Friday, 9 December 2011

Steve Garrett on Local Food in Cardiff

Earlier this week, Steve Garrett (Founding Director and Special Projects Manager for Riverside Community Market Association [RCMA] Social Enterprise Ltd) gave a public lecture in the ornate Glamorgan Building Committee Rooms of Cardiff University’s School of City and Regional Planning. He talked about his experiences with local food and Farmers’ Markets, lessons from which could help Cardiff achieve its 'Sustainable City' planning vision. A key challenge is to develop a more sustainable food system with increased consumption of locally-produced food.

Steve established the Riverside Farmers’ Market in 1998, based on markets he had seen in Canada. Riverside was to become the first of a new wave of street markets in the UK where local farmers and artisan producers sold directly to the public.

However, it soon became apparent that most of the people shopping at the Riverside Farmers’ Market were not from the local area; they were coming from more affluent areas, such as Pontcanna. RCMA subsequently established Farmers’ Markets in Roath, Rhiwbina and Llandaff North. These attracted more people from their immediate localities. Nevertheless, overall, there remains a sense that Farmers’ Markets are catering for a certain type of person (like the stereotypical affluent, middle-class “foodie”).

People who regard themselves as “non-Farmers’ Market people” have said that they do not necessarily feel comfortable shopping at them. Steve contrasted this with the situation in France, where everyone shops at markets regardless of their class. High footfall therefore does not necessarily equate with successful markets. The Farmers’ Market in Newport’s John Frost Square, for example, closed after three years. This is also the case when markets are located where people are not expecting to buy food (IKEA and The Red Dragon Centre being recent examples); although cakes always sell well, apparently.

There is also a perception that Farmers’ Markets are more expensive than supermarkets. Although this is true for some value-added or artisan products, it is not necessarily the case for fruit and vegetables. Value for money and quality also need to be taken into account. An artificially pumped-up frozen supermarket chicken may be cheaper, but an equivalently-sized organic Farmers’ Market chicken is likely to taste better and go further when feeding a family.

To broaden the customer base for local food, therefore, perceptions and attitudes must be changed. New approaches include greater community involvement, changing people’s views on quality and cost, and to establish a greater range of appropriate outlets to make locally-produced food more accessible.

Food systems are more than just about retail: they are also about culture and community. The mainstream supermarket sector will always have a bigger retail advertising budget, but local food schemes are more community-oriented. RCMA Social Enterprise Ltd found that a good place to start is schools. Children are taken on farm-trips, where they get to eat fresh vegetables (a novelty for many kids). Meanwhile, role models, such as Olympic-medal winning athletes from south Wales, visit schools to promote Real Food (with an emphasis on fresh local produce) and its importance to health. This provides an important alternative to the mainstream message, epitomized for Steve by the insanity of having McDonalds as a lead sponsor of the Olympics.

There is a potential problem with supply. If local food markets become more successful, then more food needs to be grown locally. To this end RCMA has established the Riverside Community Garden in Cardiff, and the 10-acre Riverside Market Garden close to Cardiff that will supply Farmers’ Markets stalls and their Vegetable Box scheme.

Much more food could be grown within Cardiff. Steve cites the WW2 Dig for Victory campaign, when Roath Park was ploughed and turned into productive allotments that enhanced the city’s food security. For a modern response to food production in the coming post-oil age, Cuba is the place to look. After Russia turned off its oil supply, the country turned to intensive, urban, organic agriculture with great success. Around 80% of Havana’s vegetables and salads, for example, are grown in organic urban agricultural redevelopment schemes.

In Britain, communities like Todmorden in West Yorkshire are leading the way. They are planning to become self-sufficient in food by 2018. Community Gardens have proliferated (along with “help yourself” signs). The community has been drawn together, so everyone feels part of this local food scheme. It has been made possible through the political will of the local Council. Steve contrasted this with the current situation in Cardiff, where there is a long waiting lists for allotments.

Steve believes Community Food Security should incorporate the concept of Food Sovereignty, whereby food is produced locally and the means of producing that food are put into the hands of the people themselves. Community Gardens also provide education and training opportunities, so local food-producing expertise grows. The Riverside Market Garden is a community-owned social enterprise.

To make local food more accessible, a range of means can be employed to move the food closer to people’s homes. Vegetable Box schemes are proving popular, while RCMA will soon be selling from a mobile shop that can take local food into new areas of the city. A People’s Supermarket (Siop y Bobl) is planning to open in late 2012 in Cardiff, which instead of being owned by a multinational corporation will be owned by its local community. This will stock local food, along with a full range of convenience food and also non-food items. Projects like these should show people that high-quality locally-produced food is not more expensive and it is for everyone.


Riverside Market Garden:
http://www.riversidemarketgarden.co.uk/
Future Cardiff University City and Regional Planning events:
http://www.cplan.cf.ac.uk/events/

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