Thoughts inspired by our event at the Royal Agricultural University

Last Thursday, 7th March, we hosted a non-political event titled Fairer Food, Better Britain as part of the Royal Agricultural University’s programme of events to commemorate International Women’s Day.

It was a real pleasure to bring together people who care deeply about food and farming in Britain. We may not have saved the world, or even British farming, yet, but we all came away with a better understanding of the scale and scope of the challenges, and I’d like to share a few thoughts arising from the evening, particularly on our direction of travel as a country and a culture.

Thursday’s event set out to explore the challenges facing Britain’s food system. At the RAU’s invitation, I kicked off the evening with the story of how my own awakening to the ecological crisis led to me becoming the first woman to row solo across three oceans, using my adventures to inspire greater environmental awareness.

Then we moved into a panel discussion featuring Jade Bashford, farming and food poverty activist and co-founder of Stroud Brewery; Liberty Nimmo, who is leading the RAU’s pioneering new Zero-Dig market garden, and Eric Walters, who runs a 100-acre farm on the edge of Stroud that aims to demonstrate that small, mixed, regenerative farms can be profitable.

Breakout groups then went into lively discussion around specific issues like biodiversity, food production, ecologically friendly eating habits, food poverty, and access to land for those who want to grow food.

I was especially grateful to the farmers who joined us for the evening, who shared what it’s really like on the frontline as they face an uncertain future of climate change, extreme weather, shifting subsidies, and price pressure from supermarkets. Clearly policy-makers have a key role to play if Britain is to have a farming industry that delivers quality food to local communities at prices that are both affordable to consumers and viable for producers.

British food and farming is in a state of upheaval in the aftermath of Brexit. We need policy-makers to take this seriously – 1 person in 5 can’t afford to eat regular meals, while farmers are finding it less and less economically viable to grow food. This makes Britain more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions caused by wars and extreme weather events overseas. Our food system isn’t working, and we need to get it sorted. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.

The challenges may seem daunting, but I use the metaphor of my ocean rowing voyages – one oarstroke didn’t get me very far, but 5 million oarstrokes got me across 3 oceans. Lots of tiny actions add up to a big change, and we all have the power to make a difference.

This is what I see as the direction of travel over the next few decades: important as central government is, I believe we’re going to see much more decentralisation of power to community level (as mentioned by Ed Davey in his recent interview with James O’Brien, which I recommend in its entirety).

I think the current widespread mistrust of big institutions – be they supermarkets or governments – will lead to more communities claiming more power for themselves, as is already happening in northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester, for whom levelling up was little more than a castle in the air until they took matters into their own hands.

I believe we’re going to see greater localisation of food production, a restoration of the relationship between food producers and food consumers, and more awareness of what we eat, where it comes from, and whether it is good or bad for us.

In short, a swing from the globalised to the local, from impersonal to personal, from disempowered to empowered, from rampant individualism to connection and community.

Other News

I write this newsletter from Berlin, where I delivered a keynote this morning to a corporate

audience. Yesterday I took some time out to visit the huge glass dome atop the Bundestag (German Parliament), designed by Norman Foster. I appreciated the metaphorical value of the clear dome, which lets air and light into the debating chamber. Maybe we could do with more light, air, and transparency in the House of Commons?

Here’s a short video I recorded yesterday outside the Bundestag. I mention my VIA model – Vision Into Action:
VISION of where you want to get to
Look INTO your heart to find the strength to get there
Take ACTION, consistently over time, heading in the right direction.

All 3 steps are essential, and in that order. As Warren Buffet said: “It doesn’t matter how hard you row. It matters which boat you get in.”

My journey home has been disrupted by a strike by German airport security staff, part of a wider series of strikes by transport staff. So I shall be taking the train to Amsterdam (6 hours) and getting home from there. So the UK isn’t the only country in a pickle at the moment.

Campaign Notes

To keep up to date with me and my campaign, please follow me on Facebook. Or on LinkedIn, if that’s more your style.

We’re keen to welcome more campaigners to our team to help with deliveries and/or doorknocking. Please consider lending us an hour or two a month. Email my wonderful Campaign Organiser, Poppy Fair, for more details.

We are also looking for financial support. Every pound matters – even the price of a weekly latte would help. If you’re ready for positive change in the South Cotswolds, please put your money where your mouth is by hitting Reply to this email, and I’ll let you know how. Thank you! 🙏

Quote(s) of the Week

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
Alice Walker

Have a great week!

Event photos by Stuart Madeley – many thanks!
Farm photo by Clare Muir at Liz Webster’s farm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *