The London Leaders programme is run by the London Sustainable Development Commission. It’s all about demonstrating the power of leadership and innovation in tackling the sustainability challenges inherent in global cities such as London. I was recently very honoured to be chosen as a London Leader and this programme is supporting me with training and mentoring for the work I do as part of Sutton Community Farm.
Here’s the 5 minute talk I prepared for the London Leader interview. It outlines my current interests and work I’m doing as part of my job at Sutton Community Farm:
At Sutton Community Farm we have a motto. It’s “Making food fair and cultivating community”.
I would like to see a fair and sustainable food system:
One that promotes local produce and strengthens our local economies. A food system where we celebrate the diversity of food and feel confident in cooking healthy, delicious meals – with real food – that’s unprocessed and makes us feel alive and nourished.
I want to see a food culture where everyone is able to sit down to enjoy exceptional taste and freshness in their food. A culture that brings people together and builds relationships – whether it’s their families, friends, loved ones or neighbours. I want to see a food system that doesn’t destruct our countryside, but protects and improves it – increasing biodiversity.
But instead, we have a food system that’s cheap and vulnerable – one that’s destroying our ecosystems and our health.
Some people have a very troubled relationship with food:
Some people don’t have the tools to cook or the money to afford good food:
And many people simply don’t have the time or knowledge to cook and end up in places like this:
Although there’s been some renaissance in cooking and a greater awareness of what our children are eating in schools – we still have some way to go. We waste huge amounts of food. Statistics show we are spending less and less time cooking meals in our kitchens, and over the last 5 years, purchases of vegetables have decreased. But most worryingly, obesity has risen sharply.
In the area around the Farm I manage, 29% of primary school children are overweight, and over a quarter of adults are obese. Linked to our diets and lifestyles, we’re seeing increasing levels of cardio-vascular disease and cancer. The NHS suggests that making small changes to your diet is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce our risk of these diseases.
There’s more problems with the food system – I could go on. I haven’t mentioned soil erosion, changes of land use, food security, it’s ecological footprint, the increasing volatility of food prices. The food system has many complex challenges.
At Sutton Community Farm, we really care about these issues, we talk about them a lot and we ask ourselves, what can we do as a farm – to be a demonstration of the food system we want to see?
And on a personal level, why I’m here today, is because I feel there’s an exciting opportunity to start some bigger conversations. To use the momentum of our project, London’s largest community farm, to engage our wider community, including our customers, our local partners and stakeholders.
Hence my desire to create a local food partnership – bringing together passionate people who care about food, to see what initiatives we can drive forward.
As part of this, my proposal is to start open, community banquets. Getting the community together to talk about food and see if we can establish a vision. We do this already on our Farm, but I want to take these conversations out there and involve a wider net of people, from local government to businesses and individuals.
By starting these conversations, we can explore some exciting issues:
1. Local food provision and more peri-urban farms
The idea of community farms on the edges of our city. Here, our 7 acre farm sits on the edges of London – a lone plot on a vast area of mostly under used agricultural land. I think some of the most exciting things in life happen on the edges. Here we’re creating a highly productive farm, that’s diverse in it’s business activities. Working with schools, probation services, corporate volunteers looking for a day out.
Most importantly we have created a local supply chain – serving our community with bags of vegetables, ordered online and delivered to their door. My question is, how can we create more of these?
We can also start talking about:
2. organic food;
3. Food security;
4. Access to food;
5. School and hospital food;
6. Cooking skills;
7. We can also celebrate what’s already happening.
I’ve worked in a variety of green projects. It’s in local food where I’ve witnessed how it can be a catalyst for so many other positive environmental actions. Food brings people together across society and cultures. Food nourishes us and makes us feel healthy and alive. Through food we can start conversations.
I’m tired of seeing this across London…
… and want to see more of this:
More than this, I want to see this:
Jane is a work experience student from the local school that started at the Farm on Monday. She was delighted when she found this squash. This lunchtime she’ll be having some in her soup – for our community lunch.