Somerset Land and Food reflections (Linda Hull)

Graeme Dow graemedow35 at
Tue Aug 16 15:28:07 BST 2011

Somerset Land and Food co-ordinator, Linda Hull, offers some reflections on
the need to collaborate to access and protect land, to rapidly up-skill
ourselves to grow more food closer to home and to support our local

I don’t suppose I need to tell RTF readers that industrial agriculture is
trashing the planet. However, I admit to being shocked to read recently in
the Foresight Future of Food and Farming report that it sucks up a
staggering 70% of global water supply. The problem remains that while food
encompasses everything that we humans care about, our food system is failing
and the scale of it, and its negative impacts on land, resources and health
are often just “too big to see.”

If we were to let food be our guide to the “urban paradox” – and to a good
life - as architect and author of Hungry City, Carolyn
Steel<>urges, what would we
find ourselves doing? The Campaign
for REAL Farming <> (Resilient,
Ecological, Alternative, Local) calls for nothing less than a People’s
Takeover of the world’s food supply! Spokesman, Colin Tudge, believes there
is still enough existing good law and room for manoeuvre, politically and
economically, to enact an Agrarian Renaissance, obviating the need for a
full grown revolution. He outlines a route in his paper “Eight Steps Back to
the Land”<>

Having attended recent events with titles such as Food and Public Space,
Food & Spatial Planning and Tackling Food Security through Science &
Technology – all in London – and, closer to home, the Let’s Grow Food and
Reclaim the Fields gatherings, it’s clear to me that food system activists
need to work much smarter, and in much closer collaboration, if we are to
make any real progress in reversing destructive trends.

What would a People’s Takeover require of us? Below I share some reflections
on a summer of research into the bigger picture.  And a few further

We need to:

   1. *Stop wasting food* – with £1bn worth of food being thrown away every
   month in the UK, this must surely be the first step to securing our food
   supplies! And if it can’t be eaten, let’s use food waste to generate
   2. *Ensure that reserving land for food production, both commercial and
   non-commercial, is firmly on the radar of our local authority planners*.
   Currently, food production does not specifically feature in planning policy
   and the upcoming changes to planning could make it even more difficult to
   reserve and protect land for growing food, especially the best and most
   versatile land (BMV). However, Sustain’s recent report Good Planning for
   Good Food <> has opened a
   debate with the Royal Town Planning Institute and urges all of us to make
   sure our Local Development Frameworks specify the allocation of land for
   food. Similarly, although focused on London and its green belt, Cultivating
   the Capital<>provides
a very useful set of principles for food system activists to apply
   in their own situations.
   3. *Identify where real and robust demand for land, and locally produced
   food, lies*. Waiting lists are not the most robust indicators of demand
   for land in a particular area, but they are a starting point. How can we
   best share knowledge and data at the community level about the issues of
   food supply, the availability of suitable land and the extent of the market
   in and for locally produced food, so that demand can be stimulated
   sufficiently and in time to make our communities resilient to shocks to our
   food supply chains?
   4. *Enable greater access to land.* Reaching out to landowners can be a
   complex undertaking and determining who owns land can be very difficult to
   establish. One eye watering fact is that 70% of land in Britain is owned by
   1% of the population… however, with only 1% of churn in the market for land,
   new micro enterprises on existing land must be the way forward. Oxford based
   Landshare CIC <> is pioneering the
   development of a guide for landowners focusing on “land partnerships.” Tom
   Curtis of Landshare believes landowners can minimise and externalise risks
   posed by the price volatility of key inputs, commodity price fluctuation and
   the impacts of potential tax changes on agricultural
diesel<>via such
partnerships.   Traditional farm business tenancies can be used
   together with turnover rents to create new mixed, highly integrated, labour
   and knowledge intensive farming and growing enterprises on land already
   5. *Lobby for the use of surplus, vacant and derelict Local Authority and
   other publicly owned land* for both commercial and community based food
   production. Brownfield land – areas that have been previously developed
   but are currently unused – offers great potential for new growing space. In
   the report Can You Dig
   the authors reported that in 2007 Britain had 12,710 hectares of vacant
   brownfield land that is unused or may be available for redevelopment. This
   land can be developed “as is,” without levelling, demolition or clearing of
   fixed structures or foundations.

The vast majority (85%) of this vacant land is located in urban areas or
within 500 metres of a built-up area – precisely where growing spaces are in
highest demand. About one-third of this land has been deemed suitable for
housing, but only a fraction has been allocated for housing development. Of
this unused suitable land, 28% has yet to be allocated for any specific use.
This unused, uncontaminated, and unallocated urban land represents a
significant opportunity for growing spaces.

Across England, 50 counties and unitary authorities owned and managed 96,206
hectares of agricultural land in 2006. Councils could be encouraged to
consider converting some of this agricultural land into growing spaces
instead of selling it off. This conversion can be done automatically under
Section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990.

How can we best negotiate for access to land for community based growing
spaces? A fascinating dataset of surplus land can be viewed on the Homes and
Communities Agency<>website.
Thousands of training gardens could be established on meanwhile
leases on some of the public and/or private land currently lying empty.
Nationally, the Community Land Advisory
in development under the auspices of the National Federation of City Farms
and Community Gardens, seems well placed to set standards and develop
protocols for this, having the ear of government, as it does, via DEFRA and
DCLG. But it must build on the experience and aspirations of the many
hundreds of local initiatives in operation up and down the country.

   1. *Support and enable massive re-skilling in the sphere of food
   production* and in particular to enable our young farmers and the 7000
   students currently reading agriculture in this country to access sufficient
   land and market share to make it viable for them to succeed the half a
   million existing farmers, many of whom are at the end of their careers. More
   people must understand the needs of new and existing local producers, if
   they are going to be able to use the next decade to offer us a localised
   alternative. That is to say, we must keep them in business now for when we
   will really need them…
   2. *Work together to amass Nurture Capital to invest in local
projects. *With
   many local food projects soon to come to the end of their funding, how can
   we set up alternative ways to invest in local food production?
   Practitioners in the USA are pioneering the use of Slow Money to bring
   investment, literally, back down to Earth.
   3. *Amplify the work of existing “disruptive innovators” and other
   radical alternatives*. Some of my favourites which I have come across so
   far include:

-          Mary Clear of Incredible Edible
Todmorden<>is an
inspiring and formidable woman. Claiming “if you eat, you’re in” she
and her team have started a small revolution by “accidentally gardening” on
some of the most raggedy bits of land in their community. Strongly believing
that, given there is trouble ahead, if we don’t create a kinder culture now
and provide opportunities for the most marginal people in our society to
feed themselves first, she feels much of what the rest of us are up to will
be a waste of time. To this end, amongst many other things, they have
succeeded in engaging police and firemen in a competition to grow as much as
possible on their land holdings. Incredible Edible campaigns are now active

-          Building on 10 years of community food activism, a draft planning
advisory note<>on
incorporating space for food growing in new developments has been
developed by Food Matters <> in conjunction with
Brighton City Council as a part of the
Harvest<>project. It applies to new
build commercial, residential and mixed
developments and to conversions where applicable and is intended as guidance
for planning officers, developers and interested residents to inform them on
what is possible to achieve depending on the scale and type of
development.With 10,000 ha of peri-urban land owned by the Green
administration of the City Council and a Green MP to boot, all eyes are on
the seaside city to see if this political context can make the difference
and tip the balance in favour of feeding Brighton with sustainably produced
local food.

-           *Reclaim the
** is a constellation of young people and collective projects willing to go
back to the land and reassume control over food production.* At the recent
South West Gathering held in Bristol, the atmosphere was positively buzzing
as activists such as those at Grow
who have squatted the site of the proposed, though currently postponed,
third runway and turned it into a market garden, rubbed shoulders with
liberation permaculturalists, academics and herbalists. Personally, I feel
that land can be accessed without the need to squat if security of tenure is
required. I do think occupying land to spark debate and educate, however,
has tremendous value, creating cultural space which can then be moved into
by others.

   1. *Reclaim our plates *– the debate about changing diets to be much more
   plant based and locally sourced is one which will continue to cause
   controversy, but I like Colin Tudge’s formula of “plenty of plants, not much
   meat, and maximum variety.” And, perhaps more to the point, I concur with
   Sam Henderson of Church
   FARM:shop <>, who declares that if every
   household had a direct, personal
at least one farm, that would be a truly radical development!
   2. *Acknowledge Food Sovereignty and respect the Right to Food* – the
   latest step in my summer’s journey to understand the dynamics of how we get
   back to the land to produce local food for local consumption has been
   re-acquaintance with the notion of “food sovereignty.” Food sovereignty
   is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect
   and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve
   sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they
   want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their
   markets; and to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in
   managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty
   does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade
   policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and
   ecologically sustainable production." (Statement on Peoples' Food
   Sovereignty by Via Campesina, et al.) Securing Future
Food<>sets out
   it is necessary to make the radical shift towards ecological food provision
   in order to secure future food for the world’s predicted 9 billion people.

In conclusion, we need to harness the “convening power of food” as Professor
Kevin Morgan says, chair of the new Bristol Food Policy Council. “We have to
render food *visible.* Only via visibility and connectivity will we be able
to protect and enhance our local food webs.”

My journey continues with the challenge of making
Foodmapper<>relevant and
accessible to a wider audience.  Work is in progress to develop
a “master map” where relevant land based data is widely and easily available
– ie land quality, topography, soils, ownership, flood risk and current or
potential use. A huge opportunity exists to capture and present the wealth
of data currently residing in our fragmented network, particularly in the
face of claims that there is a lack of data and evidence to inform the best
and most effective actions we need to take to create sustainable food

Complaints that there are too many disparate maps, platforms and data sets
which aren’t well known enough, and are impossible to cross-pollinate, beg
the question of how to develop and popularise a national platform that can
strengthen collaborative relationships, connect practitioners with good
intelligence, improve knowledge transfer and rapidly enable a proactive
network of food system activists to bring new land into production and
protect it for local provision of good food. Such collaboration is now
desperately needed as funding is dwindling, climate is changing and food
prices are rising.

Visit Foodmapper <> today and plot
YOUR local food webs.

best wishes

Linda Hull

Somerset Community Food

34 Chamberlain St



t: *01749 678770*

m: 07772 655035

e: linda.hull at<linda.hull at>



FoodMapper is now live. Visit to map the local
food resources in your area.

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