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The FixOurFood Hybrid Business team has been awarded an YESI International Fellows Scheme 2023/2024

We are thrilled to announce an exciting new  collaboration. Three members of the FixOurFood hybrid business team have won a YESI fellowship grant which allows for an international partnership with the University of Kumasi in Ghana, marking a significant milestone in our mission to revolutionise food systems worldwide.

The UK team is led by Prof Peter Ball alongside a dynamic team of researchers, including Dr Ulrike Ehgartner, Dr Ariadne Kapetanaki of the School for Business and Society , and Alana Kluczkovski, from Biology Department at the University of York. The prestigious team in Ghana includes Dr Emelia Darko Adzimah, Dr Meshach Awuah-Gyawu, and Prof Isaac Ofosu from the University of Kumasi. The project is titled “Leadership, logistics and health in the local leafy green supply chain: policy imperatives from Ghana and UK practice”

This innovative collaboration aims to dissect critical aspects of leafy green supply chains through robust stakeholder interaction, with a primary goal of generating policy imperatives to foster sustainable, resilient, and secure food systems. By integrating research on logistics, supply chain management, and health considerations, we endeavour to understand barriers and enablers for the provision of nutritious foods while minimising losses.

Recognizing the importance of effective leadership and governance, our project underscores the need for coordinated efforts in implementing sustainable practices and policies supported by stakeholders.

Aligned with YESI Research themes, our initiative serves as a beacon of emergent activities in local food systems, offering mutual benefits to communities in Yorkshire and Kumasi. Through international and  interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange, we aspire to foster a culture of learning among researchers of diverse backgrounds and career stages.

Updates on our journey towards a brighter, more sustainable future for global food systems are coming soon.


Read about Beckie Lait’s experience presenting her research at two sustainability conferences in Leeds and London

Interview carried out with the Environmental Sustainability at York (ESAY) department at The University of York

 

Beckie Lait, who is currently undertaking a PhD in Management with FixOurFood at the University of York, recently presented her research at the annual Student Sustainability Research Conference (SSRC24) in Leeds.

Beckie’s excellent abstract submission was ranked in the top three presentations out of over 100 applications and, as a result, she was also given the opportunity to present at the London Student Sustainability Research Conference (LSSRC) at Imperial College London, which took place earlier in February.

We asked Beckie to tell us more about her research and experience presenting at these conferences. Read below to find out what she said:

Tell us a bit about your research.

After graduating with an undergraduate and master’s degree in Theoretical Physics from the University of Manchester, I am now undertaking a PhD with the University of York and the TUKFS’s FixOurFood programme to apply my physics education to researching the impact of the food system on the climate crisis and other pressing social and environmental issues.

With animal agriculture using 83% of farmland globally, while supplying only 18% of calories, significant climate change mitigations can be achieved through livestock and meat reduction strategies. Despite an urgent need to address this, existing research has reported cases of decision-making proceedings being overly shaped by influential participants. By bridging a gap between these causes of climate change and some of the barriers that hinder transformational change in the food system, my PhD research aims to investigate the power dynamics in the UK meat and livestock system in order to enable more positive transformations to occur.

By mapping out key interconnected relationships, perspectives and flows of resources, and analysing contestations around meat and livestock reduction strategies, my research will aim to identify key leverage points in the system that can accelerate the understanding of the actions that would contribute to a more sustainable, fair and healthy food system.

Tell us about your experience presenting at the conferences in London and Leeds.

In February and March, I had a really wonderful experience presenting at the London and Leeds sustainability conferences. They were inspiring events, full of rich discussions, engaging presentations and inspiring key notes. Receiving feedback on my work from a range of students, stakeholders, researchers and more, each of whose own topics delve into all things sustainability, was refreshing and invaluable.

What have you learned from these experiences?

From presenting posters and giving presentations at these conferences, I feel that I have learned how to more effectively engage with others. By learning from others and engaging in a range of discussions, I feel as though I have learned how to better convey my research and tailor my explanations to suit a range of academics, fellow students, stakeholders and more.

Given that the audience for each presentation consisted of individuals whose perspectives varied greatly in some ways and were very aligned in others, it was valuable to learn about how to find common ground and use this to continually learn from each other and also to develop the depth and nuance of my own work.

What do you hope to do in the future after you have completed your PhD?

I hope to utilise my research and the knowledge I am developing about the way that the food system works, its drivers, its barriers and its complexities to accelerate change to a more fair, healthy and sustainable system. While I am not yet sure of the specific role that I want to be in in order to achieve this, my aim will be that it can make a real and significant impact on the world around us.

A huge thank you to Beckie for sharing her sustainability PhD project and conference experience with us!

 

ESAY NEWS | POSTED ON MONDAY 25 MARCH 2024


Regenerative Systems by Sam Buckton

We increasingly hear people talking about ‘transformation’ in the context of food system change, with the aim of overcoming the many crises associated with our current food systems, from food insecurity to environmental degradation. Transformation suggests a fundamental, systemic change. But what should transformation aim towards? People find it difficult to envision futures that are radically different from what they’re familiar with, so the risk is that we end up with only superficial or incremental change that fails to transcend the fundamental problems at the heart of food systems. How can we be more ambitious and imaginative when we think about the kinds of futures we want to bring into being?

At FixOurFood, we’ve been exploring the concept of ‘regenerative systems’ to guide food system transformation. In essence, we consider regenerative systems to be those that mutually reinforce wellbeing within and beyond themselves, particularly between humans and wider nature. Being regenerative means going beyond just minimising the harm humans cause, and actively leaving the world in a better state that we found it in. It means encouraging the ‘spiralling up’ of human and planetary health in a positive reinforcing cycle, creating resilient systems. The American biologist Janine Benyus evocatively summarised a regenerative dynamic as:

‘life creates conditions conducive to life’

For example, a regenerative farm would not only employ practices that advance the farmer’s economic needs and regenerate soils and ecosystems on which the farm directly depends, but also regenerate wider social and ecological environments, e.g., by boosting pollinator populations and acting as a hub for community interaction, which in turn support the farm.

Drawing on a wide literature review and workshops, we created the ‘Regenerative Lens’, a framework to help people conceptualise and aim for regenerative social-ecological systems (e.g. communities, cities, businesses, economies and regions). As well as clarifying the dynamics and outcomes of regenerative systems, the Lens identifies five essential ‘qualities’ and associated practices that systems would need to encourage to support regenerative dynamics. These qualities include:

  • An ‘ecological worldview’ that recognises how the world is interconnected and made up of layers of systems nested within each other. Such a worldview is prominent in Indigenous philosophies, and could be embodied by practices such as agroecology.
  • Mutualism, such as cooperative and reciprocal interactions between humans and between humans and wider nature. Mutualism could be encouraged by more experiential forms of learning and reconnecting people with their local nature, heritage and food production, for instance.
  • High levels of biological and cultural diversity. This is important particularly for promoting creativity and resilience in regenerative systems. Regenerative agriculture offers many examples of practices aiming to boost diversity, especially biodiversity.
  • Agency, or humans and wider nature having the freedom and resources to act regeneratively. This requires redressing the injustices of colonialism that have sabotaged the land and sea underpinning local and Indigenous livelihoods, as well as the commodification and technological control of non-human nature. More ground-up forms of organisation and less hierarchical kinds of governance arrangements, such as a commons, are important for enabling agency in regenerative systems.
  • Continuous ‘reflexivity’, or the re-exploration of values and assumptions, experimentation, learning and adaptation. This includes mindfulness of all the regenerative qualities when acting in the world. Futures methods such as Three Horizons and more reflexive or developmental kinds of evaluation are well-suited to fostering this quality in regenerative systems.

     

Recently, we’ve been working with futures practitioner and facilitator extraordinaire Bill Sharpe to develop this framework into practical tools that could be used in workshop settings to guide change processes. On 6 December 2023, we held a workshop with a number of researchers and practitioners to test some of these tools. They included:

  • Exploration of the definition of regenerative systems, using a variety of different definitions to see what resonates most with different people.
  • An exercise to introduce the concept of being both ‘internally’ and ‘externally’ regenerative (or degenerative). A fully regenerative system would have positive effects on its parts (internally) as well as the wider system it sits within (externally), like the regenerative farm example described above.
  • A meditative exercise to introduce the idea of ‘mutual qualities of life’ – the feeling of being in flow and harmony with the rest of life. For instance, someone might imagine the feeling of singing in a choir, playing a team sport, or going on a walk in a wild landscape – a situation where you feel like you’re part of something bigger and mutually supporting one another.
  • Using some trigger questions based on the five qualities of the Regenerative Lens to interrogate an envisioned future and push its ambition.
  • Mapping networks of actors in mutualistic relationships with each other. This could be used in tandem with the Three Horizons method, for instance, to deepen appreciation of what a future food system would look like and the kinds of partnerships needed to bring it into being.
  • We were encouraged by the positive responses of participants to the different exercises, and the hope is that they will eventually be formalised and published (e.g. on the Future Stewards website). Ultimately, we hope that these tools can help to accelerate learning about transitioning to regenerative systems at a scale, pace and depth that match those of global crises.

Leveraging knowledge-policy interfaces for food systems transformation in the UK: lessons from civil society

In the UK, a wide range of knowledge and evidence supports the development of food policy. And yet the relationships between knowledge, research, evidence, and policy are only partially understood.

The term, ‘knowledge-policy interfaces,’ describes the power-laden processes, spaces, and structures of knowledge exchange amongst policy actors, including but not limited to academic researchers, policymakers, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and industry.

But how do these interfaces operate? How do different organisations navigate them? And ultimately, how can we best use different forms of knowledge and evidence for food policy change?

This new report examines how Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) approach and navigate knowledge-policy interfaces in the context of UK food policy. Specifically, it examines how different types of CSOs produce and use evidence, build and maintain  relationships, and mobilise narratives to leverage food policy change.

In doing so the report aims to make visible and share lessons between Civil Society Organisations working to enhance UK food policy through knowledge and evidence, and to identify valuable lessons for academic researchers on realising policy impact.

Dr Christopher Yap, co-author of the report, said:

“This report aims to shine a light on the dedicated, practical, and day-to day work of Civil Society Organisations in the UK to support the development of more ambitious and impactful forms of food policy. We hope that the report offers some useful insights on informing food policy and enhances the case for further close collaboration between academic institutions and civil society organisations to bring about food systems change.”

The report was co-authored by Dr Tanya Zerbian (Spanish National Research Council), Dr Christopher Yap (City, University of London), Dr Rosalind Sharpe (University of Hertfordshire), and Dr Christian Reynolds (City, University of London).

The research was conducted through a collaboration between the FixOurFood and H3 research projects funded by the Transforming UK Food Systems Strategic Priorities Fund. The collaboration was made possible through a grant from the TUKFS Annual Project Synergy Fund.

Read the full report here: Leveraging knowledge-policy interfaces for food systems transformation in the UK: lessons from civil society 


The Food Foundation and FixOurFood Empowers Young People in Advocacy for Change

 

In a groundbreaking event on November 29th, 2023, citizen scientists participating in The Food Foundation and FixOurFood programme took centre stage in the UK Parliament. Their mission: to present comprehensive findings and insights regarding the Free School Meal allowance, aiming to drive critical changes in national policy.

The collaborative initiative empowered young people to test the limits of the Free School Meal system. Their research shed light on the lived experiences and challenges faced by families dependent on this support.

Amidst a backdrop of growing concern over food insecurity and the adequacy of nutritional provisions for vulnerable children, the event served as a pivotal platform for citizen scientists to directly engage with Members of Parliament (MPs). With an air of determination, these citizen advocates presented their findings and recommendations for reform.

Among the key points raised by the citizen scientists were concerns about the adequacy of the current allowance in providing balanced and nutritious meals. They presented compelling evidence detailing the struggles faced by families in ensuring children receive adequate nutrition on this budget.

Moreover, the FixOurFood participants emphasised the need for greater flexibility in the allowance to accommodate varying regional costs and family circumstances. They urged policymakers to consider indexing the allowance to inflation and conducting regular reviews to ensure it aligns with the evolving economic landscape.

MPs in attendance expressed gratitude for the citizens’ dedication and vowed to take the presented findings into serious consideration during policy discussions. The event served as a catalyst for initiating dialogues aimed at re-evaluating and enhancing the Free School Meal allowance to better support the nutritional needs of vulnerable children.

As the nation grapples with the complexities of food insecurity and social inequality, the voices of these citizen scientists stand as a testament to the power of community-driven advocacy in shaping a more equitable future for all.

The parliament event on November 29th marked a pivotal moment in the journey towards reimagining and revitalising the support systems crucial for the well-being of the most vulnerable among us.

The full report can be found here: A BETTER DEAL FOR FREE SCHOOL MEALS

 


By Michelle Cain, FixOurFood Researcher, Cranfield University

Image of European Parliament 
Photo by Guillaume Périgois on Unsplash

Last month, I visited the European Parliament in Brussels for the first time. It was an inspiring place, with large banners decorating the exterior to remind us that this is a place of “Democracy in action” and that “Climate neutrality by 2050 is now a binding obligation” for the EU (sadly, there was no footnote with a definition of climate neutrality). Inside it is no less impressive, with modern art in the atria, and a whole zone set up for TV interviews taking place as part of daily life.

I was there to speak at a workshop on “Reassessment of methane emissions: focus on biogenic methane emissions” on 28 th November 2023, which was organised for the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. With the aforementioned EU commitment to climate neutrality, understanding the role of methane emissions and their reduction is a key topic for the agricultural sector. Unlike many sectors, agriculture isn’t dominated by carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Its greenhouse gas emissions are largely composed of methane (from ruminant livestock like cattle and sheep, and manures) and nitrous oxide (from both artificial fertiliser and manures).

Each greenhouse gas has a different strength of warming effect, and a different lifespan in the atmosphere. Both methane and nitrous oxide have a stronger warming effect, gram-for-gram, than carbon dioxide. However, there is much less of them in the atmosphere than CO2. Another key difference is that methane lasts about a decade in the atmosphere, compared to over a century for nitrous oxide, and even longer than that for CO2.

The varying lifetimes makes the comparison between different gases vary depending on the time span you are considering. This is why the metrics used to compare the impact of different greenhouse gases is an important issue for agriculture. Looking in the near-term will give you a different perspective to the long-term when a large fraction of your emissions are methane, like for agriculture.

The first speaker at the workshop, Ricardo Fernandez from the European Environment Agency, presented an overview of methane emission trends in Europe. Over half of all EU methane emissions are from agriculture, and while they declined since 1990, they have been stable since 2010. This is a contrast to global methane emissions which are on the rise, and was a key point picked up on by the MEPs (Members of European Parliament) during the session. To my mind, this is a fundamental conundrum we must accept when it comes to climate action. Emissions come from every part of our society, hence there is no single solution. Every sector, every country, is only one slice of the pie. While Europe is only responsible for 4% of the total global methane emissions, this is not a reason to avoid reducing them. If everyone said that, then no action would ever be taken (perhaps this has
been the case for too long already!).

My presentation looked at how much impact cutting methane emissions could have on global warming levels. The majority of the warming today (relative to pre-industrial times) caused by EU agricultural emissions is from methane, with only half as much warming coming from nitrous oxide. However, because methane emissions have fallen in recent years, the level of warming from methane has already peaked and is declining. This comes about because methane is short lived, so its impact on temperature is short lived. This isn’t the case for nitrous oxide, so while nitrous oxide emissions have also fallen, the level of warming from this gas has risen, as it accumulates in the atmosphere.

This difference between the impact of cutting long lived and short-lived gases is why metrics used to compare the different gases matter. If we want to work out how much to cut gases by to limit global warming to 1.5C or any other temperature, then we need to be able to work out how much those emissions or cuts affect the temperature. One simple solution for this is to have separate targets for long lived and short-lived gases.

Looking at how much impact cutting methane emissions would have – one study showed that cutting it by 30% between 2020 and 2030 followed by slower declines after that caused temperatures to go down by 0.1C between 2020 and 2050. Cutting methane at a slower rate of 3% per decade led to methane’s contribution to global warming remaining constant over time.

So, if the EU decided what size agricultural methane’s slice of the global warming pie should be, then they could adjust methane emissions to match this. While the correct size of pie for each country and sector is a political decision, hopefully science can help advise how the emissions can match those decisions.

One thing that is certain is that we need methane emissions globally to decrease in order to achieve the Paris Agreement (increasing methane emissions are currently driving temperatures up).

Following my presentation, Ignacio Perez Dominguez of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission spoke about how metrics affect how you analyse different policies for the agri-food sector, and result in different outcomes. Metrics can be used well to design effective mitigation strategies to match with climate aims, and they should not undermine any efforts at emissions reductions.

Gail Marion, head of environmental sustainability at DG Agri, then gave a speech, noting that while methane emissions have stabilised since 2010, the food produced has increased, so there is an improvement in methane emissions intensity. She also noted that the Common Agricultural Policy does support many methane reduction strategies and technologies, like manure management and precision farming. A key point she made was that place-based solutions are absolutely key, as no one size fits all for finding solutions to making agriculture more sustainable. This chimes with the approach FixOurFood takes to finding ways forward to transformation in the Yorkshire Food System.

What was made quite clear from the MEP’s interventions, was that they are juggling many policy needs, such as the rural economy, cultural issues and food security, as well as emissions reductions. This balance of priorities is why it is so informative and insight-giving to take part in events such as this one. It was far from the usual focussed discussion of a specific topic that I am used to, and was a valuable experience in how politicians work and seem to bring together all issues at once.

One further thing that struck me – while this was a rare opportunity for me to share my understanding with MEPs, and thus I spent days preparing my slides and practicing to keep
to time, this was just an everyday occurrence for the MEPs themselves. I am grateful to have has a glimpse into their day jobs!

AGRI – Workshop on Reassessment of methane emissions

AGRI – Workshop on Reassessment of methane emissions

Additional resources

Please find a link to an official blog post about the event: Workshop on Reassessment of methane emissions: focus on biogenic methane emissions

A link to the agenda can be found here: Agri workshop reassessment of methane emissions – focus on biogenic methane emissions – 28th November 2023

Please find a recording of the event here: Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development – 28th November 2023


Cultivating a resilient food future: FixOurFood’s collaboration with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance

By Ulrike Ehgartner

FixOurFood is dedicated to building a sustainable and resilient food future. With us on this journey is the Yorkshire Grain Alliance (YGA), a passionate group of farmers, bakers, millers, traders, researchers, and community members committed to transforming the food system through a fundamentally different approach to grain production and consumption.

Grains: Navigating environmental, economic and dietary challenges

With cereal production occupying about 70% of the total arable crop area in the UK, grains, and in particular wheat, play a crucial role in the nation’s food system. Grains also represent a staple in the British diet – both, through direct consumption, with wheat accounting for about 30% of our daily food energy intake, but also indirectly, with up to 60% of the country’s yearly harvest being fed to livestock, which we then consume as meat and dairy.

Grain production in the UK currently largely relies on intensive agriculture, which is solely focussed on yield efficiency, using fertilisers, pesticides, and diesel, leading to significant environmental impacts such as reduced biodiversity, soil damage, and pollution, which come at high economic costs and negative long-term effects on food security. Despite these issues, agroecological methods, which could mitigate these impacts, are severely underutilised, with organic production methods accounting for only about 1.6% of UK grain production overall.

Not only the environmental impacts, but also the social implications of our grain production, especially of wheat, are significant. The grain currently grown on a large scale on fields across the UK is mostly processed into foods with low nutritional value with a high occurrence of waste, or to feed livestock, which represents the most expensive input for the entire sector, causing extensive losses and vulnerabilities in the food supply chain, impacting both farming economies, diets and overall food security.

Given that the majority of the UK’s croppable land is used for grain production, we have to address the current food system inefficiency of it. Shifting towards more sustainable and resilient crops and agroecological methods to produce grains for human consumption is essential for economic and environmental resilience, and to foster a more secure, economically viable, and nutritionally valuable food system in the UK.

The Yorkshire Grain Alliance: cultivating change

The Yorkshire Grain Alliance was sparked by the vision of producers and practitioners who recognised the need for a more resilient and localised approach to grain production. The YGA’s mission is to encourage people to produce and consume non-commodity cereals, reducing our reliance on the global supply chain while promoting agroecological food production methods.

The Alliance’s work takes a holistic food systems approach with a commitment to diversity throughout the system, from farming and nature practices, to economy and trade and culinary variety. Members are committed to creating a resilient food future, putting an emphasis on low-input farming and solidarity between producers and consumers. The group fosters continued knowledge exchange between farmers, bakers and millers working with organically and agroecologically produced grains across Yorkshire.

Members of the YGA are pioneers, working with a diverse range of heritage- and population wheats, such as Emmer, Einkorn, April Bearded, Nelson, Parragon, and YQ. Introducing plant diversity, including genetic diversity, back to the land is essential for a food system transformation towards long-term food security. Such practice cultivates resilient crops that can better withstand regional challenges, pests, diseases, and changing environmental conditions, contributing to biodiversity preservation by maintaining a broader genetic pool and reducing the reliance on external inputs and promoting local sustainability. Rotating arable crops with varying root structures and nutrient requirements can further contribute to improved soil health and build climate resilience. Harnessed by bakers, chefs, and food manufacturers, diverse crops enhance nutritional diversity and flavours, providing consumers with a wider array of essential nutrients and a more varied and interesting culinary experience.

Collaboration with FixOurFood

FixOurFood’s collaboration with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance lies at the heart of our commitment to enabling place-based and community-driven food system transformation. We are working together, alongside the Organic Research Centre, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the unique aspects of producing diverse grain crops in Yorkshire. Taking a systems approach, we are continuously working on building knowledge and raising awareness of the market demands, considerations of climate and soil conditions, and other circumstances, which impact those involved along the supply chain: farmers and their choices of crops and farming methods, bakers their demands and interest in different flours, as well as professionals involved in institutional catering and food service. The collaboration also seeks to address the practical opportunities and challenges of scaling up low-input grain farming supply chains, specifically also looking at the food processing and distribution capacity in the region. Our shared vision revolves around shaping a future for Yorkshire’s food that is sustainable, social, and in tune with the seasons, starting with grains and transforming the whole system.

Join us on our journey: Get involved in reshaping the food system

If you are involved in the grain supply chain and/or want to learn more or contribute to our transformative journey, reach out to Ulrike Ehgartner, who is leading this collaboration in FixOurFood, or connect with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance directly. Your involvement is crucial in reshaping the future of our food system and to create a more sustainable, resilient, and locally-driven approach to grain production and consumption in Yorkshire and beyond.


Our FixOurFood in Schools team carried out some fun activities at the Harrogate Countryside Days to explore what is important to pupils around food in schools, and what changes they wanted to see in Yorkshire primary schools.

300 children participated in a sticky dot exercise. The students voted on 12 of priorities under the title of ‘What would you do if you were headteacher?’.

The students were then asked to write to their headteacher on one of our postcards. The template prompted children to write the changes they wanted to see in their school, or that they thought were important to have across primary schools.

Below are their top 5 priorities:

1. Free school meals for everyone
2. More recycling and composting
3. Have school trips to learn about food
4. More vegetarian and vegan options
5. Everyone has a say on what is on school meal menus

Read the full report: School food research report


Getting more Yorkshire carrots on plates in early years settings – exploratory research 

By Dayna Brackley, Senior Food Policy Consultant, Bremner & Co.  

 

Since February this year, FixOurFood has been working with me and Myles Bremner, from Bremner & Co, to investigate the barriers to good nutrition in early years settings in Yorkshire. The project involved interviews with local authorities’ public health and food teams, early years settings and catering providers. We did a deep dive into the settings’ make-up and health outcomes for children aged 0-5 in Yorkshire. We also analysed menus as we tried to answer two questions: 

  • How do early years settings currently access and provide food and what is the journey? 
  • What are the opportunities and barriers within the food supply chain for early years settings and how can FixOurFood work with the sector to help both improve nutrition and get more local food on plates? 

As we gather our insights, I wanted to share not just a few of the findings, but also our experience of working and collaborating with the team at FixOurFood. It was truly a one-team experience – drafting the scope and defining key research questions was a collaborative process. Bremner & Co have been working in the early years space for quite a while, so we shared our learnings and then asked what FixOurFood needed to know to meet their objectives of getting more local food on early years plates.  

There are 5,790 early years providers in Yorkshire – childminders, state-maintained nurseries and private and voluntary organisations (PVIs). We uncovered some important contextual issues: PVIs make up 63% of available places, with only 25% being in state-maintained and 12% in childminders. Only children in state-maintained nurseries are eligible for free school nursery meals and, even then, the data on this is opaque. The sector has voluntary standards: Eat Better Start Better. However, there is no monitoring or accountability. The sector told us nursery food is rarely mentioned in Ofsted reports and settings report that the standards are not fit for purpose. So, what are our children 0-5 eating and what impact is it having? 

We did the work in stages. The initial phase comprised of informal conversations with stakeholders and uncovering insights about what the sector itself felt the issues were. FixOurFood are great at working iteratively; it wasn’t the case of having a brief, going away and coming back in two months with the answer. Halfway through, we paused, together looking at what we’d found, and thought – what next? We realised we needed to dig more deeply into procurement barriers, so that’s what we did.  

We asked what the challenges were and the barriers to good nutrition. The settings told us they are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances: funding is insufficient, there is a workforce crisis, and the cost of living is taking its toll. 

“Yes, you want to buy local, you want to buy organic, you want to know where it’s coming from, but we’re in an area of most deprived, it’s not a priority to our children or our parents”. 

Many settings have tried to secure local Yorkshire food but have experienced issues with suppliers – the complexity of ordering from multiple places and suppliers not being able to fulfil smaller orders. It is easier for them to visit supermarkets. 

“It’s just a case of finding a local supplier that can fulfil the order and has a decent range of products.” 

Local authorities told us that early years is typically lower on the agenda, sometimes overshadowed by school food. Procurement rules get in the way of delivering local Yorkshire food, despite an appetite to do this. 

 “We’ve predominately always been commissioned to work with schools, so early years is a relatively new area for us.” 

“There’s lots of conversations with the providers already in the system about investing in a local provider but, when it comes to things like buying food, caterers are solely driven by cost.”  

A highlight of working with FixOurFood was the way they not only questioned the data, but what that data really means from the eyes of a child. It’s this inquisitive, questioning nature that brings out the best in small organisations, like Bremner & Co. They got the complexity of the early years food system, and really prioritised hearing from the sector, on top of crunching the numbers.  

There is more to come; we’re working with FixOurFood on a report with the findings, to be published in 2024, including insights from reviewing 25 menus. Stay tuned to hear more about this journey to an early years food system in Yorkshire, where tasty, good quality, sustainable food is the default and easiest choice for all children. 

For more information, contact dayna@bremnerco.com 


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.