What are Sustainable Food Places

Our Network brings together pioneering food partnerships from towns, cities, boroughs, districts and counties across the UK that are driving innovation and best practice on all aspects of healthy and sustainable food. Sustainable Food Places is a partnership programme led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. It is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Photo credit: Jonathan Goldberg

Why do we want a food partnership in every place?

Acting on food is a vital part of tackling the UK’s biggest social, economic, and environmental challenges. From obesity, ill-health, and food poverty, to waste, climate change and biodiversity loss, our current food system is causing some of our biggest problems. Yet food is also part of the solution. Sustainable Food Places (SFP) has shown that a transition to a healthy, sustainable more equitable food system requires not only strong national policy but also collaborative action between policy makers, businesses, and civil society at a local level. 

What do they do?

No single organisation, whether public, private or third sector, holds the powers, remit, or insight to change the local food system alone. By forming an inclusive, cross-sector food partnership, public agencies, community organisations, businesses, and academics can collaborate to create lasting change by agreeing on priorities and action for the local area. The SFP network shows that a local food partnership can help drive a fundamental shift in its local food system and become a hub for a rapidly growing good food movement of active and engaged citizens. 

How do they work?

Changing the food system demands a systems approach. This means having a vision and plan to achieve change across a breadth of different but connected food issues. It also requires local people and organisations working at all levels, and across all parts of the food system. The SFP framework for action identifies 6 key issues that we believe should be addressed together to achieve fundamental food system change:

  1. Food Governance and Strategy: Taking a strategic and collaborative approach to good food governance and action 
  2. Good Food Movement: Building public awareness, active food citizenship and a local good food movement  
  3. Healthy Food for All: Tackling food poverty, diet related ill-health and access to affordable healthy food 
  4. Sustainable Food Economy: Creating a vibrant, prosperous, and diverse sustainable food economy 
  5. Catering and Procurement: Transforming catering and procurement and revitalizing local supply chains 
  6. Food for the Planet: Tackling the climate and nature emergency through sustainable food and farming and an end to food waste. 

These issues are complex and interconnected but are generally looked at silos. A food partnership aims to join the dots.

More info on what food partnerships do

Across the SFP network, food partnerships are playing a range of vital roles to support food systems change, including, but not limited to: 

  • Strategic: Providing a forum for consultation and collaboration on local food-related strategies and policies and agreeing collective action on them.  
  • Delivery: Facilitating the sharing of data, insight and best practice and joint delivery of services and initiatives. 
  • Transformational: Facilitating joint food-related advocacy and public campaigning
  • Educational: Showcasing and championing the role of local food initiatives to the public and to local institutions and providing public education on food-related issues.  
  • Influencing: Championing local, healthy sustainable food within national and international food-related networks and policy.
  • Responding: Food partnerships are not just for emergencies, but their unique make-up makes them ideally placed to response to emergencies as recently demonstrated during covid. The ongoing cost of living crisis as well as the climate and nature emergency are better tackled through collaborative, cross-sector working. SFP members have demonstrated their ability to respond effectively and swiftly to crises but to also take longer term action in addressing underlying issues and building resilience. 

Food partnership coordination 

The success of a food partnership depends on the active involvement of its stakeholders. Yet the experience of SFP’s members shows that its vital to have dedicated paid roles to coordinate partnerships and their activities. Food Partnership coordinators convene people to come together, drive forward collective planning and strategy processes, and communicate the partnership’s work.

The role of local authorities  

Food partnerships can be effectively led and hosted by a range of organisations – whether public agencies, community organisations or constituted. However, having the active support of the local authority is key. Councils hold many of the responsibilities, powers, resources, and influence that can create major shifts in local food economies and cultures, whether it’s public procurement, planning, local economic policy, public health, or food poverty responses (and more). Local authorities’ representatives, whether councillors or officers, may lead, chair, or participate in, but SFP recommends the central and continued involvement of representatives. Having a senior food partnership champion in the local council can ensure that that partnership can impact more than single departments or teams. Local authorities are increasingly seeking to either lead or fund food partnerships in their area.