15 March 2021
I recently became involved with a group of extremely dedicated and motivated people, based primarily in the Scottish Highlands, who have made the bold decision to address the question: “What do we want our food system to look like by 2030?”
The Highland Good Food Movement aims to transform the way food is produced and consumed in the Scottish Highlands and beyond, in light of, among others, the climate and ecological emergency, the susceptibility of international food supply networks to global shocks such as pandemics and the crises surrounding physical and mental health and wellbeing.
The movement started as a ‘conversation’ in August 2020, with a podcast, blog and social media campaign. Then, in January and February 2021, a conference was held on five consecutive Monday afternoons, attended by almost 100 delegates. During the conference, various project groups were formed, each one focusing on a different aspect of the Highland food system. The group I chose to join was interested in local communities growing their own food.
Over the five weeks, six key themes emerged as to why a transformation in our local food system is urgent and necessary:
- Health and wellbeing – we all have to eat and we need to make sure that everyone, regardless of income, has access to healthy, nutritious food. In addition, by encouraging people to interact with food growing, they can benefit from the mental and emotional therapy that being outdoors and connecting with the landscape and with others offers.
- Community engagement – as Margaret Wheatley says, “Whatever is the problem, community is the answer.” There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about, and if we also involve young people and tap into indigenous wisdom, we can eliminate food poverty in the present and create resilience in the future.
- Resilience – a thriving local economy is crucial to the resilience of a region. Reclaiming food sovereignty helps to secure local jobs, and creating a circular economy with zero waste helps to ensure we are being the best stewards of the land and its natural resources for future generations.
- Sustainable agriculture – local, smaller-scale producers are more likely to produce food in harmony with nature, supporting biodiversity and caring for the soil. Large scale farms which employ monoculture methods and put profits before people are major contributors to the climate crisis, the global food problem and the resulting injustices.
- Food education – we need to help people develop an appreciation and understanding of the real value of good nutrition, through seeing the work involved in growing, harvesting, preparing, cooking and sharing food. Food should not be viewed merely as a commodity, but as an essential component of a healthy and happy life.
- Collaboration – working together means sharing knowledge and expertise, equipment and resources, seeds and success stories. Further, when food producers collaborate, they can ensure that a diverse range of foods are grown, so that retail hubs and food cooperatives can provide a diverse range of produce.
This diagram gives a summary of the main themes outlined above:
At the end of the conference, each project group gave a short presentation on what they had achieved so far and where they wanted to go next. In this video, I present the findings of the community food-growing group:
Last week we met up again to discuss the next steps. I’ll report back on that in a subsequent blog post, so watch this space.
What steps can you take now?
- Grow as much of your own food as possible. Collaborate with people in your community to share the food-growing load.
- Support local food producers. Buying seasonal, organically-grown produce from small-scale farms is good for your health and for the local economy.
- Educate yourself and others about the health, economic and environmental benefits of producing and consuming locally-grown food.