It’s hard to envisage circumstances in which this year’s Wales Real Food and Farming Conference (WRFFC) could be more relevant and necessary. As Jane Powell suggested in her excellent piece, I think we could all see the value of establishing WRFFC back in 2019, but from the viewpoint of 2022 it looks especially prescient.
I could spend almost limitless time here laying out the evidence that piles up on a daily basis of the need for wholesale transformative change in the way we feed ourselves. Our food system globally is responsible for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and food production is the single biggest factor in the tragic decline in biodiversity. We face alarming increases in diet-related disease and related health inequalities. A fragile global food supply system is manifesting its vulnerability to disruption on multiple fronts and is now spectacularly failing in that most basic of requirements, the very ability to feed ourselves affordably. The evidence is so ubiquitous as to be almost overwhelming – if we want to witness the need for change, we need only turn on the television, read the news or, most tellingly, take the time to listen to those involved on the ground in mitigating the tragic consequences manifest right now in our communities in Wales.
The challenges we face in Wales in relation to food are enormous, but the opportunities are equally great if we find the will to take control of the levers available to us and be proactive in designing a food future that works for all. A future where we spend fewer resources dealing with the symptoms of a dysfunctional system and begin to reap long term benefits by dealing with the causes now. A future in which the ballooning bills for diet-related disease are slashed by investment now in school food and food education. A future in which the food served in schools, and the public plate in general, plays its part in catalysing a just transition to nature-friendly farming. A transition that also secures financial stability for farmers and the rural economy through shorter supply chains and the retention of the added value that currently flows out of Wales. It is in imagining that future that WRFFC 2022 can have a crucial role
It’s also appropriate, I think, that the 2022 WRFFC will be taking place in Lampeter, at the University of Wales Trinity St David campus, as it continues to mark 200 years as the birthplace of Higher Education in Wales. For the past year or so, I’ve been helping the University formulate its ideas around Canolfan Tir Glas and in particular the establishment of a new school of food (Academy of Contemporary Food Wales), and more recently I’ve been given the opportunity to take a full-time role in moving the idea forward. This project, too, is in the imagination stage, but operates in that same urgent context of mounting challenges that will not wait, and demands a similar response in bringing together the thinkers and actors who are already doing so much important work in the field, figuratively and often literally. There is a lot of work to do, and we are currently putting a team together to begin that endeavour. However, it’s important to emphasise that whilst this will be a place of learning – an institution devoted to understanding and developing creative responses to the key issues of our time in respect of food – if it is to be meaningful it must contribute towards establishing, maintaining and scaling a sustainable food system for the region, as well as being a centre for contemporary food education sited in the region. The detail is yet to come, but, once again, there is an imperative for action and this is going to be very much a case of building the road as we travel upon it. We need to consult, we need to plan, and we need to be strategic, but at the same time we want to start delivering and making a real difference on the ground and, by the time of the conference in November, we hope to be in a position to provide some more detail on what that activity will look like and how it will evolve.
Here are some of the areas we are looking to get involved in. It’s not an exhaustive list and it’s not written in stone, but it provides an idea of the areas we currently see as aspirations for meaningful intervention.
- Offering undergraduate, postgraduate and short courses that develop an understanding of, and creative responses to, the key issues of our time in respect of food – specifically climate change, biodiversity, diet and health, local economy / community prosperity and food security / sovereignty.
- Acting as a hub for food education in the region, providing a strategic forum with partner organisations to assist in the direction and coordination of all aspects of food training.
- Cementing a strategic partnership between Higher and Further Education in the region where the Academy offers theoretical understanding at HE level to underpin practical education at FE level and FE offers practical education to augment applied learning at HE level.
- As a core element of delivery, drawing upon the substantial practical experience and intellectual and physical capital that exists in the region in respect of sustainable and regenerative food production, specifically in terms of farming and growing, secondary production and hospitality. Seeking partnerships that will support and strengthen existing enterprises.
- As a core element of delivery, drawing upon the substantial practical experience and intellectual and physical capital that exists in the region in respect of sustainable and regenerative food in terms of farming and growing, secondary production and hospitality and partnering in ways that will support and strengthen existing enterprises.
- Establishing a “knowledge bank” for food and farming – an up to date and continuously evolving treasury of research and writing on contemporary food, and collator of projects and initiatives on food with a specific emphasis on a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of activity in Wales.
- Developing facilities for use by the community, schools, third sector agencies and industry partners in relation to initiatives around contemporary food as outlined above and acting as a focus for liaison and collaboration around all aspects of the food system.
- Responding to opportunities for partnering in ongoing academic research across the food chain in terms of nutrition / health, climate impact, biodiversity, etc.
- Informing and assisting food education in schools, and the implementation of the new curriculum with specific regard to UWTSD’s role in teacher education.
- Delivering tangible benefits to the town of Lampeter and the county of Ceredigion in terms of economic activity and community prosperity.
It’s a challenging list and there is much to be defined, but I know the conversations we will have in November will have a significant impact on shaping these ideas, and I very much look forward to seeing you there.
Director of Food and Rural Economy
University of Wales Trinity St David