Jade Neville is project co-ordinator of Feeding the Gaps, a community-led initiative bringing together people in Oxford working to tackle Food Poverty and Food Waste. Jade recently attended the UK Food Sovereignty Gathering to spread the word about what’s going on in Oxfordshire, and to find out about other initiatives across the country.

From the 23rd-26th October 2015, hundreds of eager project co-ordinators, researchers, facilitators, growers and activists piled into the Birchcliffe Centre, a former Baptist church in Hebden Bridge, to talk about one thing: Food Sovereignty in the UK. The gathering was packed full of engaging and energising sessions to help build a food system that focuses on people and respects nature while giving control of resources to local food producers and providers.

Some personal highlights of the weekend were learning about the Greater Manchester food system with the Kindling Trust, hearing how May Project Gardens empower and inspire people through Hip-Hop and permaculture, listening to the Scottish Government’s take on food poverty with Nourish Scotland and finding out about a new report from the Fabian Commision on Food and Poverty.

But the session that really struck a chord with me had absolutely nothing to do with food surplus or food poverty, which were the main topics I was there to discuss. It was actually a talk on Bristol’s Declaration for Soil, which I had accidentally stumbled across after it was rescheduled. The main message of the talk wasn’t about soil, but about our willingness to talk with people who don’t share our views and our willingness to accept that others may try to solve the same problems as us in entirely different ways. The session was a valuable reminder that so many of us are trying to change things for the better but that whatever our differences, we are all looking for the same thing – a fairer and healthier food system.

It’s important to recognise that we can bring completely different ideas, strengths and energy to the movement and this is not a problem. Far from it. This diversity is in fact a wonderful thing because we often need to tackle the challenges we face from many different angles. It helps us engage with wider audiences and be more resilient. It also means that we, as individuals, have the opportunity to honour our own passions and talents and not just do the thing that feels most effective.

Some of us need to shout. Some of us need to teach others within our local or global communities. Some of us need to express ourselves through art. Some of us need to get chatting, to try to understand the situation from all perspectives. Some of us need to research the matters at hand, or the future possibilities. Some of us need to think strategically and help challenge national policy. And some of us just need to get our hands covered in soil and live the changes we want to see.

So for me, food sovereignty is just as much about each of us being able to decide how and what we do about food, as it is about having access to good food and the means to produce it if we want to.

Each and every piece of this jigsaw is vitally important, but for real success, this diversity of ideas needs to be brought together – not only to share knowledge and enthusiasm, but to ensure that all the different projects don’t detract energy, resources or audiences from each other. And this is one of the reasons why organisations like CAG and Good Food Oxford are so valuable – because they do exactly that. Despite the obscene price of land and the continuous flux of people in and out of Oxford, we have a fantastic variety of projects which regularly support and partner with each other and that is pretty brilliant.

Of course, it’s also vitally important that everyone is pulling in the same direction on a national level. And that is where meetings like the gathering in Hebden Bridge, the Oxford Real Farming Conference or the Big Lunch Extras fit in. They provide us with the space to contextualise our own work; to appreciate how it fits into the bigger picture and to consider how best to respectfully move it forward. Gatherings like these are crucial for progress. But so is the leg-work in-between. So for now, I’ll get my head down, but I am wholeheartedly looking forward to the next meeting – to further appreciate the wonderful diversity of the UK Food Sovereignty movement.

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