July (!) and here in England we are emerging from lockdown with abandon. Not that much changes for me – I’ll continue to spend my days predominantly outside, walking to the few places I need to go and seeking out the quiet parts of the coastline away from the crowds that descended in the sun a couple of weeks ago.
I have now been back at home (in the shed) and growing vegetables longer than I was away. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my multitude of privileges, very aware that lockdown for me has (on the whole) been a joy; an opportunity to reconnect with the land I grew up in, spend time with my family, and with time and space to reflect and create. I haven’t been trapped in a flat. I don’t have anyone dependent on me for care or entertainment. I don’t have a business to keep afloat, or rent to pay. I’ve even been able to do some work online from my shed, returning (in part) to the job I left in December at Trill Farm.
I wrote some of my reflections on the inequalities in our food system that coronavirus has exposed for the Trill Farm journal, and have copied an edited version below. Posting endless photos of my abundant crops doesn’t feel right without acknowledging how privileged I am to be able to grow them in the first place.
The past few months of lockdown have been a chance for reflection for some, and a real struggle for others. As coronavirus swept across Europe, shoppers in the UK spent an extra £1 billion panic buying food and essentials over three weeks in March. The ensuing empty shelves and disrupted supply chains both nationally and internationally were symptomatic of much deeper problems in our food system.
By mid-April, food insecurity in the UK was estimated to have quadrupled, due to a combination of increased economic difficulty, a lack of food available in the shops, and isolation. By the end of April, the number of households visiting foodbanks had almost doubled compared to the same period the previous year.
Meanwhile, our farmers were still producing just as much food, but struggling to get it to markets. Dairy farmers reported washing uncollected milk down the drain. Growers including Ash and Kate at Trill Farm Garden had to rapidly turn around their growing and business plans to supply local households instead of the suddenly closed catering industry. And those kitchens with shut doors had to figure out a way to keep feeding people in their own homes, and, as Chris has in the Old Dairy Kitchen, start supplying meals to local food banks too.
While all of this has been going on, the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded many of us of our privileges and the inequality that exists in the access to food, nature and land. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) households in the UK are 1.5 times more at risk of household food insecurity, and significantly less likely to spend time in the natural environment or have access to local greenspaces.
When food is one of our closest links to nature, as well as our primary support for our health and wellbeing, this inequality is bad news for both our health and that of the planet. In response, the Landworker’s Alliance is piloting projects to test how small scale producers can provide good food to those who need it most.
Access to land and training for future growers is also limited to a privileged few though. Many begin their journeys by volunteering (for example wwoofing), which is only possible with the privilege of time to take out of studies or employment, and the safety net of savings. Trill Farm Garden are working to link up with horticultural training in urban areas to provide wider access to their traineeships.
Running concurrently to the coronavirus food shortages and raised awareness of inequality, the UK government have been debating the new Agriculture Bill, setting the standards for our food and farming industry in a post-Brexit world. A trade deal with the US is still on the table, risking imports of food produced with herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics and steroids that are banned in the UK, undermining our food standards and undercutting our farmers. The cheapest food available to the poorest members of our society will be the least healthy, strengthening the bonds between poverty, food insecurity and poor health, and making it even harder for small scale farmers to survive.
So where do we go from here? We need to build resilience in our food system. With more growers and shorter, localised supply chains, we could reduce our dependency on imports of fruits and vegetables, but we need to promote equality in access to training and land, to ensure that good food is available to the many, not the few. This is what Romy has been striving towards for the past 12 years at Trill Farm, sharing the land with other enterprises and teaching skills and inspiring responsible living. But there is always more to learn and more to do.
If you’re interested in supporting access to land and training for minority groups, check out LION (Land In Our Names). To receive or support training and advice for growers, and to find out how you can best influence the new Agriculture Bill, visit the Landworker’s Alliance. And if you can, continue to support your local farmers, growers and food producers by buying from them even when the supermarket shelves are restocked.