Covid-19 and Food Security

Marina O’Connell, co-Director of The Apricot Centre at Huxhams Cross Farm near Totnes, one of the Biodynamic Land Trust’s farm projects, reflects on the current situation.

In the absence of cruise ships the dolphins have re-inhabited the canals of Venice.

In Totnes, in the absence of something I can’t quite put a name to, the local food systems are re-inhabiting the food supply chain, growing and re-forming networks day by day. Like mycelium growing through the soil. As the supermarkets empty and people are confined to their homes, and the fear of illness pervades everything, people are turning back to local, resilient healthy food systems everywhere, not just in Totnes.

deliveries

As the restaurants and pubs empty, local food is re-directed into vegetable boxes and delivered to people’s homes; as the local brewery closes, the beer goes on the delivery round; as the local bakery sales drop, the bread goes on to the delivery round; as the local catering service has her events and weddings cancelled, she starts making stews for home delivery and those go on the delivery round. Local milk, local cheese, honey it all goes on the round.

In the first two weeks of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, our small business, The Apricot Centre, geared up from 60 vegetable boxes per week to over 200 with all of the other deliveries included. Shillingford Organic farm in Exeter geared up from 200 to 700 in the same time period. I am sure this is likely to be replicated all over the UK. Sales of seeds, seedlings, and chickens have also gone through the roof as people create their own food security.

Whether these changes in shopping and eating habits remain after the outbreak remains to be seen, and is unlikely. But what we are learning is that, like the dolphins, the local resilient food system is there just below the surface and it can flourish quickly in the absence of the something I cannot yet put a name to.

local food networks

These local food  systems and networks have been building up in South Devon for some years, with the influence of places like Schumacher College, Sharpham House, the Transition Town movement, and many people who just like to eat local organic and biodynamic food. The local growers have formed into groups to support and learn from each other and meeting for the occasional pint. It is these already established networks that have allowed such a fast reaction to the rapidly changing conditions. As the restaurants closed, delivery schemes inundated with orders allowed for fast switches from one market to another to happen. At the beginning of spring 2020 we are having rapid discussions as to changes in cropping plans to adapt what is being grown this season for the local food markets rather than the restaurant trade. All of this means that all the growers can stay in business, and even flourish, and local people get fed healthy local food, helping them to stay well.

climate change

The changes that are happening during the Covid-19 outbreak are also what is needed to address climate change. Food systems need to re-localise and de-carbonise, become more seasonal. Food sovereignty (the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems) is vital for secure food supply chains. I had personally become convinced that in the current political climate (well that of two weeks ago) that these changes were very unlikely to happen, that they had been pushed way down the agenda and would only be implemented way too late to be effective. How wrong could I be – it just shows that with the right political will these changes can be made very quickly indeed.

We went to a talk with Jyoti Fernandez of the Landworkers Alliance two weeks ago called “Rapid Transitions” … little did we know how rapid it would be. In that talk Jyoti spoke about how she perceived local food systems to be like an ecosystem. How right she was. Let’s learn from the dolphins’ reappearance to help focus on developing local food systems.

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