Food, glorious food sovereignty

6th October 2011 by

My cycle ride to work takes me through Greenwich Park, and at this time of year, even just after dawn, you can hardly move for (mostly older) people scanning the ground intently and filling bulging bags of sweet chestnuts.

Extremely local food: Greenwich Park chestnuts

I’m a sucker for foraging, too, and have to resist the urge to leap off my bike and join in, because if I started I’d lose track of time and never make it in to the Otesha office that day. But to me these foragers make a beautiful sight, and I’ve been pondering why.

It’s not just the setting of Greenwich Park, with its ancient trees, autumn colour and long shadows, though of course that helps. It’s something beautiful that foraging shares with ‘growing your own’ and with truly locally produced and sold food: knowing your food from field (or tree, or hedgerow) to plate, having control and influence over how what you eat is grown or gathered, transported, prepared and cooked.

That idea of local control over food production is at the heart of the ‘food sovereignty’ movement, which is taking an important place in the debate about how food, social justice and the environment are interconnected.

The concept arose out of the landless peasants’ movements of South America, particularly La Via Campesina, and focuses on the need to return control over and access to land, seeds, water and finance to local, independent producers. That’s a big challenge in the face of a food system dominated and controlled by agribusiness and mega-retailers, but many see it as crucial to building a truly sustainable food system.

A few of us from Otesha went to a fantastic night of films and talks on food sovereignty recently, organised by 6 Billion Ways – you can still watch the films online here.

Much of the debate about food sovereignty focuses on so-called ‘developing world’, and deals with poorer countries’ struggle against unfair trade rules imposed by the rich countries. But could the concept take off here, too?

Is there a need for a UK food sovereignty movement?

Why not? Agribusiness and the supermarkets dominate here just as they do elsewhere. Small farmers are going bust and being swallowed up into corporate-owned megafarms at alarming rates. Young people who want to make a go of working the land find it is priced way out of their reach. A new survey says 9 out of 10 Europeans see buying local as a good thing, but half say it’s too hard to figure out what’s local and what is not.

So why is ‘food sovereignty’ not on the agenda in a big way here? Well, perhaps it will be before long. Later this month we’ll be at the Houses of Parliament (they do let tree-huggers like us in sometimes) for ‘Food Sovereignty Day’, hearing how to “build the food sovereignty movement in the UK” and learning about what is already going on in this country to “challenge the dominant, corporate agribusiness model”.

Will anything come of it? I hope so. How we produce, distribute and eat food, and who controls those actions, is crucial to our environment, health and the bottom line, so the food sovereignty movement is looking like a really important development in the wider debate about sustainability and justice.

Tartan Trail Adventures: part two

23rd August 2011 by

Hello hello hello

Warm welcomes to the second installment of Otesha’s Tartan Trail adventure!  What a whirlwind training we had at the wonderful Whitmuir Organic Farm... Flooded out of our field within the first few days we relocated to our new home – a big dry barn, camped up near the pigs and later joined by an army of baby turkeys, who we’d helped herd into the neighbouring barn to tweet to us through the night.

We had a varied programme, from our first read through of the script, to conflict resolution workshops, to bike maintenance, to writing up our food mandate: what to eat and where to buy as agreed by the team.  Tartan Trailers will abide by a “flexigan” – flexible vegan – diet, buying as locally and organically as feasibly possible!

There was a whole lot of laughter and new friendships were made – including jolly moments jamming with guitars, a tambourine and our new friend Doug (a charming bloke in charge of Whitmuir’s livestock).

A highlight of the week was our first excursion with the trailers – off we tootled to Penicuik where we indulged in long hot showers (the first in FIVE days!).  Well… let’s make this an honest blog… two thirds of us indulged in cleanliness whilst the remaining four continued to delight us with their “natural” odours since bike repairs took priority. We certainly were smelly but happy campers.

Training week concluded with a magical day with Calu, Edd, and Iona who organised an impromptu treasure hunt, which had us running across fields, scouring chicken sheds, and creeping into a teepee, until we discovered an antique treasure chest filled with delicious fairtrade chocolate and a mysterious invitation to don our glad rags for a delightful dinner party, accompanied by instructions to bring along bike lights…

It is important to note at this point that the Tartan Trailers’ “glad rags” include face glitter, underwear over muddy trousers, “dresses” created from sarongs and many other exciting bits such as ….wait for it…a CLEAN shirt.

…De de dah….  and our team were bestowed with our upcycled Otesha t-shirts in an array of colours, followed by a jolly knees up and our very first one minute bike light disco!!!

Phewee – what a week! It was then a farewell to Edd and Iona, and a day off before the big pack up and goodbye to Whitmuir farm as we mounted our two wheeled steeds and swooped towards Edinburgh with our first performance at the Fringe in sight!

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