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Committing to a Sustainable Food Future: Bristol Signs the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact

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Sarah Hills is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainability at the University of the West of England (UWE).  She teaches on the MSc Sustainable Development in Practice and on BA and BSc Geography. Along with her colleague Mat Jones, Sarah is undertaking the evaluation of Phase two of the Sustainable Food Cities Programme (SFC).  SFC is a national programme funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Led by the Soil Association, Sustain and Food Matters, the aim of SFC is to bring about a fundamental change in the food system through inspiring and supporting multi-sector, city partnerships to make environmentally sustainable and healthy food a defining characteristic of where they live.

St Werburghs Primary School visit to The Community Farm

I recently took a group of MSc students to the Community Farm (TCF) in the Chew Valley. The Farm is a member owned, not-for-profit Community Benefit Society that grows organic produce and welcomes people onto the land to learn about food and farming. It provides routes to market for other local growers through a box scheme and wholesale supply to shops and restaurants. Through a busy programme of community engagement, volunteering and partnership working with Earthwise, Ecowild, Bristol Drugs Project and others, the Farm has enabled mental health improvement, children’s learning, and rehabilitation activities for many hundreds of people. TCF is an inspirational example of how food and farming can play a central role in creating a sustainable community.

Yet despite this enormous potential, fostering the conditions for a sustainable food system is not well supported in public policy. In Bristol (as in many places) the sustainable food agenda has largely been driven by an incredibly passionate and talented group of activists working with the bare minimum of resources and tools. Under the umbrella of Bristol Food Network and in collaboration with Bristol City Council, they have brought about some important developments in the past decade; most notably the creation of the Bristol Food Policy Council (the first of its kind in the UK) in 2011 and the Good Food Charter and the Good Food Plan for Bristol. But sustainable food is an incredibly complex and rapidly evolving arena. As we have seen with other sustainability issues such as climate change, plastics and air pollution, however skillful and valiant the work of campaigners in bringing these issues to the public domain and in helping to frame solutions, ultimately sustained and well-resourced policy and action is needed in order to bring about meaningful change.

In this context, signing of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) this week marks a significant moment in the city’s sustainable food journey. Bristol now joins 176 global cities that are committed to changing the food system through local policy and action. Key to the MUFPP Framework is the commitment of cities to work in cross-sectoral partnerships to integrate food into social, economic and environmental policy.

In signing the Pact the city’s administration is signalling that the centre of gravity of Bristol’s Good Food movement has shifted. It shows that food is now more closely aligned with local democracy and reinforces some of the positive developments of the past few years that culminated most recently in the publishing of Bristol City Council’s Good Food Standard for Procurement of Food and Catering Services. The local authority is a key delivery partner in its own right with potential to integrate food into key policy areas such as economic development, spatial planning and parks and open spaces and to review and deepen its significance in areas such as procurement, public health and social care, schools and waste management. By moving more formally into a leadership role on food, the city council gives added legitimacy to the sustainable food agenda and hopefully this will encourage other key delivery agents such as the Local Economic Partnership, local businesses as well as the universities, the NHS and neighbouring local authorities to play an even more significant role in the city’s existing food partnership.

This is an important moment for Bristol. In 2015 the city was awarded Silver status by the Sustainable Food Cities (SFC) programme in recognition of the strategic framework put in place by the volunteer-led Food Policy Council and the myriad initiatives across the city to promote sustainable food. Bristol is now working towards becoming the first city in the UK to achieve an SFC Gold Award. Signing the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact communicates to a global audience that the full weight of the mayor and the city council is behind this work , building on the progress of the last decade.

What’s needed now is for organisations and communities to really get behind this. Bristol Green Capital Partnership is developing a scheme to enable and encourage organisations across the city to make changes to their own food practices and support local initiatives, as part of the ‘Going for Gold’ bid. They are currently looking for partners and supporters for the programme, so if your organisation is interested in playing a key role in Bristol become a leading sustainable food city, please contact Claire at claire@bristolgreencapital.org.

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