FixOurFood at the Yorkshire Show
From 11-14 July, a large number of the FixOurFood researchers could be found in the Meet the Farmer area of the Great Yorkshire Show. We took a demonstration of our vertical farm with us – complete with two beds of microgreen crops growing aeroponically. We also offered visitors a chance to experience the vertical farm in virtual reality.
For those who are not aware, FixOurFood runs an indoor urban vertical farm, Grow It York, in a shipping container at Spark, in the centre of York. The farm supplies hyper-local produce (primarily microgreens and herbs) to the surrounding businesses and communities. It was built to investigate how vertical farming can play a role in creating positive change within our food systems, benefiting our health, environment and economy. Because we can control everything within the vertical farm from plant nutrients to lighting, temperature and water, crop yields are very predictable, with short times to harvest, minimal waste, and produce
which is highly nutritious. The work at the farm involves researching the best crops and growing conditions, as well as exploring possible business models and viability for container farms like Grow It York to have environmental and social benefit.
We have had a huge interest in the farm, but it is not practical to show too many visitors around what is effectively a cleanroom environment. That’s where the VR and AR programs come in. As a result of a great collaborative project with the School of Arts and Creative Technologies at the University of York, students developed virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences based on the vertical farm – delivered via headsets and
a ‘walk through’ iPad experience.
The students were able to take 360 degree photographs of the farm space as well as film the farm manager at work in the farm. The results are a VR 3D film of Grow It York and an interactive re-creation of the farm interior which allows users to move through the space and gain an understanding of the way the farm operates. Our VR and AR experiences were particularly popular at the show with younger visitors at the Yorkshire Show – including our Leaders for Change students. They joined us for some of the show to engage with visitors about school food as well as conducting questionnaires about attitudes to food grown in vertical farms.
We had some great conversations at the show – not just about the farm, but generally about the work FixOuFood is doing to help transform the Yorkshire food system. For those who ventured to the Innovation tent at the show, there was information available about our plot trials at the University of Leeds farm, co-created with farmers to investigate regenerative farming techniques.
The importance of feeding our children better by Nicola Nixon
We now know that food that is available within the current food system is making us and our planet sick at alarming rates. Poor diet is linked to 11 million early deaths, 255 million disability adjusted life years and is estimated to contribute approximately a third of greenhouse gas emissions 1,12.
Research has linked what we eat with rising levels of obesity which is a major risk factor for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers 15. Eating ultra-processed food (UPF) is another factor that has been associated with higher levels of obesity and chronic health issues. In the UK, we eat the most UPF and have the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe 5,6,7,8. The social and economic burden of this is overwhelming with approximately 8% of annual UK healthcare spend, £18 billion, spent on diet related illness 2.
Sadly this is also prevalent in our children, with 10% already living with obesity when they start primary school aged 5, more than doubling to 23% when they leave aged 11 9 . Despite recommendations that over a third of our diet should come from fruit & vegetables, almost a third of primary school children eat less than one portion of vegetables per day 4,10. The quality of those vegetables eaten by children is also concerning with over a third being processed, and half coming from pizza and baked beans 13. The poorest children suffer the most from low quality diets, consuming more health damaging UPF and simultaneously experiencing both malnutrition and obesity 2,5,11,16 .
In the UK, 9 million children attend school where they eat 30% to 50% of their daily food 4. School food and catering is the largest area of public sector food spend in the UK at approximately £700m every year 3,17,20. Therefore, ensuring money is spent on providing nutritious, tasty food at this key stage in children’s mental, educational, and physical development is an ideal way to impact both population and planetary health 15,18. However we have an opaque and fragmented school food system heavily biased towards lowest cost provision following the devolution of responsibility from Local Authorities and the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering in the 1980s 4,19,20. A typical catering budget for school food is currently just 60p per pupil with quality and nutrition often neglected in favour of lower cost alternatives 3,13. UPF, high in salt, refined carbohydrates, sugar and fats and low in fibre is less than half the price of minimally processed foods 14 and now makes up 72.6% of calories in primary school lunches 21.
At FixOurFood, we are working with Yorkshire Schools, meal providers and stakeholders to understand how we can feed our children with affordable, sustainable and tasty food which is good for their health and that of our planet. My research focuses on the extent to which procurement contract types can impact the quality of food we provide for primary school children. If you are interested in knowing more or are a Yorkshire primary school that would like to join our network please get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please find the full list of references here: The importance of feeding our children better – Bibliography
DEFRA secondment – Dr Christopher Yap
The government has committed to publishing a Land Use Framework for England. This much needed legislation has the potential to support land use decision making that can balance competing demands on land, not least in relation to food production, carbon sequestration, biodiversity net gain, and housing and infrastructure development.
From November 2022 to June 2023, Dr Christopher Yap was seconded into the Central Science Division of the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to deliver research on the governance of environmental land use transitions to inform the development of the Land Use Framework.
This secondment was a valuable opportunity to contribute to the development of a national policy that has the potential to significantly impact every area of the food system. It was chance to learn first-hand about how ambitious policy is developed across governmental departments and agencies. Crucially, it was an opportunity to build productive relationships and present the case for a focus on governance processes and institutions, that is so central to the FixOurFood programme.
Since ending the secondment, Christopher has continued his engagement with Defra and recently presented his research to Defra’s ‘Systems’ Community of Practice that brings together over a hundred civil servants that want to engage with systems approaches.
Our Hybrid Business team’s visit to The Netherlands – July 2023
FixOurFood’s hybrid business team made a significant contribution to the recent 5th SCORAI and 21st ERSCP Conference, hosted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands in early July of this year. Under the leadership of Ulrike Ehgartner, the team ran a session that explored urban food system transformation in the UK, featuring presentations from various Transforming UK Food Systems (TUKFS) researchers presenting insights from different projects and Universities.
The session focused on innovative approaches to sustainable food systems, with each speaker providing unique contributions:
- Ben Fletcher, a FixOurFood PhD researcher, discussed tackling challenges in the out-of-home urban food environment through an entrepreneurial ecosystems approach, using the case of Bradford, UK as an example.
- Alana Kluczkovski, who runs FixOurFood’s vertical farm in York’s Spark, highlighted small-scale food system innovation as a potential driver of regenerative urban development.
- Steffen Hirth, a TUKFS researcher on the H3 programme from the University of Leeds, and Ulrike Ehgartner, who explores Hybrid Businesses on FixOurFood, shared insights into foraged and ‘semi-wild’ food from urban green infrastructure as a means to develop sustainable and resilient food systems.
- Kate Burningham and Anastasia Loukianov, TUKFS researchers from the University of Surrey, delved into social enterprise and local community understandings of healthy and sustainable food.
In addition to this session, Ulrike Ehgartner also shared learning from one of FixOurFood’s workshop methods concerning business model innovation for food system transformation within a session focused on “Sustainable Businesses in the Food Sector”.
This conference emphasized the pressing need to bridge the gap between research and practical action to advance sustainable food systems, with FixOurFood contributing valuable ideas and tangible solutions.
Visit to Wouter van Eck’s Food Forest
After the SCORAI conference Ulrike Ehgartner and Ben Fletcher had the opportunity to visit Wouter van Eck, a dedicated advocate for sustainable agriculture and food systems transformation, who showed us around his food forest. During their visit, Wouter kindly provided them with a culinary tour through his impressive food forest, Voedselbos Ketelbroek.
Wouter van Eck’s work delves deep into our connection with food and nature. His food forest represents a shift in agriculture, incorporating permaculture principles, biodiversity preservation, and sustainable food production. Wouter’s approach demonstrates the intricate balance between ecology and agriculture, highlighting how a harmonious relationship with nature can lead to more resilient and regenerative food systems.
Ulrike and Ben returned from their visit to Wouter’s food forest with renewed inspiration. They witnessed firsthand the potential for transforming our food systems into more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive models. As they continue our journey with the FixOurFood Hybrid Economy project, they carry the enthusiasm and insights gained from this encounter with Wouter van Eck’s visionary work.
Below are some photographs of some meals created by Wouter van Eck with ingredients from the food forest:
Regenerative Agriculture trials at Leeds University Farm
Our regenerative agriculture team, based at University of Leeds, have successfully finished the first year of their regenerative agriculture trials at Leeds University farm. They have been measuring the impact of following different combinations of regenerative agriculture practices such as minimal cultivation, addition of farmyard manure, mixed varieties of wheat, incorporating livestock in the arable rotation, living mulches and herbal leys, on soil health, crop production, greenhouse gas emissions and profit.
In 2022, they took a conventionally managed field and implemented seven different farming systems in a fully replicated large plot trial (each plot 12m x 40m) (Fig. 2.). They have been measuring the impact on winter wheat in the first year and have just harvested the trial in Aug 2023. They are currently compiling all the data they have taken over the past year. Following the wheat harvest, the team have drilled simple (5 species) and more complex (10 species) cover crops and are comparing these cover crops with leaving over-winter stubble, maintaining a living mulch and addition of herbal leys in the rotation. They will also be investigating different options of cover crop termination including grazing.
Fig. 1. Greenhouse gas chambers in winter wheat crop June 2023. The chambers are automated, measuring greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, twice every hour throughout the growing season so we can calculate the carbon balance of each system.
The decision making for each farming system has been particularly challenging as everyone is doing something different, there are many different options to take (there is no regenerative agriculture rule book to follow!) and there is currently a lack of data on what practices to do when and where, so the Leeds team have co-designed these trials with local farmers, agribusiness and allied-organisation.
We would like to thank all those involved for giving up their time and sharing their thoughts with the group to direct these trials. We hope that the data collected will enable greater insights into the impacts of regenerative agriculture on farming systems.
Fig. 2. Drone image of trial area in March 2023. The lighter green plots are the herbal leys whereas the darker green plots are winter wheat. There are seven different farming systems replicated in three blocks down the field. In the block at the top of the field there are nine chambers measuring greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
Transformations and Kangaroos: More questions than answers
By Suzanne Om
Eugyen Suzanne Om is in the third year of her PhD, and recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Australia as part of her studies. She attended an international Transformations conference, visited Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and carried out research with colleagues at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology. Here she reflects on her experiences.
The Transformations conference 2023, the highlight of my visit, offered many insights into not only our problems but practices and emerging research in the field of transformations. Present during the conference were not only academics from around the world but also regenerative practitioners, community leaders, businesses, indigenous peoples of Australia and many more – a true melting pot.
Of all the questions that were being raised, the following had my attention. What does transformations really mean? What are we really transforming to? Who is the doer of this transformation and for whom? Are we confronting our inherent problems of incoherences, power and politics in conjunction with who we really are and what we really need? I am not sure we have answers but the need to look within, listen deeply to each other, forming meaningful partnerships and gaining a holistic understanding of our problems and finding holistic solutions was at the heart of this conference.
A key highlight for me was the lived experiences of indigenous people and their inherent wisdom. Bringing them into decision making processes, perhaps removing certain actions that inhibit their way of life, their way of knowing and their way of being was in my view, critical. It brought more questions in my mind. How do we integrate indigenous wisdom and the modern world? How do we begin to accept and integrate different ways of knowing into science?
The overall visit made me realise one thing, the power of creating spaces that allow for these questions to emerge, to facilitate dialogues and to provide space to deeply reflect. Sometimes we may need to slow down before we move forward. How do we then engage different perspectives? How do we facilitate conversations and actions that value diversity? What new and different methods are needed? How do we navigate dilemmas?
Perhaps noticing opportunities and intentionally creating synergies to support transformation might be a starting point. Like the kangaroos I saw for the first time, our commitments need to leap faster and further to sustain planet earth and our future. We are at the precipice of change where goals, plans and strategies may need to be guided by wisdom.
By Dr Juan Pablo Cordero, research associate at FixOurFood, working on the metrics work package.
During the third week of July, Professor Sarah Bridle and I visited Norwich and the University of East Anglia to work with Jez Fredenburgh and Prof. Neil Ward, looking to test the capabilities of AgriFoodPy and the FixOurFood dashboard.
Predictions on how the food system is going to look into the future and what interventions must be introduced to accommodate the growing needs of the population require a careful consideration of all the interconnections between different aspects of society and the environment. Our interpretation of data defines our ability to build accurate predictions, or models. Their projected accuracy is crucial to support evidence based policy making.
The future state of the system projected by these models as a function of our actions from today to that future is what we call a “scenario”. Different scenarios have been proposed by agencies, organisations, academics and governments. Based on the constraints and limitations imposed by budgets, resource management, trading agreements, data uncertainty, and in some cases, political agendas, these scenarios are typically contrasted against goals and expectations previously defined by present needs and problems.
Early this year, the Green Alliance, a think tank and charity in charge of researching and proposing policy and strategic work for environmental development, published a report with 5 scenarios aimed at describing the required changes in land use and management to achieve net zero in the UK by 2050. We identified these scenarios as a perfect set of target interventions to test the capabilities of AgriFoodPy, the software package we have been developing for the FixOurFood agrifood dashboard.
Green alliance scenarios can be described in terms of 5 key interventions, each of which has a different degree of relative importance in achieving net zero, depending on the scenario:
- Reduction of meat and dairy food production for human consumption
- Increase alternative non-animal protein uptake
- Adoption of engineered carbon-capturing technologies
- BECCS: BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage
- DACCS: Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage
- Replace high yield traditional farming with agroecological land use
- Forestation of agricultural land
We partnered with Jez Fredenburg (@overthefarmgate) and Prof. Neil Ward (@NeilWard586) to work together and identify how to translate the interventions described in the Green Alliance report into the set of models we have developed for FixOurFood.
- Jez is a Journalist and editor, researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and Knowledge Exchange Fellow for the AFN Network+.
- Neil is Professor of Rural and Regional Development at the University of East Anglia, and co-convenor of the AFN Network+.
Describing scenarios in the AgriFoodPy framework
‘Ambition levels encode how much effort and resources are employed in a particular intervention. We use these to compute the relative impact of the intervention in the model’
The first step was to identify the scale or “ambition level” assigned to each intervention. This numerical value, typically between 0 and 100, describes the level of importance of the intervention for each scenario. In some cases this represents the percentage or fraction of a quantity being transformed (e.g transformed land, consumed weight). In other cases, it can represent the relative value between two agreed boundaries. In some cases, zero ambition can still represent some level of residual transformation.
The second step of the modelling procedure is to identify physical values to connect with each ambition level. As an example, we have developed a model to compute the additional CO2e sequestration from each hectare of agricultural land transformed to silvopasture, agroforestry and forest. Neil and Jez’s experience and familiarity with the UK system proved invaluable here. How much agricultural land is there in the UK? What fraction is arable and what fraction for pasture? What is the expected yearly sequestration per hectare of peatland or broadleaf forest?
Finally, the challenge was to translate these ambition levels and underlying models into a consistent description of the food system at all times, integrated into the user interface we have developed for the FixOurFood dashboard.
We needed to make sure, for instance, that the total percentage of reconverted land does not exceed 100%; that a reduction of production is correctly consistent with consumption figures; that land repurposing correctly impacted production and the import-export balance.
Implementation into the dashboard and impact on our environmental metrics
Implementation into the dashboard was done via a drop-down menu which can be used to select each scenario. Upon selection, the sliders representing the different ambition levels moved to their pre-defined positions. These positions can be further adjusted to finer detail to create custom scenarios close to the ones proposed by the Green Alliance.
The table below summarises the positions pre-defined for each of the 5 scenarios
|1. Balance food, nature and climate||2.BAU||3.Agroecological Farming||4. Self sufficiency||5. No BECCS/DACCS|
|Reduction of animal food||45||0||50||60||70|
Perhaps one of the most striking (and expected) results is the impact that diet change alone has on emissions. By setting the slider to 45% reduction of animal origin food (including dairy, eggs and sea products), emissions are reduced by a third by 2050, from ~300 Mt CO2e / yr to 200 Mt CO2e / yr. On top of this, repurposed land from animal farming and arable crops for animal farming and increase in cultured proteins can further sequester up to 60 Mt CO2e / yr.
The first Green Alliance scenario also considers heavy investment in Direct-Air Carbon Capture and Storage technologies which, if successful, can sequester up to 10 Mt CO2e / yr.
It also proposes an increase from current ~3% to 40% agricultural land transformed to agroecology which, while marginally reducing production initially, can achieve up to 95% efficiency and a reduction of 15 Mt CO2e / yr plus reduction in emissions from production.
These reductions are partly offset by changes in the import-export balance and product demand.
Green Alliance scenario 1: Balance food, nature and climate.
The orange bar shows the emissions by 2020, with bright orange showing additional emissions from demand growth.
Green, blue and red bars show the emission reductions and sequestration from food production, land repurposing and CCS technology.
The full implementation of this exercise is available in the scenarios branch of the agrifood dashboard (https://fixourfood-scenarios.streamlit.app/) and the source code is open and available on GitHub:
By Dr Alana Kluczkovski, Research Associate at FixOurFood, running GrowItYork our urban indoor community farm
Urban farming is revolutionising the way we think about food production and community development. From urban deserts to bustling cities, these innovative farms are addressing food security, job creation, and social empowerment. Join us on a journey to explore some of the remarkable vertical farms across the world and the valuable lessons they teach us about sustainability, community engagement, and the power of innovation.
Restorative Farms: Cultivating Community, Innovation, and Opportunity Through Agriculture
Restorative Farms, headquartered in southern Dallas, serves as the heart of a transformative urban farming initiative. Their vision extends beyond providing healthy produce; they’re cultivating learning opportunities, jobs, and economic growth within communities. Committed to sustainable agriculture and equitable agri-food systems, Restorative Farms collaborates with partners and implements training programs that empower residents.
Brad Boa, co-founder of Restorative Farms, underscores the importance of equipping communities with innovative growing technologies. Their impactful journey intertwines community development with sustainable practices, yielding not only fresh food but also novel prospects for local residents.
Hatcher Station Farm, a cornerstone of Restorative Farms, champions sustainable agrisystems through its certified farmer training program. This initiative doesn’t just create farmers; it cultivates entrepreneurs and community stewards. By prioritising maximum yields of nutrition-rich foods, Hatcher Station Farm aligns with the ethos of both agriculture and community welfare. A local economy anchored in urban agriculture is steadily emerging, driven by their commitment to efficiency and effectiveness.
Within the Restorative Farms network, Grozilla Shipping Container Farm stands as a symbol of innovation in controlled environment agriculture (CEA). It proves that food can be grown anywhere, even in shipping containers. By harnessing hydroponic technology, this indoor vertical farm produces a substantial amount of leafy greens. Grozilla acts as an educational hub, facilitating internship programs and educational initiatives. Sustainability, innovation, and collaboration converge within this innovative space, foreshadowing the future of farming practices.
|Restorative Farms||Hatcher Station Farm||GroZilla Shipping Container Farm|
Jill Stone Community Garden: Nurturing Food Justice and Education in North Dallas
This Community Garden takes a proactive stance on food justice and education. Through the cultivation of organic produce and strategic partnerships, this garden addresses the nutritional needs of underserved communities. Collaborating with local schools and engaging volunteers, they plant the seeds of knowledge, growth, and empowerment.
Joppy Mama’s Farm: Nurturing Change in Historic Joppa
Joppy Mama’s Farm in Joppa, Texas, is transforming a historic neighbourhood by providing affordable, healthy food options to its residents. This community farm not only offers fresh produce but also empowers women and encourages self-sufficiency. Through partnerships and cooperative efforts, Joppy Mama’s Farm is driving change from the ground up.
Bonton Farm: Cultivating Hope in Marginalised Communities
In a marginalised South Dallas neighbourhood, Bonton Farm is sowing seeds of change and revitalization. This transformative project not only grows organic produce but also creates jobs, offers training, and provides educational opportunities. By addressing housing stability, job training, and education, Bonton Farm is breaking cycles of poverty.
|Jill Stone Community Garden||Joppy Mama’s Farm||Bonton Farm|
Fazenda Urbana Curitiba: A Brazilian Urban Farming Pioneer
The Urban Farm project in Curitiba, Brazil, is breaking new ground by promoting sustainable urban farming practices and community engagement. Through partnerships, technology, and innovative projects, this initiative is bridging the gap between rural and urban spaces. With a focus on local food production and education, Fazenda Urbana is nurturing a more sustainable future.
AgroFavela-ReFazenda: Empowering Women in São Paulo
AgroFavela-ReFazenda in São Paulo’s Paraisópolis community, Brazil empowers women through urban farming and sustainable food production. By providing training, resources, and partnerships, this initiative not only supports families with organic food but also fosters mental health and economic growth. Through community participation and innovative planting techniques, AgroFavela-ReFazenda is cultivating empowerment.
Prato Verde Sustentável: A Model of Transformation
Sustainable Green Plate in São Paulo, Brazil is a living testament to how urban farming can transform communities. Through agroecological practices, experiential learning, and community engagement, this project provides fresh produce and ecological education. By reimagining unused spaces and connecting theoretical knowledge with practical action, Prato Verde Sustentável is nurturing change.
Across continents and cultures, these urban farms are more than just places to grow food. They are hubs of transformation, where innovation meets compassion and knowledge meets action. Through education, partnerships, and a shared commitment to sustainability, these farms are proving that a brighter future is possible, one crop at a time. As we learn from their experiences, we can aspire to create similar positive change within our own communities, bridging gaps, nourishing lives, and building a more sustainable world.
|Fazenda Urbana Curitiba||AgroFavela-ReFazenda||Prato Verde Sustentável|
By Dr Alana Kluczkovski, Research Associate at FixOurFood, running GrowItYork our urban indoor community farm
The concept of transformation is growing in relevance because of the complex nature of the challenges we face. Overcoming serious challenges, such as climate change, hunger, obesity, mental health, and inequalities, cannot be achieved by just improving what we already do. Instead, we need much deeper and more fundamental kinds of change to transcend the systems, thinking, and mindsets that have led to, and perpetuate, the challenges. This report is an introductory guide that explains how transformation is different to other kinds of change and some of the approaches that can support it. The guide, produced by two experts in the field of transformational practice, is for scholars and practitioners seeking to instigate an initiative, approach or campaign which is intended to be transformational.