I’m one of those people who wakes in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea, scribbles it down, and then falls back asleep again. When I wake in the morning it’s usually either unreadable or nonsense. But my most recent insight actually made a lot of sense – “we don’t have
a network, we are
a network”. We are a network of over 100 organisations and many more individuals working to make the food system for Oxford better – healthier, fairer and more sustainable. Each individual and each organisation has a vital role in creating this shift and being part of the movement for better food in our city.
This shared appetite for change was clear at our first network event on Monday evening. Professor Mike Hamm, Director of the Centre for Regional Food Systems in Michigan State University, has held a visiting fellowship at Mansfield College and returns to the USA in a month. We were lucky enough to have him talk to a group of around 35 Good Food Oxford charter signatories (who, by signing the charter, we consider to be network members – hurrah!). And there truly was something for everyone.
First off, their scale is incomparable. The landmass of Michigan is about the size of England, and for them “regional” means sourced within 300 miles. By comparison, our farmers’ markets often have 30 mile sourcing or production policies. Oxfordshire is about the size of a single county in Michigan state. Michigan does not face the same land use competition we face in Oxfordshire – their population density is about a fifth of ours.
Their challenges are however in many ways similar to ours. They struggle with getting good food into institutions, and making good food fairly available to everyone, as well as finding farmers and helping them to access land – in his recent blog
Professor Hamm pinpointed the 4 F’s necessary to generate a healthy, productive, and sustainable food supply: farmers, farmland, farming, and farms. His presentation was characteristically warm, with a sparkle of humour – from looking round the room I could tell we were all having a great evening.
Despite the massive difference in scale, Professor Hamm presented us with a clear roadmap for the process that we’re starting to undertake as a network to transform ourselves into a regionalised food system, where the local supply is optimised, whilst connected to national and global supply, for a healthy and sustainable diet for everyone. We need to do this in Oxfordshire because of the nonsense of supply chains that take produce halfway around the world when there is perfectly good food growing just next door. For wellbeing reasons, to physically and mentally reconnect us with the food we eat and make a real difference to public health. For economic reasons, to provide good jobs for people in Oxford and Oxfordshire which are decently paid and rewarding. And to support our ecosystems – soil health, bee populations and carbon reduction. There’s also a bit of regional heritage and tourism stuff thrown in there too.
Professor Hamm outlined what we need to do to create a regional food system:
- First, create a context for movement so that people and entities from a variety of backgrounds and interest can see a value in participating
- Second, create the framework for an infrastructure to support this
- Third, create a climate of professions emerging within this sphere
- Fourth, create a groundswell of support
- Fifth, ensure robust analysis for continuous improvement
In true enthusiastic grassroots style, I believe we have done a bit of 1, 3 and 4 so far. Setting up and organising around Good Food Oxford gives us a good basis for 2, which can then develop 5. So here we are with a little bit of resource to develop this process, which sets the agenda for Good Food Oxford for at least the next two years.
We have the Good Food Charter, our shared vision for the future. We’re now in the process of creating goals and, through an ongoing consultation process, working out together how we can collectively get there. Talking of consultation, if you haven’t already, please complete our survey
The second part of the meeting was a workshop with groups organising around the nine areas of the charter. Some very useful conversations came out, which we will write up in due course. What was clear was that access to good food for everyone, regardless of background, was the issue that the most people felt strongly about that evening. There were some exciting examples from Michigan of working creatively with the equity problem – their “Hoophouses for Health” programme provides an interest-free loan to farmers for high-tech polytunnels to extend their growing season, and the farmers pay back that loan through supplying farmers’ markets with subsidised produce for people on certain state benefits. I think I can speak for the network when I say that ensuring all people have access to affordable, healthy food, regardless of income, is a top priority.
Therefore I’d like to invite any network members to join our Equity Working Group to continue the discussion. We have a small amount of funding which we need to work out how to spend. At this stage it would be a single discussion session with a decision at the end about how to continue the group. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you would like to be part of it.
A huge thank you to Professor Mike Hamm for his inspiring talk, to everyone who was able to attend on Monday, and to all network members interested in continuing the discussion.