Feeding London

Feeding London

This article originally appeared in Organic and Natural Business magazine for February/March 2006

The statistics quoted by Londons Mayor Ken Livingstone were impressive: London spends 1.6 billion on food every year, 31,000 people earn a living from working with food and 25% of all HGV miles in London are food-related. But as Ken says London sucks in resources from a vast hinterland a situation that is by no means sustainable. The challenge for this 90 minute workshop was to come up with initiatives that will help the London of the future adopt a more sustainable approach.

Jenny Jones, Chair of London Food explained how the capitals new sustainable food strategy is being developed (download the pdf at http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/health/food/docs/draft_strategy_summary.pdf). Emma Hockridge and Dan Keech of Sustain talked about making London Hospiral food more sustainable. Doug Wanstall of Bank Farm Produce explained his experience of being a supplier to such projects and Kerry Rankine of Growing Communities talked about setting up Londons first organic farmers market, organic box scheme and market gardens in Stoke Newington. The rest of the session involved the 100-odd audience forming into small groups and brainstorming under the guidance of Joy Carey of the Soil Associations Local Food Links department.

Food hubs were identified as having a key role to play. These are local markets where smaller producers can meet up with and supply restaurants, hospitals, schools and colleges, caterers and food manufacturers. Hubs could involve some degree of food processing, which would help producers who wish to supply semi-processed ingredients but dont have their own processing facilities. Local, Organic and Fairtrade are seen as key elements to these hubs.

Planning was another key theme. Allotments, gardens and parks were all mentioned as key spaces where Londoners can grow their own food, but all are under pressure as the price of land continues to rise. It was felt that only by ringfencing such land in planning procedures could it be safeguarded for future generations.

Finally the need for a brokering role was mentioned by several groups. Hospitals and other institutions want to source more sustainable food and small producers want to supply them. However without an agency in the middle who can make the connection these projects have proved hard to get going.

Other ideas included using canals for food distribution, getting Londons schoolkids to visit farms and the importance of restoring food to the National Curriculum. The session could easily have lasted twice as long, but as always at the Soil Association Conference another Workshop beckoned