that many of the district’s producers were looking to attend markets outside the area. North Yorkshire has developed a food hub so successful that some Kirklees artisan food producers have even considered relocating there.

There is no prospect that modern Kirklees could become self-sufficient in food. This would need the cultivation of twice as much land as the acreage of the district. But its food strategy could be driven to the next level with the development of a local food partnership and food hub infrastructure, according to Dr Lever’s report.

The concept of a regional food hub – which offers services such as help with distribution, storage and marketing so that local producers can boost their market share – is well-advanced in the USA. But there are also pioneering examples in the UK, and Dr Lever researched several of them.

He believes that the best model for Kirklees to emulate would be the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, a not-for-profit company that stresses – in its own words – “social equity, economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, global fair trade and the health and wellbeing of all residents”.

For a food hub to be successful, it must have the funding to appoint a chief executive with good leadership skills plus a full-time staff, states Dr Lever’s report, which is entitled Developing a Strong and Sustainable Food Economy in Kirklees.

Food for Life
The report was commissioned by Kirklees Public Health Directorate and launched at a University of Huddersfield event organised by its Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities, based in the Business School. After a welcome from Councillor Viv Kendrick – who holds the Kirklees Council cabinet portfolio for public health – there was an introduction from Tony Cooke, who is the local authority’s Head of Health Improvement.

His presentation asked Can we design a healthier food system in Kirklees? and he discussed obesity problems and the fact that poor diet had now overtaken smoking as the main cause of disability. Obesity also contributes to conditions such as Type II diabetes and hypertension. Fewer people are buying healthy food and poor diet and inactivity are increasingly concentrated in deprived areas, said Mr Cooke.

The response in Kirklees has included a Good Food Charter and the district is also part of the Sustainable Food Cities Programme.

Also speaking at the University of Huddersfield launch event was Matt Jones, who is Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of the West of England. He told how he had included Kirklees in his research on behalf of the national scheme Food for Life, which has a primary focus on schools, encouraging them to grow their own food, source food from local producers, provide cooking and growing clubs for pupils and their families and serve freshly prepared, well-sourced meals.

“When we talk about healthy and sustainable food, the image that comes up is often ‘posh food for posh people’,” said Professor Jones. But Food for Life was a scheme that operated in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

When he researched Kirklees – where school catering services are still entirely run by the local authority – Professor Jones worked out the Social Return on Investment (SROI) ratio of its participation in Food for Life. He concluded that a total investment estimated at £196,803 had yielded £810,661 in social value. This included a boost to local food businesses and their employees, plus public health benefits and environmental gains.

The report Developing a Strong and Sustainable Food Economy in Kirklees makes five recommendations:
  • Provide more support for the community food sector in Kirklees
  • Initiate better partnership working and collaboration across all sectors in West Yorkshire
  • Link the local food system with local supply chains to enhance local sourcing and procurement
  • Initiate better planning and policy to link the food system to population needs across different areas of service delivery more effectively
  • Develop a local food partnership and food hub infrastructure to drive the food strategy to the next level
We have the ingredients, let's cook. Over to you Mark.

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