#NourishElectionAsks – Ask 6: Empowering Communities

The elections have come around quickly! This is our sixth blog on our election asks; last but certainly not least, concluding with a call for community empowerment and strategic support for the community food sector in Scotland. You can find the other blogs of this series here: Holyrood Election 2016.


From consumers to citizens

We want to see all people in Scotland empowered and supported to act not merely as consumers but as citizens, actively shaping the food system we’re part of –at all levels, starting in our own communities and localities.

Photo by Clem Sandison

Photo by Clem Sandison

As consumers we are mostly at the mercy of a food system that only really cares about us in the brief moment we appear at the counter. It is focused on profit rather than on feeding us well or caring responsibly for the people and places implicated in bringing food to our plates. Those of us who don’t have money to purchase food are mostly left to seek charity.

When we realise we can act as citizens, however, we come together, we collaborate, we organise, we take things (back) in our own hands. This takes time and energy but we have seen this happening in the community food sector in Scotland and in the community sector as a whole, which have been growing considerably in strength and reach over the past decades.

Nourish wants to see the community sector thrive with communities owning, managing and supporting activity throughout the circular economy of food – urban and rural farms, bakeries, mills, apiaries, fishing boats, community gardens, allotments, closed-loop fish farms, orchards, shops, cafes and composters. We believe in a mixed economy of food, as part of which the private, public and community sectors all play a role in making sure the human right to food is fulfilled.


Why we need a strong community food sector

It’s not (only) about the food, as Rachel Gray from The Stop in Toronto never forgets to point out. Communities bring to food all the other stuff too– sharing a meal, doing useful work together, recognising and exchanging skills, fusing diverse cultures, building community assets, creating and reclaiming places between the domestic and the commercial, and looking out for community members who need extra help.

Hundreds of grassroots, volunteer-led organisations across Scotland dig shared gardens, organise shared meals, provide emergency food parcels, set up food co-operatives, plant and care for orchards, run festivals, support small farms, bake bread, share seeds, run breakfast clubs and lunch clubs, recycle surplus food, teach cooking and growing skills, and run shops and cafes. Some of these organisations just do food while others do food as part of their wider mission, whether that is health, community education, arts, childcare or leisure. Collectively they demonstrate just how powerful food is as a vehicle for social change.


A call for action

For the community food sector to make its fullest contribution to the wellbeing of people in Scotland, Nourish calls for the next parliament to:

  1. Establish a Community Food Development Fund, distributed locally on the basis of population and need, to enable the community sector to offer emergency access to food in a dignified and inclusive way as part of a wider range of community services. Part of this could be the development of a network of “community food hubs”.
  2. Include the right to healthy and sustainable food in the National Performance Framework and Single Outcome Agreements, and for local authorities to work closely with the community sector to deliver this outcome.
  3. Support local authorities to use the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act (which was passed in July 2015) creatively to support the many different forms of community growing (allotments, orchards, gardens, etc.) and the decontamination and reclaiming of derelict and vacant land. Communities should be central to the development of local Food Growing Strategies as required by the Act.
  4. To work with local authorities to reduce rents and rates for community shops, cafes and growing initiatives, and improve access to schools and other public buildings for use by local food groups.
  5. To support a “national farmland trust”, together with the Scottish Land Fund, local authorities and social investors, which would work with communities to buy farms that can be rented securely to new farmers producing local food, following pioneering, international examples such as Terre de Liens in France and the Agrarian Trust in the USA. Changes should be made within planning arrangements to protect agricultural land for food growing, with specific attention paid to peri-urban land.
  6. To provide support to the community food sector to scale up – for example, through working more closely with farmers to create short food chains, through expanding community food co-operatives, and through developing joint marketing and training programmes for community-run food gardens, orchards, bakeries or other artisan work, and shops.


Food democracy

All these actions need to be backed up by systemic measures facilitating genuine and wide-spread community empowerment in Scotland, as set out in the recent report ‘Local People Leading’ by the Scottish Community Alliance including step-changes in local democracy and the way public services are run.

In their manifestos, the SNP, Labour and the Greens have all committed to new legislation on food and farming. We welcome this cross-party agreement on the need for change, but we believe that any new legislation can only become truly transformative if it is underpinned by food democracy, which resonates with Nicola’s Sturgeon’s recently announced commitment to Open Government and co-production of policy – coined “The Scottish Approach”.

It is through politicians collaborating with communities and wider civil society in the design and implementation of food policies that we will create the best result. Food democracy is part and parcel of community empowerment.


This blog is adapted from Nourish Scotland’s contribution to the Local People Leading policy paper series brought together by by the Scottish Community Alliance, of which Nourish is a member.