SFC logo pinkIn June we went to our annual national gathering, the Sustainable Food Cities Conference, which this year was hosted by Newcastle. Under the lead theme “Reaching Out: Strengthening our Local, National and Global Connections” we networked and exchanged experiences with with more than 180 delegates coming from 63 places across the UK.

Newcastle City Councillor Kim McGuinness welcomed delegates and spoke passionately about Newcastle’s food culture and its commitment to good healthy food for everyone – not easy when Newcastle has the country’s largest foodbank. Sustain’s chief executive Kath Dalmeny reflected on the positive impact of the Sustainable Food Cities network, and the opportunities to join up local action with the new National Food Strategy in her opening speech. Other speeches and all workshop topics can be seen on the SFC website.

One of the workshops we attended was about responding to the Climate Emergency. In it, we spoke about the various ways in which our food systems have an ecological impact, with the help of an illustration of a Food Systems Map created by Sheffield’s Food Partnership. We then talked about where the most effective leverage points are for reducing that impact. What are the areas where we can improve the way we grow, transport, process and eat food in a way that consumes fewer resources and minimizes negative impacts on ecosystems? The workshop was led by Anna Clayton from LESS and Sustainable Food City Lancaster together with Rachel Marshall,  N8 AgriFood Knowledge Exchange Fellow at Lancaster University. The session notes are available here.

Many of the leverage points we spoke about are on the local and regional level, and there is a lot that local groups and councils can do to influence the sustainability and fairness of our food system. It will be important to ensure here in Oxford that our Citizens’ Assembly is able to raise the flag for good food for all – forever.

In the workshop on food waste, we presented some colourful pictures from the past five years of the Oxford Pumpkin Festival and encouraged places across the country to have a go at running a #PumpkinRescue – all it takes is four days of officer time, £400 for eight mini-grants, oh and a hugely enthusiastic and supportive community sector.

Finally, we were impressed by the activities of Middlesborough and Newcastle to go beyond their immediate localities and work to build Food & Drink Northeast. They have taken a whole system approach to local procurement, including a food map, a producers’ co-operative, local food weekends, a social media “Ask for Local” campaign, peer-to-peer business support, a meet the producer event, and promotion of local suppliers at a regular business summit. They say they are always looking to do the right thing, at the right time, with the right people – quite a challenge! We look forward to updates on their efforts to “wake the sleeping giant” of local food purchasing power in the Northeast.

It was a heartening and inspiring day, with fantastic food on offer too – especially at our evening venue the Tyne Bank Brewery, thanks to Harissa Mediterranean Kitchen who provided the mezze sharing supper and a Virgin Bloody Mary shot to welcome us. We really hope that Oxford will be able to host a future SFC Conference – perhaps in 2021?

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