Grow your own food revolution plans to seed unused land

5/1/2010 Guardian  The government plans a landbank to pinpoint unused plots where communities can grow their own food.The government plans to launch a “grow your own” revolution by encouraging people to set up temporary allotments or community gardens on land awaiting development or other permanent use.
It aims to develop a “meanwhile” lease to formalise such arrangements between landowners and voluntary groups and is considering establishing a “land bank” to broker better links and ensure plots are not left idle.

Ministers believe the move could foster community spirit and skills as well as improve physical and mental health. Hilary Benn, the environment and food secretary, will announce the plans
tomorrow as a part of a long-awaited and much-trailed package to ensure Britain grows more food, wastes less, reduces its dependence on imports, and leads the way in reforming the EU’s common agricultural and fishing policies. About one in three people in the UK grows fruit and vegetables, according to a survey commissioned by Benn’s department. Ministers hope the voluntary sector
can help build on examples such as that set by the National Trust, which hopes to have established 1,000 allotment plots on restored kitchen gardens, agricultural land and vacant spaces, in its varied property portfolio by 2012.

The cross-departmental policy report, Food 2030, will also support further farmers’ and community markets to boost consumption of local produce. But, compared with the government’s own sustainable development commission, the report appears more cautious about changing agriculture, by, for instance, encouraging less reliance on intensive meat and dairy production.
The Food 2030 report will acknowledge that livestock production is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but say that the evidence that would allow consumers to decide whether or not to cut the environmental footprint of their diet, is still unclear. “Not all types of meat have the same impacts, neither do all systems of production,” it will state, while adding that livestock farming could be the only economically productive activity possible in some hilly areas.

In a forward to the report Gordon Brown speaks of the need to ensure the £80bn-a-year food industry thrives, but adds: “We can’t carry on just as we are. We need to produce more food without damaging the natural resources – air, soil, water and marine resources, biodiversity and climate – that we all depend on. We need to feed more people globally, many of whom want, or need to eat, a better diet.” Emma Hockridge, policy manager of the Soil Association, said: ” Consumers are feeling increasingly confused by the proliferation of diet-related advice doled out by government departments. The debate about meat encapsulates this. Whilst it is right that we need to eat less meat overall to achieve sustainable food production, red meat, as long as it is from grass-fed livestock, has a critical role to play in minimising carbon emissions from farming. This is because grasslands for grazing represent vitally important carbon stores.

“The government makes an excellent suggestion that publicly owned land should be converted to growing spaces. The Soil Association-led Food for Life Partnership (FFLP) is already leading the way by encouraging schools to grow their own food. FFLP gives communities access to seasonal, local and organic food, and to the skills they need to cook and grow fresh food for themselves. This also
encourages people to make the link between their food choices and the impact on their health and that of the planet.” The campaign group Sustain said the report recommended only “soft” measures,
such as wasting less food, and avoided tough issues, such as reducing children’s consumption of junk food by, for example, properly protecting youngsters from marketing.

Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator of Sustain, said: “The government’s food vision is hardly worthy of the name. The document proposes a series of minor tweaks to our fundamentally unsustainable food system and ignores obvious ideas to help British farmers, like improving the food that government itself buys.”What we need is an ambitious programme of investment in British farming so that
it can produce healthy and sustainable food. If the government is serious about making our food system sustainable, it must put its money where its mouth is and only spend taxpayers’ money on good-quality and sustainable food. What we have got is more of the same policies that have caused the food system’s current problems.”

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