Growing communities

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Different types of food-based community initiatives

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Detailed analysis of patterns of energy consumption in the Spanish agri-food system show both the need and prospects for sustainable degrowth in this sector. Industrialisation of production methods since the 1950s, combined with changes in how food travels from farm to plate (increased levels of transportation, processing, packaging, storage for unseasonal consumption and use of energy=intensive domestic methods for storing and preparing food), have dramatically reduced the energetic efficiency of food production in Spain. In the year 2000, the agri-food system in Spain consumed an estimated 1400PJ of energy, mostly from fossil fuels, in order to produce food with a total calorific value of 235PJ. In other words, the system consumed six times as much fossil fuel energy as that available in the food produced. The study concludes that a shift to sustainable agriculture would require a complete structural reorganisation of the agri-food system to one with a greater emphasis on organic, local and seasonal production and consumption.[1] This corresponds with existing prescriptions and actions around food on the part of many community-led initiatives,[2][3] such as permaculture,[4] Transition,[5] slow food, community-supported agriculture and others.

As important as enabling transition to a sustainable food production system is, community food initiatives also provide a wide range of further environmental and social benefits. Incredible Edible began in 2007 in the former textile-producing town of Todmorden in Northern England as a community response to disenchantment with trends in diet and food production. Identifying food as an inclusive issue (captured by the slogan "If you eat - you're in"), a group of residents came together to pioneer a method now referred to as 'propaganda gardening'.[6] By converting unused, abandoned and derelict land in and around the town centre into public growing spaces, a group of concerned residents sought to inspire a sense of civic responsibility and empowerment among a largely disenchanted local population.[7] Raised beds containing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers, an 'open source' community resource from which anyone is free to help themselves,[8] and to help with maintenance, have become a familiar site in the town: on the platforms at the local railway station, along the side of roads and canals, outside shops and in the front yard of the local police station.[9] The real achievements lie not in food growing, but in reinvigorating local identity and cultivating a sense of local pride.[10]

An independent evaluation led by Adrian Morley at Manchester Metropolitan University concluded that Incredible Edible Todmorden (IET) has in direct benefits in various dimensions: social (higher levels of physical activity and use of green space, strengthened local identity, increased community cohesion and connectivity), economic (generation of income generator for local businesses, creation of spin-off businesses including a farm and educational centre, encouraging a buy local ethos) and environmental (increased engagement with food, improved use of public space, heightened public understanding about sustainability).[11]. This has been achieved with little or no recourse to external funding: the project relies largely on the work of 300 local volunteers, who are among its key direct beneficiaries, and raises such funds as it need largely through income from tours of its edible spaces and speaker fees earned by its founders at events outside Todmorden. Social Return on Investment calculation conservatively estimated that IET realised direct and indirect benefits to the community of a total value equivalent to over five times that invested in the project (direct expenditure plus value of volunteer labour).[12]


References

  1. Infante Amate, J., González de Molina, M., 2013. ‘Sustainable de-growth’ in agriculture and food: an agro-ecological perspective on Spain’s agri-food system (year 2000). Journal of Cleaner Production 38, 27–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.03.018
  2. Seyfang, G., 2007. Growing sustainable consumption communities: The case of local organic food networks. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 27, 120–134. https://doi.org/10.1108/01443330710741066
  3. Kirwan, J., Ilbery, B., Maye, D., Carey, J., 2013. Grassroots social innovations and food localisation: An investigation of the Local Food programme in England. Global Environmental Change 23, 830–837. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.12.004
  4. Mollison, B. and D. Holmgren, 1978. Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements. Tyalgum: Tagari Publications.
  5. Pinkerton, T. and R. Hopkins, 2009. Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community. Totnes: Green Books.
  6. Paull, J. (2011). Incredible Edible Todmorden: Eating the street. Farming Matters, September: 28-29.
  7. https://www.ted.com/talks/pam_warhurst_how_we_can_eat_our_landscapes. Accessed June 7th 2018.
  8. Paull, John (2013). "Please Pick Me" – How Incredible Edible Todmorden is repurposing the commons for open source food and agricultural biodiversity. In J. Franzo, D. Hunter, T. Borelli & F. Mattei (Eds.). Diversifying Foods and Diets: Using Agricultural Biodiversity to Improve Nutrition and Health. Oxford: Earthscan, Routledge, pp.336-345.
  9. https://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/projects/growing-round-town. Accessed June 7th 2018.
  10. Thompson, J., 2012. Incredible Edible – social and environmental entrepreneurship in the era of the “Big Society.” Social Enterprise Journal 8, 237–250. https://doi.org/10.1108/17508611211280773
  11. Morley, A., Farrier, A, Dooris, M. (2017). Propagating Success? The Incredible Edible Model.Final Report.
  12. Morley, A., Farrier, A, Dooris, M. (2017). Propagating Success? The Incredible Edible Model.Final Report. Pp. 47-62.