In the midst of a changing Britain, we explain why we need more enterprises using land productively and sustainably, to create better, more resilient land-based economies.
Our research on ‘Better Land-Based Economies’ follows three enterprises – OrganicLea, Kindling Trust and Ecological Land Cooperative – who are all trying to access land for agro-ecological food growing in the UK. In the last two years, we have seen these groups strive to develop relationships with councils, planning authorities, landowners and local communities, all while growing their various projects and enterprises. Despite a range of challenges, we’ve seen all three emerge with remarkable stories and expertise, and some with land to show for it!
Given the changing political-economic climate – and the challenges and opportunities it affords – it is worth reminding ourselves why we need organisations working to use land productively and sustainably, in order to create better and more resilient local land-based economies.
- Brexit. Brexit has given the UK economy a major shock and in doing so has made it clear that local economies need to be more resilient. Britain’s future trade relationships are unknown and a majority of its agricultural labourers are from the EU. It’s time to consider different and more local forces driving economies and food production in particular.
- Farmers can no longer afford to farm. Buying agricultural land is prohibitively expensive, the price of food is low, and farmers today compete with large-scale producers both near and far. What’s more, land-based work is undervalued, both financially and socially. This means that not enough people aspire to pursue agricultural livelihoods. We need new models that create sustainable livelihoods and encourage new entrants.
- The environment is not adequately protected. The government has thus far shown no commitment to reinstall EU environmental policies which will become essentially void post-Brexit. What’s to replace the EU Common Agricultural Policy – currently the most comprehensive piece of environmental and land management legislation in place – is still a mystery. We need more models of land use that enrich the environment.
- The way we manage our land is not working. Symptoms of this broken land system include the housing crisis, slashed budgets for public land management, a vulnerable agricultural sector, unhealthy soils and a political system that refuses to design a land-use strategy to take into account all these considerations together. We need new models of land management and better structures to support them.
What’s the alternative? We believe local food growing enterprises could play a key role in creating better land-based economies.These businesses could provide the answers to many of the problems addressed here. In fact, such organisations are already creating solutions.
- The Ecological Land Cooperative uses its expertise in the planning system, and financing purchase through community share issues, to support new entrants to secure access to land and permission to grow and live on it. It also submits each smallholding to a rigorous monitoring system as part of a wider mission to demonstrate the value of smallholdings in the UK.
- OrganicLea is a workers cooperative based in London, which grows and sells food, while also providing support and training to new entrants into the agricultural sector. They are also currently supporting other local food growers to take on a council-owned plant nursery in a neighbouring borough. They are a wonderful example of the successes of urban community engagement, upskilling programs and cooperative values.
- The Kindling Trust aims to create fair, sustainable food systems in Manchester. It does this by growing and selling fresh foods to as wide a constituency as possible, while training and supporting the growers of tomorrow. They are seeking land to fulfill their vision for a large ‘Kindling Farm’ near Manchester. The farm will provide a centre for agro-ecological growing, and other activities aimed at creating a better land-based economy.
Despite the many and diverse benefits they can bring local economies, the true value of food growing and training schemes is rarely acknowledged. We believe organisations like these are crucial to developing better land-based economies which are economically resilient, locally-based and can “[support] the community to thrive within fair ecological limits.” Resilience here comes from the security of knowing that food, energy, work and other basic livelihood rights are available and traded within local boundaries. In order to create such resilience, solutions must be rooted to the ground – land use must be productive, sustainable, and create fair and fulfilling livelihoods.
Our research action project on Better Land Based Economies, funded by the Friends Provident Foundation, will be developing tools and resources for food growers and local authorities to promote this resilience. These reports will be published in the autumn – watch this space!