Bristol’s sustainable food network

By sophie laggan, Thursday Aug 10, 2017

Bristol’s local food system has a very real sense of activism. A desire to be the change and regenerate soil, soul and society. Our current industrial food system is unable to feed everyone sustainably.

One answer is to join one of the various growing schemes. Playing your part in the food movement doesn’t just involve working the land. Here are other ways that you can help build a sustainable food future for Bristol.

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Turning food waste into three-course meals

Food Cycle is a project working to fight food waste. They serve up three-course meals using wasted food every Saturday at Barton Hill Settlement. They always need volunteers, so if you can put on events, cycle, cook, serve or talk with the community, get in touch with a member of the team.

FareShare South West tackle food poverty by saving perfectly good food surplus from going to waste and redistributing it to frontline charities. Their message to the food industry and the public is that no good food should be wasted. Last year they redistributed enough food for 700,000 meals, saving 173 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

91 Ways brings together different language communities by sharing and preparing food. What is particularly great about their cooking projects, is that you can learn about different cultures as well as saving good food from being thrown away.

Fill your cupboards

Increasing numbers of people want to eat local, fresh and healthy food. Bristol is fortunate in having some excellent alternatives retailers such as The Better Food Company and the Corn Street Farmers Market, plus some excellent whole and organic food shops such as Harvest, Wild Oats, Southville Deli and Earthbound to name a few.

Following Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods we asked two local food retailers for their response:

‘I believe that cynical acts like Amazon buying Wholefoods give us a kick up the bum to use our choice to shop ethically. While I’m at it, I believe that online shopping has had its day, will soon peak, and then decline because it’s environmentally unsound and does nothing for human connection which is at the heart of our reason for being’.

Phil Haughton, owner Better Food

‘We have been approached on many occasions by Amazon over the years. Essential has a policy of supporting the independent trade sector and not selling (out) to supermarkets. We are similarly resolute in our decision of not trading with Amazon in any way until they get their tax-affairs in order and contribute in line with other businesses across the UK. We found it drily amusing that while refusing to sell to them, they bought one of our ex-customers!

It is interesting that the online behemoth is now seeing the value of the high-street – we trust that this signals a similar commitment to organic foods & community values – but aren’t holding our breath on that!’

Essential Trading co-operative member

However far more effort is needed to connect marginal areas, such as food deserts, and reduce food swamps: places where unhealthy food dominates. Social enterprise Buzz Lockleaze is making inroads. In addition to its community café, shop and garden, it supports people into paid work through job clubs.

The Real Economy is also making good progress. Here, you can start or join an existing food club in your area to purchase agro-ecological food online as a group. What’s more, the group is a social space to create activities around your interests. The Southmead group recently visited a local farm, for instance, and others are planning meals together.


It is a great way to build community… to get people to cook together, connect, learn skills and become engaged with the food they eat,’ says Coordinator Steph Wetherell, who also writes food blog The Locavore. All these projects are far more ethical than the current model. For instance, supermarkets pay farmers 9p for every £1 spent while Real Economy pays 82p.

Getting social

Sue Walker is from Hartcliffe Health & Environment Action Group, a project set up by local residents in 1990, which aims to help people live healthy, happy and sustainable lives. They achieve this largely through food activities, from plot to plate. She says that food is more than fuel it is essential for “wellbeing through social events that promote a sense of belonging”. Food also allows us to practice gift giving and appreciate how it changes with the seasons.

One sure, and increasingly popular way, to shrink the carbon footprint of your dinner is to give up or cut down your meat consumption. It uses far more resources to bring meat, as opposed to any vegetable foods, to the table.

Together we can build a sustainable food system, a local network of growers and retailers, to reconnect us to nature and each other for generations to come.

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