On Wednesday the 6th December, at The Space. Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust and Ped Asgarian of The Community Farm came together to talk about how we can eat sustainably, for our health and the health of the planet.
The evening started with a talk from Ped who shared with us what happens on The Community Farm, very near the Chew Valley Lake (he assures us the views are amazing). He told us how the farm was set up to enable people to connect with their food and understand where and how it grows. They do this through volunteer days, which not only supports the farm, but builds community. They sell their produce, both as a supplier to the food trade locally and as delivered veg boxes, winner of the Soil Association’s Best Box scheme no less!
Patrick spoke next, he explained how he came to set up the Sustainable Food Trust and what the Sustainable Food Trust does. He spoke about a recent report they have written about the true cost of our food in UK and how our current way of intensive farming using nitrates and subsequently pesticides, is stripping our soil of nutrients. He explained how although this intensive farming produces cheaper food, we are not seeing the true cost of the use of pesticides on our shopping bill. The Sustainable Food Trust estimates this to be an extra £1 per £1 spent. This in part is going to the NHS for food related healthcare costs, as well as environmental clean up costs.
He explained that current farming methods literally ‘mine’ the soil and that we cannot continue to grow food this way and unless we make significant changes in the way we farm our food by 2050 we will be entering a point of no return. Patrick is suggesting we should be farming with methods more common place before the end of the 2nd World War, with smaller farms, a mix of arable and livestock, with crop rotation at their heart. This will produce smaller yields, but farming in this way increases soil fertility and biodiversity.
Unusually he suggested that switching to a plant based only diet could do more environmental damage than eating organic and free range meat. Explaining that the growing trend of ditching meat fats for others like palm oil is directly accounting for rainforest destruction, as well as an environmental impact from the disposal of unused meat fats by burning.
From what was said, it seams the biggest barrier to change is that food producers are not accountable for the clean up cost associated with the use of fertilisers and pesticides in the production of food. Patrick told us he had been in meetings with Michael Gove, (the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.) looking at possible ways the subsidies paid to farmers post-Brexit could reward farmers for farming more sustainably, which would help to correct the disparity created by the current system, which means that in order to survive financially farmers are not necessarily producing food in the best way for the environment or our health.
So what can we do?
We can buy our food locally, eating food that thrives in the local area. Get to know our food producers, one of the biggest issues with supermarkets it that we cannot trace the food production, and without knowing where it comes from we don’t know what methods have been used to produce our food. This is not to say that supermarkets are the bad guys, they are simply running a business in a culture where consumers are unwilling to pay much for consumables, but perhaps the way we shop within them can change. Purchasing brands that are traceably local and organic.
We are so lucky with the food suppliers in and around Keynsham and after the talk we were invited to try foods from, G&D Free, Somerset Local Foods Direct, Fresh Range, and Temple Street Canteen (using veg from the Community Farm) as well as enjoying Fairtrade wine and soft drinks kindly supplied by our local Fairtrade group.
In the coming weeks we will be adding details of local producers to the Transition Keynsham website so please check back and if you know of a hidden gem locally please contact us and we can include them.