Fixing our broken food system has never been more important, for both sustainability and health outcomes. But challenging the industrial model is not easy, as Clare Goff found out
‘In Manchester there’s lots of talk about sustainability but it’s never embedded’, says Chris Walsh, a co-founder of The Kindling Trust. ‘The city is obsessed with inward investment and very traditional economic growth which eclipses all else.’
Eight years ago he and co-founder Helen Woodcock decided to challenge mainstream thinking with a project aimed at embedding food sustainability within the region. While many local food projects tackle one aspect of sustainability – creating more supply, or building demand – the Kindling Trust tries to impact all stages of the supply chain.
‘You can’t just intervene in one place as that just moves the problem along’, says Walsh. ‘If you tackle the issue of access to land, then the next problem is farmers not being paid enough. We try to intervene in as many places as possible along to try to create a perfectly formed supply chain.’
Thus it has increased supply by supporting local farmers – through a cooperative called Manchester Veg People – and training new growers – through the UK’s first organic farm business incubator, Farmstart. At the same time it has created demand for their local food products by working with universities, local schools and 40 cafes and restaurants. While it receives core funding for its operations, its focus is on creating enterprises and partnerships that can sustain themselves and create a virtuous local food economy.
Walsh says that the amount of local veg it produces is still ‘minuscule’ but it is by looking at the bigger picture and creating close partnerships with public sector organisations that it’s impact can be seen.
Through close links with local primary schools, for example, it has worked out how to provide good quality local organic food for the same price as the school’s less healthy menu without cutting corners on the amount farmers are paid. ‘If you cut meat consumption by a third and use only seasonal vegetables you can make all the ingredients organic. When we scale up we can provide that good food to them at the same price.’
It supplies the University of Manchester and has run a pilot with a local NHS hospital.