BBC Breakfast features #foodandpoverty commision report at Thurrock lunch club

I was up before 5am this morning to head for Thurrock lunch club where BBC breakfast did a piece about the Fabian Commission report on Food and Poverty launched today. You can read all about it, download it and see our five principles and 14 point action plan here. But I thought you might like to hear what the other two interviewees and the volunteers working at the lunch club had to say, so we had a brief chat between the two slots on BBC breakfast.

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Changing the #foodsystem with #bread and #agroforestry – Andrew Whitley in the Scottish Borders

Andrew Whitley is a campaigning organic baker known for starting the Village Bakery in Melmerby in the 1970s and latterly as co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign. His book Bread Matters is credited with ‘changing the way we think about bread’ by Sheila Dillon of the BBC Food Programme and his business of the same name provides artisan bakery training. Now he’s followed his interest in bread back to its roots by farming in the Scottish borders – using agroforestry approaches, inspired by the work of Prof Martin Wolfe at Wakelyns. He is also experimenting with some 70 varieties of wheat, spelt, emmer, rye, oats and barley, including varieties that used to be grown in Scotland, some obtained from the Vavilov Institute in Russia – as he explains in the video tour of his farm.

With his wife and co-director Veronica Burke he is pioneering a new project – Scotland The Bread – which is a collaboration to re-establish a Scottish flour and bread supply that is healthy, equitable, locally controlled and sustainable. It links together plant breeders, farmers, millers, bakers, nutritionists and citizens. Their measure of success is how reliably they pass on nourishment, from the soil to the slice. To achieve that, they aim to create change in every part of the system: fair prices for local farmers growing nourishing food for people, fewer damaging food miles, more nutrition in every slice of bread and more jobs per loaf as they skill up community bakers to bring out the best in the local grains. They believe that growing better grain and baking better bread can provide part of the solution to diet-related ill-health. Everyone – older people, children, those looked after and ‘catered for’ in our hospitals, schools, prisons and care homes – will benefit.

They aim to combine research with action, so Scotland The Bread collaborates with scientists in leading institutions to find traits in heritage Scottish and Nordic wheats that will help them to produce locally resilient, nutritious grains. At the same time, Scotland The Bread is preparing a market for the new grains by building community capacity in small-to-medium scale artisan breadmaking.

In autumn 2015 the first four community projects will sow some of Scotland The Bread’s trial wheats. By late summer 2016 they will be able to harvest, thresh, clean and mill that grain and (using slow, natural fermentation) turn it into healthy, digestible bread.

Currently a project of Bread Matters, Scotland The Bread will launch as a Community Benefit Society towards the end of 2015.

For more information contact

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#FoodSecurity writ large, civic food networks and household food shortages discussed by rural sociologists

Food Security – for whom? was the focus of a special session at the European Society of Rural Sociology conference in Aberdeen in August. The three speakers focussed on different aspects of food security. You can hear their presentations below and download the powerpoints to go with them from:

Professor Phil McMichael, from Cornell University, USA, looked at ‘The Question of Food Security (writ large)’ in his talk.

while professor Maria Fonte, from the Università di Napoli Federico IIa, Italy, took a civic food networks’ perspective in her talk:

Professor Tiina Silvasti, from University of Jyväskylä, Finland discussed ‘Food shortages at the household level’

All three took part in a discussion with participants:


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#Economics, #climate change and #farming – time to get it right: An interview with Prof Felix Fitzroy


For too long most economists have generally got climate change and farming wrong argues Felix Fitzroy, emeritus professor of economics at the University of St Andrews. In this short interview he explains how he became interested in the connections, the shortcomings of much analysis, the threats and opportunities to address the environmental impacts of farming on climate change and some policy changes needed to do so.

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Precipice and Possibility: A #Food Regime Approach to Emergent Futures of Growing and Eating by Harriet Friedmann

What are the possible futures for our food systems – desirable and undesirable? That was what Harriet Friedmann was reflecting on in the Sociologia Ruralis lecture at the 15th European Society for Rural Sociology conference in Aberdeen yesterday.

In this talk she developed some of the themes in her contribution to the Food Systems Academy.

Update 23 Sep 15: You can now download the powerpoint from her talk here.

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Company Shop: growing a business from food that otherwise would go to waste.

Just off junction 36 on the M1, in Wentworth near Barnsley, is the head office of Company Shop, a business that has prospered by selling in-date, surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. Not anyone can buy it though, mostly those working in food companies – hence the name.  It is also a business model that inspired its founder and chairman, John Marren, to set up Community Shop, a community interest company designed to help those on ‘the cusp of food poverty’ but ‘wanting to make a positive step change in their lives’. The pilot store, set up in the nearby, once thriving, mining town of Goldthrope, has attracted a lot of interest in the UK as the need for emergency food assistance has grown over the past few years. A second store opened in London in 2014.

When I met John on a platform at the York Festival of Ideas in June, I was struck by his enthusiasm, charisma and commitment, and wanted to know more about the model upon which the Community Shop idea was based – Company Shop. Later that month, we met first in the Goldthrope Community Shop, then we went to the head office of Company Shop, where he first told me about how that business developed and his thinking behind creating community shop:

We then went on a tour of the site:

And here are some photos of what I saw.

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Helping plants grow better for improved #food security – from beans in low-input farming to wheat in Australia and rice in China

How do you get the knowledge generated by researchers into farmers’ fields? That is the key issue being discussed by the Association of Applied Biologists this week at a meeting on Knowledge exchange: from research to the food supply chain in Lancaster, UK. I dropped in on the first afternoon session yesterday, after visiting a performance of The Roadless Trip, by Sarah Woods, who is working with me on the Food Systems Academy. JZhang-Lancaster It was great to hear Prof Jianhua Zhang explain the water-saving techniques being used in China again – I met him last year in Hong Kong and you can hear my interviews with him  here. What was new to me was the fascinating work on how selecting plants with the right kind of root system to make more effective use of the water, phosphorus and nitrogen in the soil can greatly increase yields of beans and other crops. Beans are key food for a billion people explained Prof Jonathan Lynch from Penn State University as he discussed his group’s research. Here, he tells me more about his work and also about the need to pay more attention to whole plants and the mix of traits in them (phene and phenotype) as opposed to the gene and genotype. The need for researchers to connect what their specific research focus is into the farming systems of farmers themselves was highlighted by Greg Rebetzke (in red shirt on left in photo) and John Kirkegaard, a couple of researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, CSIRO. They don’t just work closely together in nearby offices but also together with farmers in the field to link Greg’s research in wheat into farmers’ practices as they explained: There were lots more people I’d like to have talked to and interesting looking papers I could not stay for but many will be published, by the end of the year after peer review, in the open access journal Food and Energy Security.

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