A phoenix arising from the ashes: a new food economy is emerging

“This blog was co-written by Ilana Taub and Kathleen Cassidy, who have both been working to co-create the #newfoodeconomy for several years now in a range of capacities. They currently work for The Food Assembly, a disruptive retail model enabling direct trade between local producers and their local communities.  Ilana Taub is also the co-founder of Snact, a social enterprise that makes fruit snacks from surplus to tackle food waste, and prior
to working with The Food Assembly Kathleen founded an urban food growing space and the Incredible Edible Southwark network in London.”Ilana & Kathleen

The purpose of this conference (and the work we do at The Food Assembly) is to focus on solutions, look for inspiration and build networks that can help us create a food system that works for people and planet. The world needs a new food economy that reconnects people with food and its real value, strengthens understanding of where it comes from and brings power back to the people who create value within the system – the producers of real food. There’s no one single answer to how to fix our food system; in reality there are many answers. And so in terms of strengthening the momentum of the emerging new food economy, it is important to highlight these solutions and connect them together so that they make up a cohesive whole.

Understanding and appreciating the true value of food is one of the key enablers of building a new food economy. As people understand the true environmental, social, societal and health costs associated with cheap food, they realise that buying food isn’t just an act of consumption, it’s an investment for themselves, their communities and the planet. Changing culture around the value of food involves tackling some pretty meaty (pasture-fed, free range and organic please) challenges; from food poverty to subsidising of the industrial food system.

At the Food Assembly, we’re working to address issues associated with misunderstandings of the real cost of food. We’re launching a series on our blog about the real cost of food in the new year where we’ll look at different foods, the impacts associated with them when they’re worryingly cheap, and what we should really expect to pay for them. Through the nature of our model, we also encourage dialogue between producers and customers as they meet weekly at Assemblies. At the the same time, we’re also painfully aware that food poverty is a growing issue in this country and are looking for ways to address that by joining up with the living wage campaign.

In an economic system which favours big (unsustainable) producers (from the subsidising of industrial producers to the expense of organic certification), it is important to highlight methods and strategies for supporting agroecological farming. Initiatives such the pasture fed livestock association are championing environmentally friendly ways of rearing quality meat and Farmstart are pioneering new ways of bringing people back to farm the land in a sustainable way. The hot topic of waste within the conventional food system and ways to avoid it is also being tackled from a diversity of angles, from a burgeoning Gleaning Network, to the The Inglorious Fruit and Vegetable campaign and WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Organisations which enable direct local trade, through CSA’s like Growing Communities and organisations like FoodTrade or The Food Assembly bring power back to agroecological farmers by enabling them to set their own prices, minimum orders and distribution systems. At The Food Assembly, we also see real opportunities in direct trade for educating people about the real value of food, and for nourishing local communities by bringing people together around food – in our case through weekly pop up markets (Assemblies).

Connecting with other campaigns and networks is all part of building a movement that offers a holistic alternative to the current broken economic system. Networks like Food Sovereignty Now! play a key role in building “a movement for a democratic, sustainable and fair food system”. Our UK Food Assembly network is part of a larger international movement of autonomous yet interconnected Assemblies enabling direct trade between local producers and communities. Launched in France in September 2011, the network is growing daily and now connects over 400,000 members (customers) with 4,000 producers in over 700 Assemblies across France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and now the United Kingdom.

So in a nutshell (a locally sourced cobnut of course): in order to build a future where real farming can really thrive, we need to think outside our (local veg) box, and join up with other actors in the food system and beyond. Let’s show solidarity for each other’s hard work and together create fertile conditions in which the #newfoodeconomy can grow. One way of doing this is to get together to celebrate what is working well. So as a last note, you are warmly invited to celebrate the emerging new food economy at the upcoming Winter Feastival. 

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