Feeding #Manchester 15 and Sustainable Food Strategies…

Ahead of the 15th “Feeding Manchester” gathering – this Thurs, 24th, at the Briton’s Protection Pub from 6pm, Contact chris@kindling.org.uk if you want to go (I think they may be fully booked?) – here’s some gentle questions MCFly fired off.

Why was a “Sustainable Food Strategy” needed?
A growing number of cities are adopting them to set out their aspirations for good food. With the launch of the national Sustainable Food Cities programme many more are being formulated. Many have been written by local authorities, but more and more are being instigated by civic society to inspire, motivate and challenge the public and private sectors.

Manchester has had a food strategy since 2007, boroughs like Stockport, Oldham and Bolton have been discussing adopting sustainable food plans, but increasingly decisions are being made at a Greater Manchester level. So, in early 2013, a FeedingManchester event agreed an over-arching framework for Greater Manchester would be beneficial.

Since then over a hundred groups, small businesses and partners from the public sector have been formulating a Strategy to:

Inform & inspire. – we have taken great examples from across Greater Manchester.
Encourage us all to look at sustainable food in its entirety – from Fairtrade to animal welfare, from food poverty to health.
Give confidence to a growing sustainable food sector that our individual endeavours are part of something bigger.
Support groups to grow and work in partnership. We hope groups & businesses will adopt an action from the Strategy, go to a funder or the bank & say we would like resources to do this.
Embolden individuals who sit on various working groups and committees discussing food to represent the sector as a whole and advocate sustainable food in its entirety.
Motivate our political representatives to take the sustainable food sector more seriously.

Who is the intended audience?
Just to be clear we have no mandate, we have no funding, it has been written by volunteers and we don’t have any political backing for this. Our Strategy is a collection of actions we feel should be prioritised to bring about the many economic and social benefits sustainable food can offer.

The document isn’t perfect, we haven’t been able to include all of the ideas that were passionately argued for at the FeedingManchester events – though we have tried to include all of the themes (if we’d included all of the specific examples it would have been the size of a small novel!).

We hope that the document we are launching on Thursday 24th April at FeedingManchester #15 is a reflection of the discussions we have been having. Next we need to have a discussion about what we do with the Strategy – how it can be used to help us turn the vision into a reality. But this takes time – so we imagine that in this first year, the audience will be sustainable food practitioners, public sector employees and councillors. In future years, the audience will grow to include the general public.

Who wrote it?  When?  How?
The contents of the Strategy have come from three public events in 2013, one focused on Stockport and two FeedingManchester events, with around a hundred people contributing. We adopted a structure devised by the Sustainable Food Cities programme.

At the last FeedingManchester event we asked for volunteers to take the work forward. A small working group have taken all the ideas and examples and compilied them into a detailed document, (which will be available soon), to ensure nothing is lost or dismissed, and we will revisit these at a future FeedingManchester event.

At one event in November 2013, attendees prioritised actions that would bring about meaningful change and it is these that we have included in Greater Manchester’s Sustainable Food Strategy.

What does the Food Strategy say?  What makes it different from the dozens of well-meaning manifestos about food sovereignty, nutrition, democracy etc etc.
Its content is probably no different to other food plans, but the way it was developed – by a room full of people who work on these issues at different levels, know their stuff, and will carry on working on it to make it happen, makes it both an interesting process and a ‘working document’. A Strategy that people can own and are working to put into action.
What’s also different is that we are committing to keeping it alive over the next ten years and improving it through open consultation and dialogue. It is a framework for Greater Manchester and we are going to be asking each of the ten councils of Greater Manchester to adopt a food policy that compliments it. Manchester a few months back adopted a food motion, Stockport are drafting one and we know Oldham and Bolton are interested.
One early success was in the autumn of 2013, when the consultation formed the core of an application to the Sustainable Food Cities programme and Stockport was selected as one of only six communities from across the UK to secure £50,000 funding for three years to work towards becoming a Sustainable Food City. As a result Feeding Stockport was born and we hope this will inspire other boroughs across Gtr Manchester to do the same, and that the Strategy will give them a useful starting point.

Is there any mechanism by which it can be commented on? Will it ever be updated?
The Strategy will be refreshed and improved in the summer of 2015. Over the coming year we are asking people to review it, talk about it within their organisations. Ultimately we hope groups will work with their local authority to first adopt a food policy and then – and this is the crucial part – develop a resourced and politically-backed action plan to guide meaningful action.
For example, Stockport now has a Sustainable Food Action Plan that compliments our Greater Manchester Strategy, the Council are looking at adopting a Sustainable Food Policy to give political support to the action plan and partnerships are being established to deliver policy changes in areas of planning and food procurement and support projects on the ground.
So, what does the existence of the Food Strategy (seek to) change?

If nothing else, we hope the Strategy will give our sector a bit more confidence to ask to be taken more seriously by the public sector and demand more support. Ultimately, we would like Greater Manchester to become a Sustainable Food City, but we know that is a long way off and this is simply a first step, a foundation lets say.

Anything else you’d like to say?
We have had a huge amount of support and encouragement during this process. Sustainable food is as much about engagement, co-operation and trust as it is about cooking or gardening skills.

FeedingManchester is a unique forum, where people come together as equals. It is food democracy in action. As the Strategy states: No one organisation can achieve all of the aims of this ambitious vision, but we can agree that this is the food system that we aspire to have in Greater Manchester and support each other to work towards some of the aims and work together to push for them all.

Finally, we’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and patience.

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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