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by Claire Milne, Bristol Food Hub

You may be aware that an exciting social shift is going on in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol. Formerly known for its massage parlours and shut up shop fronts, the past few years have seen a blossoming of creativity, cultural diversity and innovative projects and businesses. Most of these, unlike the recent intrusion of Tesco, are grassroots organisations with the best interests of the community at their core.

Bristol Food Hub, set up in 2007, has been instrumental in putting food on the agenda in Stokes Croft, and we have big plans unfolding. We imagine a community where local, healthy food is available at affordable prices, where people are engaged with and aware of where their food comes from and excited about the tastes and textures of a multicultural, sustainable and independent food-system.

We imagine a community whose health is vibrant thanks to being nourished by seasonal food brimming with nutrients. We are determined to help create a new food system that will ensure that our grandchildren are able to afford a healthy diet. That’s the thrust of our project Eat The Change. It’s over-ambitious and we don’t care!

It all began in 2008 when Bristol Food Hub ran a pilot project challenging Bristolians to eat only local organic food, free from plastic packaging, for a week. Hundreds of people took up the challenge despite the fact it was clear from the offset that it was going to be very tricky indeed. The difficulties people faced highlighted the gap between the appetite we have for local, organic food and its availability in our community. Based on this initial project, Eat The Change has transformed and grown to encompass three exciting new areas of work: Eat The Change – the research phase, Food For Mood and the development of an alternative supermarket.

Eat The Change – The research phase

After evaluating the 2008 project, it became clear that in order to make real, lasting changes we needed to have a clearer picture of our community’s current food choices – what do we buy?, where from?, and what are the underlying values and attitudes around food? In light of this we are carrying out a new piece of community research looking at exactly these questions, shortly to be followed by research with local food shops and cafés to explore where they source their food from. The survey will shape and inform both the alternative supermarket and the next stage of Eat the Change.

Food For Mood

Food for Mood is an 8-week course supporting people with mental health difficulties to improve their wellbeing by transforming their relationships with food – enabling them to make healthier and more sustainable food choices.
Food is responsible for a third of climate change. Mental health problems cost UK taxpayers some £1 billion each year and research clearly shows the direct relationship between food and mental health. Tackling one of these crises in isolation from the other is to ignore the inherent link between the two. The solution to both these crises lies in making a reconnection with nature so that people become aware of our inherent interdependence. Food is an extremely powerful entry-point and vehicle to enable this reconnection.

The unhealthy foods that play a large role in causing mental health problems are also the very foods that tend to carry a heavy carbon footprint. Food for Mood supports people to make simple changes that will improve their mental health at the same time as contributing to the creation of a more resilient food and farming system that works in harmony with nature. We have already delivered this course with Rethink in Kingswood and Second Step, and have applied for funding to roll it out with a range of other partners at the end of the Summer.

Alternative supermarket for Stokes Croft

There is a strong desire for an alternative model to the supermarkets currently sweeping through Bristol, especially in Stokes Croft. This idea has been seized upon by a group of committed local organisers working in conjunction with the People’s Supermarket in London.

Our vision is to create a commercially sustainable social enterprise that achieves its growth and profitability targets whilst operating within values based on community development and cohesion – now and in the future.

The intention is to offer an alternative food shop, which directly connects an urban community with the local farming community, and helps transform people’s relationships with food. By allowing members to make decisions about what food is sold, the community will become involved in the real-life challenges that exist when trying to source sustainable food at affordable prices. This process will usefully highlight just how unrealistic supermarket prices are.

The project will make ethical food more affordable by getting members to contribute a few pounds and hours a month in return for a 10% discount on all products

What is so exciting about this project is that it achieves several goals at the same time. It will not be another inaccessible health food shop, instead it will aim to sell ethical and locally produced organic food at a reasonable price at the same time as engaging with the local population. The store will be owned and controlled by the people who are its members, creating a vital hub for the diverse set of communities that exist in local area. The ethos of food sovereignty behind this project is noticeable in that it aims to achieve a balance between ensuring a value-based consumer attitude to food whilst not alienating deprived communities that are usually priced out of ethical choices.

The project is currently looking for viable premises, applying for funding and carrying out local community research. Membership subscriptions will be flexible, for example:

£4/month + 4 hours volunteering time or
£16/month + 2 hours volunteering time

How can you help?

1) Fill in the community food survey online: www.surveymonkey.com/s/2RDBRC6

2) Survey your neighbours: Would you be able to spare an evening or two to survey your street? This would really help us and would be an opportunity for you to meet your neighbours and talk about food – who knows, it could even lead to a few new food co-ops springing up around Bristol! If you’re interested, contact jessclynewood@email.com

3) If you or the people you work with are interested in Food For Mood please email claire@bristolfoodhub.org

This article first appeared in Bristol’s local food update, July-August 2011