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Patrick Holden

Patrick Holden

Urgent need for a sustainable food system

Energise Sussex Coast and Transition Town Hastings recently organized a talk and supper event at The Beacon with organic farmer, Patrick Holden, who set up the Sustainable Food Trust. Our food industry system isn’t sustainable, says Holden – and, in order to avert a food crisis, there is an urgent need to transition to a system that is more appropriate to our planetary conditions. HOT’s Zelly Restorick writes.

The message is: our current food system is basically out of sync, out of balance and cannot continue ad infinitum – and, as we are all part of the network, as human consumers, we cannot only sit back and wait for government and the corporate world to legislate and change their ways, we all have to change too.

Listening to Patrick, Anna and Abby talk about the need to transition our local and national food systems to something more sustainable, I felt better informed, more aware, but also somewhat apprehensive, wondering about the future of our food – supply, production, distribution – in the coming years. For me, for you, for all of us in Hastings and the wider world beyond. From what they said, it sounds like the situation isn’t looking very good, taking into account our actions and the repercussions, our increasing numbers and depleted resources and how the world’s food systems are generally out of balance.

The only way forward

Having worked for 45 years on his organic farm in Wales, been involved with the Soil Association and being aware of the depleting effects mankind has had – is having – on the planet’s resources, Holden talked seriously and passionately about the imminent, multiple threats to the future of our food systems. Transition to a more sustainable food system is, he said, the best – and only – way forward.

Patrick began his talk referencing Johan Rockström, from The EAT Forum in Stockholm, who says that the earth is a functioning eco-system; humanity has drawn on its resources at an unsustainable rate with serious consequences: greenhouse gases, bio-diversity, extinction, soil, water, nitrogen in agriculture, emissions… The collective sum of our transgressions have brought us to crisis point and we need to make urgent transformative changes in our food systems and networks, staying within ‘planetary boundaries’ ie using resources respectfully and wisely, transitioning to a sustainable food system.

Holden stated that our current food systems, if they remain unchanged, will create a nationwide food crisis. He suggests that we have 13 to 16 more harvests left before we experience some serious problems, due to: depletion of nutrients and minerals in our soil because of over-usage, nitrogen-based fertilizers, chemical additives and the use of toxic pesticides; the pollution of our air, earth and water; and the overwhelming demands made on declining planetary resources by the growing population.

Despite the urgency of the situation and awareness of the impending threat, Holden stated that government and the corporate sphere have no firm plan of action.

Poor quality food is fed to the financially poor, whereas the rich are able to buy better quality, organic and specialist food produce. This gap, Holden stated, urgently needs to be decreased, so that everyone can eat well, healthily and affordably. This would lead to huge savings in terms of NHS expenditure and benefits.

Holden says that he remains optimistic that solutions can be found. One way would be to only give the farming subsidy of £100 per acre to those farmers who are non-polluting, where building public health would be rewarded. Polluting farmers would then need to change their methods. What would help? Crop rotation; replenishing the soil with a grass and clover mix; resting the fields rather than continuous growth; more small farms and local food networks.

He also advocates: a circular economy where nothing is wasted; moving away from fossil fuels; no nitrogen fertilisers; no dirty water… creating a food chain system which works in harmony with the planet’s finite resources.

Local food networks

Local permaculturist Anna Locke spoke about developing a more sustainable local food system, referencing the local 1066 Food Network initiative, where all those involved in the local food chain are more easily able to communicate and connect, and the Food Hub initiative at Rock House in Hastings, where a baker, community kitchen, shop and coffee bar would be based.

Abby Nicol spoke about PeaPod Veg, the organic veg box delivery scheme, the land she farms with partner Thad Skews and the support they receive via The Landworkers’ Alliance, the food producers’ union and makers of the thought provoking film, In Our Hands

1066 Food Network Facebook page

The Sustainable Food Trust

Posted 07:50 Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018 In: Campaigns

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