Good Food Governance

Bristol Good Food 2030 at the Landworker’s Alliance Land Skills Fair 

By Louise Delmege

Louise Delmege

The latest Bristol Good Food 2030 blog is from our Partnership Coordinator, Louise Delmege. Louise recently attended the Landworker’s Alliance Land Skills Fair and talked about the importance of disaster risk planning work where she urged small-scale producers around the UK to contact their local Sustainable Food Places Network to be included in this work.

Last month I got the chance to talk about the work of Bristol Good Food 2030 at the Landworker’s Alliance (LWA) Land Skills Fair. The Fair is the LWA’s annual conference come-great-time in the beautiful setting of Abbey Home Farm, made up of some of the land claimed by the state after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, making it one of the first pieces of land to be stolen from the commons.  

I joined three other impressive food justice campaigners; Sarah Venn from Edible Bristol and Bristol Food Producers, Lissie Dyer from Feeding Gloucestershire, and Tom Herbert from The Long Table. Each of us brought a different perspective on the ways producers can better connect with consumers local to them. I went to talk about our Disaster Risk Planning work and made the case for small producers needing to engage with their local disaster plans.  

Though small, local producers likely can’t produce enough to make an impact on the food supply for a city the size of Bristol, they can be essential in a disaster scenario. Shorter supply chains and shorter distances for food to travel means those supply chains are more secure. The shorter the distance, the fewer things can go wrong. Plus, the agility and flexibility of smaller businesses means that they are better able to change how they operate to deliver their produce in a different way. This played out during the lockdowns when we saw many small producers selling direct to customers in new and innovative ways.  

Although a few people have reached out to me since the event to express their interest in the project and offering to help, most of the questions on the day were not about the topic. The title of the panel was “Feeding the community: Connecting consumers & producers to impact social change” but the part that kept coming up in the crowd was “connecting consumers and producers” meaning most of the questions were about marketing, not about how small-scale producers can have a big impact in a crisis.  

That’s not surprising. Around a third of the membership of LWA is small business owners. Typically, they are tenant or landowning farmers with a small plot they’ve bought, inherited or leased from a landlord, often insecurely. They have a dream of living in tune with nature in a beautiful setting and making enough money from selling produce for this to be sustainable. This is a dream many of us share, including myself.  

Landworker’s Alliance Land Skills Fair, 2021

Though this is a common and beautiful dream, it means that these business owners have different interests to the vulnerable working people who our disaster risk plan hopes to protect. It’s not that the business-owning landworkers are greedy, absolutely not, it’s just that making a decent income from farming is a different, sometimes competing interest to the need to access enough affordable food.  

For example, a set price for grain, agreed by the government, keeps food costs down and prevents market forces from raising the price of essential items above what people can afford. This is essential for low-income workers to continue to eat, but frustrating for grain producers who want to sell their grain for the best price (a point raised by the crowd). Here we see that the interests of the two groups are different.  

That’s how things look from close up, and when you spend every day trying to make ends meet on the plot of land you spent your life savings on, it’s hard to take a step back. From further out we can see that the interests of these small business owners and the interests of low-income consumers are not so different.  

Both groups want higher wages, so that they can spend more on food and have more security in bad weather years, both groups want lower rent and land costs (so more people can buy get into farming), with cheaper overheads meaning higher profit margins. Both groups would benefit from agricultural policy that aims at food sovereignty, with fewer international imports and better support for agroecological growing. We all would benefit from a food and farming system that supports innovation and experimentation, not just increasingly intensive farming barely offset by rewilding.  

All of those things would make us more resilient to disasters. More food grown locally using more varied agroecological methods would ensure a more secure supply into cities. Small farmers within a drive of cities would help protect vulnerable households from the worst outcomes of the next crisis. The next disaster will need to be weathered together, with our shared interest in a just and resilient system as our foundation.  

If you want to be a successful small farmer who can comfortably afford to continue living a simple, agrarian existence, you need the rest of society to support you by creating the conditions in which you can flourish. It is in your interest to be part of local resilience and disaster management plans.  

Please, if you are a small-scale producer within the UK, find out if there is a Sustainable Food Places Network in your local area, and ask about their disaster risk management plans. Make sure they are aware of what you produce and where you’re based, so that they can include you in those plans as they make them.  

To the people who were moved by my talk and reached out to me afterwards – thank you. It’s fantastic to see this project finally taking off.  

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So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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