Last week, as the Welsh capital basked in sun, over 200 people from 62 UK cities and 42 food alliances gathered in Cardiff for two events designed to change our approach to food.
The first was the Sustainable Food Cities conference. Our approach to the entire food system is at the centre of some our most pressing problems (obesity and other diet-related ill-health, food poverty, climate change, etc.). However, it can also be an important part of the solution and the conference sought to bring together the rapidly growing network of towns and cities to discuss a joined up approach to transforming their food culture and food system.
The day was opened with a keynote address from Councillor Huw Thomas, the Leader of Cardiff Council. In his speech, he highlighted some of the key food-related issues that Cardiff, alongside many other UK cities, faces, such as health inequalities and a rapidly growing population. According to Cllr Thomas, “equal access to good food is essential for tackling these issues and allowing for inclusive and sustainable growth.”
Cllr Thomas also spoke about some of the work that has been done in Cardiff to date, as well as announcing some exciting future projects. He highlighted examples such as the Cardiff Salad Garden, the council’s commitment to the Peas Please pledge, and the School Holiday Enrichment Programme. Looking forward, he asserted that we need to think differently about how to grow food sustainably in the city and announced that Food Cardiff members have received funding to plant 14,000 heritage fruit trees in Cardiff’s green spaces. He also announced the city’s ambition to achieve a “Silver” Sustainable Food Cities award next year and “Gold” in the near future.
Another exciting announcement that was made at the Sustainable Food Cities conference is that Cardiff, alongside thirteen other UK cities, has been awarded funding to become a Veg City. The Veg Cities campaign is about driving up veg consumption by changing things on a local level – promoting veg, growing veg, getting more veg into school meals, reducing the amount of veg that is wasted, and so much more. The campaign is due to launch officially here in the autumn.
The second conference, held the following day, was the Food Power conference. Food Power is a network of alliances which aims to strengthen local communities’ ability to reduce food poverty through solutions developed by them with the support of their peers from other communities across the UK.
The conference was the organisation’s first national event and was attended by representatives from the Food Power network, Feeding Britain, the Independent Food Aid Network, A Menu for Change, Sustainable Food Cities and many others.
As part of the event, Food Cardiff launched Building Resilience, their five-year plan to tackle food insecurity in the city. The plan aspires to build on the success of existing projects such as the School Holiday Enrichment Programme (SHEP). As the challenge of food insecurity grows, plans to mitigate its effect need to increase in ambition. This plan forms part of Food Cardiff’s broader Food Strategy for the city and as a key commitment in Cardiff’s Wellbeing Plan.
The Food Power conference also featured a keynote address from Professor Mark Drakeford, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance in the Welsh Government. Professor Drakeford spoke passionately about the rising numbers of children who are living in poverty and going hungry during the school holidays in Wales.
He praised the work of Food Cardiff in establishing SHEP and the Welsh Local Government Association for leading the national roll out. He highlighted the need for the public and third sectors to work collaboratively to do more to continue to address the problem, saying “Children only have one childhood each and they cannot wait for an upturn in the economy… We can make a difference in the lives of children in Wales. Nothing should prevent us from doing so.”
These two conferences were held in Cardiff in recognition of City’s leadership in developing local food system solutions and the role it is playing in informing national policy. It was a huge privilege to host so many fantastic partnerships and alliances all driving towards the same goal; of making the UK’s Food System the most equitable and best it can be, from the ground up.
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