Our Response to the Glasgow Food Growing Strategy Consultation
Glasgow City Council has a legal responsibility under the Community Empowerment Act to publish a food growing strategy by October 2017. The guidance for what this should be is limited but it should cover identification of land that can be made available for individual and community scale production of horticultural crops, as well as a plan on how to increase provision for these food growing activities. Engagement on the strategy is currently being carried out by Here+Now.
We think creating a really good strategy for sustainable food growing in Glasgow is something of great importance for a really wide range of reasons including:
- Community growing is a great vehicle for bringing communities together to tackle all sorts of issues from improving the safety and value of neighbourhoods, to reducing social exclusion and improving health & well being.
- Growing food or taking part in community gardening can engage people in wider social issues such as food sustainability and the impact of food choices have on the world at large.
- Purchase of locally grown food keeps money spent within the area which at scale could have a massive impact through the local multiplier effect. Instead of sending our food spending out of the city we can keep it here, where it will be spent again and again.
- Food growing has the potential to create significant levels of sustainable local employment. We estimate that £25k of vegetable sales at farm gate prices can support one full time post at the Living Wage. In our experience, a productive well managed 4 hectare market garden could support at least 10 jobs.
- Tackling climate change at a local level – food production accounts for around third of CO2 emissions worldwide. Developing local food growing based on organic, sustainable principles will reduce emissions compared to conventional agriculture and reduce food transportation/refrigeration.
- Adapting to climate change – we need a local food system to ensure security of supply as agriculture is squeezed elsewhere in the world by changes in climate – think of the courgette crisis of spring 2017…
- Local food growing has the potential to provide habitat for wildlife.
- Local food growing can make use of local resources efficiently such as compost produced by municipal waste and excess heat from domestic and industrial uses.
Giving the cross-cutting importance and potential of local food growing we feel disappointed that the the consultation is so focused on the social benefits of local food growing and as a result focuses too much on allotments and community gardens. Responses through the online survey and open consultation were funnelled into this context. This prevents a wider conversation about what the Glasgow Food Growing Strategy should include.
As a result we feel the need to put forward our views in this response.
Who are we?
Locavore is a Glasgow based not-for-private-profit social enterprise food grower, retailer and wholesaler. In the last five years we have focused our time and energy into pushing forward activities we believe will help build a local sustainable food system.
We’re now doing quite a bit:
- We have established three organic market gardens which provide an array for social benefits while being economically viable.
- We serve almost 400 customers with our local organic veg boxes each week.
- We have a grocery store that serves 2250 customers a month.
- We supply other local cafés and shops with our produce wholesale.
- We directly provide employment to 23 people.
- We run our Good Food Fund which provides emergency food to those in need both directly, and through donations to other food banks.
- We train the local commercial growers of the future through our Grow the Growers programme.
In the grand scheme of things we are a small local business but at the same time we are an example of the beginnings of what a sustainable local food system can look like, and perhaps a glimmer of what it could become. Conditions for initiatives like us to start up, grow and scale could be made a lot better with the right support, strategy and ambition.
We think our story and activities gives us a unique perspective in Glasgow about what could be possible, and what the council could support through the Food Growing Strategy and beyond.
Our response to the consultation:
Allotments and Community Gardens
Opportunities to become involved in the consultation had a very limited scope and for the most part funnelled input into community gardens or allotments. We feel this pushes Food Growing into a cute, niche, cul-de-sac from which it will become hard for it to be taken seriously as an activity with all the potential it has to create sustainable livelihoods which can feed this city, while providing an array of social, environmental and economic benefits.
We think further allotment provision is fantastic if there’s demand for it and they are a small part of the path towards a more sustainable local food system. We disagree that they should be the key focus, and have concerns that the council might see provision of allotments as the top priority for creating a Food Growing Strategy and sustainable local food network. Outside of desperate times they will only ever provide a small amount of food for a small amount of dedicated people.
We think community gardens are fantastic, and although Glasgow already has a well-established network there is room for more. Community gardens can deliver such a wide array of social benefits from tidying up derelict sites and improving neighbourhoods to providing opportunities for people to meet, learn and engage in the community. Community gardens are also fantastic springboards for getting people engaged in local food and sustainability.
One thing community gardens aren’t particularly good at is producing meaningful quantities of food and doing this in ways which aren’t heavily reliant on funding.
What we actually want to say
We need to find a way to feed the 600,000 people of Glasgow in a way which is sustainable and fit for the future.
For us this is the context of what we do and should also be the vision of a Glasgow Food Growing Strategy.
Local sustainable food growing has the potential to deliver so many of the outcomes we need as a society, from tackling climate change and becoming more resilient to creating sustainable livelihoods and healthier communities.
Despite the limited scope of the Food Growing Strategy, the council does appear to have a broader vision for a sustainable future. It has repeatedly shown its commitment to making Glasgow a more sustainable and resilient city. In 2015 the city’s application to European Green Capital was short-listed. This coincided with the ‘Year of Green’.
Through the ‘Sustainable Glasgow’ initiative the Council aims ‘to make this City one of the greenest in Europe (through) diverse projects improving quality of life in the city, boosting the economy and protecting the environment.’
In addition to this, Glasgow is one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, which led to the Resilient Glasgow Strategy. The paper outlines wide-ranging goals in various sectors to make Glasgow more resilient. For example:
“We will facilitate the development of creative and innovative new urban solutions that add value to the physical, social and economic fabric of Glasgow. We will work with start-ups, educational institutions, creative organisations and our local businesses to develop skills and capacity across all sectors of the city in a way that support sustainable development and increases urban resilience.” – Our Resilient Glasgow Strategy
There are also broader plans to make use of derelict land: One stated goal is “unlock[ing] the community, environmental and economic potential of derelict and vacant sites in Glasgow”.
The council pledges to support support business innovation by “providing additional business incubator and grow-on space for entrepreneurs across the region enabling more small and medium enterprises to grow.”
We feel the Food Growing Strategy consultation sells short the council’s own ambitions.
We have a vision of a well-developed, mainstream, local food economy in which most of the fresh produce consumed in Glasgow is grown in and around the city by socially focused businesses and individuals.
In our vision local and organic food steps outside of its current niche by becoming the standard. To do this it must have high-level backing and support from the council and over time become competitive with long travelled conventional food in every way. This includes winning on social, economic and environmental value; as well as taste and price.
We think there are three stages to this:
- A well developed network of community gardens and allotments which engage people in food and the complex web of issues that surround it and the mainstream supply chain. Buy in at the highest level for a sustainable local food network.
- Establishment of market gardens, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and other socially focused models of horticultural production. This needs done in tandem with development of the market and supply chain.
- A well developed, price competitive local food network in which much of the produce eaten in the city is grown in and around it. This stage would include many larger, highly efficient, horticultural operations which provide large volumes of organic produce locally into conventional wholesale markets.
We feel as a city we are currently operating somewhere between stage one and two. We have a great network of community gardens and lots of social capital within these to progress further.
There have been some dabbles into the second stage by various organisations but as of yet Locavore is the only one that has been able to maintain this level of operation in a financially viable way. To our knowledge there are many more wanting to take forward second stage projects. In particular a large proportion of participants on our New Growers programme are keen to take forward their growing experience further.
Stage three seems much further away from what we see on the ground, however with the right support and access to markets it is not a massive jump to move from stage two to three. As an organisation we certainly feel confident we could do what is needed to scale-up if we could secure an appropriate market, land, and the capital required to make the investments needed to become more competitive.
What the Council can do
To bring forward the vision outlined above in as quick and efficient manner as possible we would like the Council to:
Understand it, believe in it, and think big
We feel from the consultation approach that the Council has taken it doesn’t quite understand the potential of what it is dealing with yet. We really need them to understand the potential of food as a vehicle for building a better future for Glasgow.
We need the Council to stop thinking small and pushing local food growing into the cute little niches of community gardens and allotments. This will stunt the potential of food growing initiatives to move beyond stage one and start feeding the city.
We need the Council to believe in our more ambitious vision of food growing in Glasgow and to be more ambitious and outspoken about how big an opportunity we have through food to create a wealthier, healthier, more sustainable city.
Let in Enterprise
Glasgow City Council should look at its Food Growing Strategy as an opportunity to encourage socially focused enterprise which will contribute to the economic, as well as social and cultural, vibrancy of the city.
We believe this should focus on promoting, enabling and encouraging social enterprises, co-ops and community owned businesses to take on land or property to develop financially viable food businesses. This should include encouraging established community gardens to become more financially sustainable.
Currently there seems to be some fear of people making money from selling food, which again pushes food growing into the cute corner that stifles it. This encourages projects to take vulnerable routes dependent on funding and moves the focus away from food production.
Open Up Land
The council need to make more land available for food growing of all kinds including allotments, community gardens, CSA’s and market gardens.
Leases and ‘permission to use’ should be open to all types of food growing use including enterprise with a social focus, see above.
Access to land needs to be for a meaningful amount of time so that the benefit of the project outweighs the investment. This is particularly true for enterprises which aim to be economically viable. No sensible entrepreneur would agree to grow vegetables on land they have access to for only 12 months. We feel that making anything less than 5 years available is unhelpful as enterprise needs time to establish, invest, and grow.
Rent at an appropriate level could be charged for reinvestment into other projects.
Give Financial Support
Initiatives like Stalled Spaces could be expanded to provide start up funding or low interest loans to new small scale commercial growers who are socially motivated; such at the alumni of our New Growers programme. Low interest loans could be used to make limited funds go further by encouraging those who receive them to spend them like investments rather than birthday presents. It would also give return to the council to support further projects along with income from appropriate levels of rent.
If we want to have sustainable food available for everyone at competitive prices, we need local growing to operate at a scale. The council has scale though catering in schools, leisure centres and museums.
If the council is serious about wanting to be sustainable city, it should put its money where its mouth is and source food from local, sustainable producers. Instead of pushing local food growing into a cute corner giving it a subsidy to be pretty it should give it a contract to supply which would allow projects to scale-up, create viable jobs and actually deliver all the stuff in those sustainability plans.
This could mean re-jigging the procurement tender processes and weighing it to favour local, sustainable producers, or offering smaller contracts below those which require tender to local growers.
Splitting up the contracts would also be a good call beyond the food growing. For example ending the single contract to Cordia to let interesting independent/ social enterprise/ community owned cafés in which could pair with comparably scaled growers.
We hope the Council finds this consultation response useful and opens up some perspectives which might not have reached them before. We also hope they appreciate that as a fairly small and unfunded organisation it has been a big deal for us to take the time out from doing the work that pays our wages to put together this short response. We have done this because we believe their Growing Strategy has potential to do a lot of good if they are open enough to the potential of food growing, and ambitious enough to push the movement forward.
To further this we would like to offer an open invitation to all departments of the Council to visit us in our gardens, shop and office to get further perspective on how the potential for food growing in Glasgow looks from where we are, and to discuss what is going on elsewhere in the world that could be emulated here.
Our door is open, come in for a chat, we’ll make you a local, organic, social enterprise, living wage, local multiplier inducing, future proofing, climate change solving lunch…
Give us a ring: 0141 423 8685