One Planet Summer School article now up on Sustainable Scotland website

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Comment by Nick Wilding on August 18, 2010 at 8:47
for ease...
One Planet Summer School - the lowdown
30 JULY 2010

This year saw the first ever One Planet Summer School, held over three days at the site of the Big Tent festival in Falkland, Fife. The school consisted of a One Planet Food Leadership Development Course, and a Reskilling Course. Here's a summary of the former...

One the first day we discussed how the current food system disconnects farmers and consumers, as well as the global north and south. It is responsible for 19% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the UK. There is a need to join the dots, and to elevate food from a commercial enterprise to a public good.

We learned that Fife could be self sufficient; they can produce all they need in fish, meat, dairy, eggs and carbohydrates. The Fife diet (more on this later) is helping people to eat more local produce but in general most people continue to just go to Tesco. 79.5% of retail spending on food in Fife is in supermarkets. The main barriers to localising the food industry in Fife are: the time taken to process and market local food is uneconomic. It is more profitable to export and import. Likewise the investment in storage, machinery, equipment etc would be too high. As well as this, farmers are not able to sell yields of less than 30 tonnes.

We then heard from the owners of Rainton Farm in Galloway. A good model for sustainable agriculture, they have sheep, beef cows and dairy cows, an organic fairtrade ice cream business (Cream O' Galloway), farm shop and cafe and have also diversified into tourism. They talked about how although the ice cream market is very competitive globally (Ben and Jerrys etc), it is also strong locally - people tend to be loyal to local ice cream makers. They are currently not supplying to supermarkets, who only want money off deals. They also made the point that their business is only made viable by their diversification into tourism. They have nature trails, bike trails, a flying fox and a 3D maze. Isn't it strange that even with subsidies, this is the only way a food producer can make a living? As farmers play an extremely valuable role in society, shouldnt they be able to make a living just by producing food?

The next speaker was from the Findhorn Foundation, an ecovillage in Moray. He talked about Community Investment projects, where members of a community buy shares or bonds in an enterprise that serves a community purpose. Members receive a fair return on their investment as well as sharing in the benefits of the enterprise. One such enterprise is Ekopia at Findhorn. It is a Community Benefit Society with 270 members. Investments held include those in the on-site wind farm, the community shop, and local currency, the Eko. The benefit of the latter is that it keeps money in the local economy.

Next up was Annie Anderson of Dundee University, who spoke about health and nutrition. She made some interesting points, for example that more choice is not necessarily a good thing. If people have more choice, they eat more. This is generally not in the interests of their health, and the only people who profit from this are the manufacturers, who will continue to create endless varieties of sugary cereals etc. But choice can be good, if it is a choice within healthier foods. She also said inequality in society may be a factor contributing to poor health, as those countries with the biggest gap between rich and poor have the highest obesity. Women from the poorest backgrounds have the highest incidence of obesity. Another factor is the speed of modern society, as people are busy and so feed their kids whatever is quickest.

On the second day we heard from Johnny Hall of the National Farmers Union in Scotland, who spoke about the state of Scottish farming. He said that increasingly more and more expectations are being put on farmers, but they just want to farm, and half the work is just trying to understand what is being asked of them. He said that markets are extremely volatile, giving the example that in 2007 a ton of barley was equivalent to the price of 6 fat lambs, but by 2009 it was only equivalent to the price of one fat lamb. He also pointed out that Scottish farmers are getting older, and their children rarely want to take over. So where is the next generation coming from?

Next was Mike Small from the Fife Diet. He said the idea started from the sense that there was multiple dysfunction in the food system. They developed a network of people by holding community-assisted lunches of up to 80 people at a time, and began making contacts with producers in Fife to see what they could supply. They now have 1200 members, who take 5 pledges. These are; to eat locally, less meat, more organic, to reduce food waste and compost more. They are now publishing carbon footprints on all their members to show how much difference this can make (generally between 10%-40% below the UK average, rising to 80%). He said that the things that has made the Fife Diet successful has been; eating together, being ambitious, and making strategic use of local media. They have also found that it is important not to be patronising. The Fife Diet is about facing challenges together, not about experts telling people what to do. Mike also took us through the Ten Rules for Communicating Climate Change, too detailed to go into but click here for more info He also showed a slide of Tesco's latest, and almost unbelievable in it's stupidity, ad campaign, click here to see it.

We then had a discussion about how local food can become mainstream, where Johnny said that farmers are inherently conservative and are risk-averse. The only thing that will change their behaviour is input costs. When asked if the NFU had discussed Community Supported Agriculture, he had not heard the term before. When it was explained, he said that there has been no discussion in the NFU or in the Scottish Government. Then Mike made the analogy that before the smoking ban we were told that it would be impossible, pubs would close etc, but this has not happened. He added that at some point as a society we will have to eat less meat. Johnny countered by saying that the equivalent of a smoking ban in agriculture would be banning certain inputs, but questioned whether this would be for the greater good. He said if you banned nitrogenous fertiliser, Scotland would decline pretty quickly. He went on to say that meat production is the backbone of Scottish agriculture, and reducing suckler cows would result in the land going into alternative uses, which would not necessarily be sustainable, and that people would just eat meat from overseas. However Mike was of the opinion that rising oil prices will force change.

On the third day we heard from Davie Phillip of Cultivate in Ireland. He talked about a Community Supported Agriculture project in Cloughjordan, Cork. The local community used guidance posted online by the Soil Association to set up, obtained a 10 year lease for 24 acres of land, employed a farm manager, and established a biodynamic/organic farm. Members pay a contribution (20 euros per week) to cover running costs and in return receive a regular supply of vegetables,cereals, meat, milk and eggs. The community also help with the farmwork. An important advantage of CSAs is that they are not selling produce, they are distributing it amongst their members, thus they do not have to comply with legislation which dictates what size eggs have to be etc. This means less produce is wasted. There are some problems, however. The members had to pay their subscription for a year with no produce while the farm was being established, and people are still not getting 20 euros worth of produce per week. However, the farm was only established in 2008, so it is still early days.

We then discussed how the CSA model can become more widespread. Most people would not buy into a scheme like this when they can get cheap food from supermarkets. However Davie pointed out that it would just take a few times of supermarket lorries not getting through heavy snow or flooding before people would start to question overcomplicated supply chains. Someone else pointed out that TV chefs are very influential and if Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall talked about CSAs, they might take off.

The main points that came out the discussions over the whole course are summarised below

Public Policy - how can we create a more localised food system?

- Change the way money flows. REAL costing of food, i.e. whole life costing to help stimulate sustainable procurement practice.
- Take a more bioregional perspective on food access boundaries.
- Scottish Government could support CSAs

Changing How We Spend Our Money

- Junk food is cheaper. This needs to change. But how to make CSAs/credit unions work economically?
- Why aren't there wholesale markets?
- Can we use food co-ops?
- For farming to be sustainable, how much should customers pay?

Changing What We Eat

- Processed food is addictive - physically AND psychologically
- Do we influence supermarkets or reduce their power and sidestep with an alternative?
- We need more small scale processors/shops and more people demanding local food
- Efficient use of energy - eat meat in winter, veg in summer (not heated polytunnels)
- We need to change people's perceptions of how food is produced. This means transparency. If they knew how Tesco chickens are raised, would there be as much demand?

Changing How We Farm

- Guerilla farming! Reclaim disused land for public good
- Could the UK be self sufficient? Yes. England could not on its own, would depend on Scotland and Wales.
- Agrochemical industry very strong. Need to prove that organic methods work. SAC very much about intensification. Need for more independent research.
- What needs to happen for farming to be a viable business without tourism (especially as the carbon footprint of the latter is high)
- We need to REDEFINE farming. It needs to be more peri-rural, where we live we farm. The new model would be small peri urban farms, increasing in size as you move further away from urban centres.
- We need to review subsidies. They either need to be simpler and more transparent, with money available for training, or we need to abandon them.
- We need more people farming on a small scale. This means more part time farming.

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