Who feeds Bristol?

I try to eat healthily, five portions a day of fruit and vegetables.  I prefer veg to fruit, generally of the traditional British type like cauliflower and sprouts.  Yes, I love sprouts.  But I was surprised to learn recently that 60% of the veg and a staggering 90% of the fruit we eat in Britain is now imported.

This was just one of the many facts in the excellent report by Joy Carey, Who Feeds Bristol?, published earlier this year.  Commissioned by Bristol City Council and NHS Bristol the report analyses the current pattern of food consumption in the city and makes recommendations for a resilient and more sustainable future.

This is a massive issue, more than I can deal with in a short blog piece.  Our future food security depends on everything from local allotments to international competition for finite resources.  Oil and energy is already a strategic security concern.  Food and water won’t be far behind.  While western governments fret about competition for food, British based charities rightly raise issues such as unsustainable beef farming in South America or the need for local food production in Africa.

Debate about these issues is nothing new.  Britain was the first industrial nation and it made economic sense from the 18th century to export high value textiles and machinery and import cheap food.   Malthus was predicting dire consequences of continued population growth.  He’s been proved wrong for the last 200 years but the terms of debate may soon change.

So what could Bristol, with just 600,000 mouths to feed out of 6 billion worldwide, do to contribute to the debate on food security?  Potentially, quite a lot.  As part of our campaign to be Europe’s Green Capital, dealing with our food supply should be just as important as achieving zero landfill, clean energy and sustainable housing.

The report makes a number of recommendations, with a supportive planning regime at the hub.  The diversity of food retail is always a hot topic in Bristol but the supply chain is much more complex.  We should also support community food enterprises and increase markets for local food producers.  Right at source, we should also raise the level of urban food production and safeguard more land for food.

While speaking to the Evening Post’s Parliamentary correspondent last week about green belt planning laws I mentioned that we should think about using some of the land around Bristol and Bath for growing more fruit and vegetables.  Protecting the green belt from urban expansion shouldn’t stop us from thinking about how best to use the land.

But it’s not just the green belt.  We could grow more inside the city boundary too.  BBC Points West interviewed me this evening in the Ashley Vale allotments just round the corner from my house. Allotments are very popular in Bristol but the potential probably lies more in other area of green space, within school grounds and our own gardens.

Making a difference will require a step change in mind set as much as anything. from where we shop to how we prepare food in our kitchens.  The Council intends to set an example by introducing cattle onto Purdown. High quality Bristol beef could soon be in a butchers shop near you.  I know from my visits to schools that many of them now teach children about the origins of their food.  Children and adults need to learn new cooking skills, using food grown at home or by neighbours.  The produce from my garden damson tree will find its way into many friends’ jams, jellies and chutneys this summer.

There really is no more important resource than our food.  Yet in Britain we have taken it for granted for far too long.  A big debate must now begin on food, not just its quality and cost but also where it’s grown.

[Note - you can read the report Who Feeds Bristol? here : http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/food-bristol ]

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