Making local food our future

Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, reflects on six years of Making Local Food Work and shares his top tips for making local food our future...

Peter Couchman, Chief Executive of the Plunkett Foundation, reflects on six years of Making Local Food Work and shares his top tips for making local food our future…

Making Local Food Work was a bold decision by the Big Lottery Fund to support communities who wanted to take ownership of where their food comes from. Six years on, it has supported 1,600 community food enterprises involving 7,289 producers, 10,033 volunteers and 6,623 employees.

Over the last year that work has been extended and we helped another 296 community food enterprises and 10 support organisations in the community food sector, with a collective membership base of just under 12,000. In 2013 we focused on how to help the sector become more resilient in today’s tough economic climate. For me, our work in 2013 can be summarised in two words, collaboration and resilience.

As this work comes to an end and we reflect on what has been one of the largest programmes in our history, we are left with huge admiration for our partners, Co-operatives UK, Sustain, Soil Association, Campaign to Protect Rural England, FARMA and Country Markets, and the amazing range of inspiring people from all walks of life who helped transform local food in their communities.

The programme saw local food transformed from something that specialist producers did to something we could all do. Its legacy will be those community enterprises continuing to make a difference.

My top tips for making local food our future:

Commitment – There is an exciting future for local and sustainable food. We need to get people committed to it.

Enterprise – Enterprise is often one of the most effective ways of providing a long-term solution. These enterprises must be rooted in communities, built from the ground up, and where appropriate community owned and led. They must generate social and environmental outcomes alongside economic outcomes.

Collaboration – The third generation of local food will be reliant on greater co-ordination, collaboration and co-operation between members of a local food system. We’ve seen what happens when groups pull together and help one another.  Sharing equipment, building joint brands, hosting joint promotional events, or even sharing staff.  These enterprises are tangibly stronger because of their co-operative behaviour. While worthwhile, make no mistake, it’s hard work to make this co-operation happen!

Resilience – It’s an extremely tough time for community food.  The commitment and energy within the sector is awe-inspiring, but we’ve seen the importance of good business practice.  We still firmly believe community enterprise is a resilient model for the food sector.  Our goal for 2013 was to help the community food sector become a bit more resilient so their good work can be measured in years and decades.  Through our advice, 80 per cent of our sample felt their future was more secure because of the support received by Making Local Food Work.

Making the economic case – Having a business case for connecting up is vital for the long term sustainability of local food systems.  An enterprise focus provides future sustainability.

Fairness and ethical practice – We believe that for local food to have an exciting future, it must stay true to a strong belief system.

Our work may be done on the Making Local Food Work programme, but the task of inspiring people to see that local food is something that brings people together and offers a co-operative way to meet so many needs will be part of our work for many years to come.

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