How Carmarthenshire's food partnership coordinator Augusta Lewis supported the development of her neighbour's food partnership.
Borders are porous
Local food systems are formed of complex networks of relationships that don’t always stay within the county or town boundaries that define a Sustainable Food Place. Whether it is primary production, aggregation, logistics and distribution, retail, community food initiatives, or health board areas, the borders are porous, therefore presenting fruitful opportunities for regional collaboration between food partnerships.
Finding your counterparts
In Wales, Carmarthenshire was the seventh local authority area to become a member of Sustainable Food Places in 2022, but it’s bordering county, Ceredigion has remained without a local food partnership. In the autumn of 2021, the team at Sustainable Food Places offered Augusta Lewis, (Carmarthenshire’s Sustainable Food Places Coordinator), the opportunity to have ten paid days to offer peer-to-peer support to help lay the groundwork for a Ceredigion Local Food Partnership.
Augusta says; “I was able to contact many of the public sector Ceredigion counterparts of the core members of our own strategic food partnership in Carmarthenshire. They’d heard about the good work we’d be doing over the border, so there was good attendance at the early meetings from senior strategic leaders in the county. We are lucky in Wales that the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015) creates a responsibility for organisations within the public sector to work together through Public Services’ Boards. Sustainable Food Places extends this to incorporate wider representation from both the voluntary and private sector in a collaborative multi-sectorial approach.”
Attendees at the initial meetings included Natural Resources Wales, University of Wales Trinity St Davids, Ceredigion County Council, CAVO (Community Voluntary Council), Ceredigion Local Nature Partnership, Social Farms & Gardens, Food Sense Wales, Hywel Dda University Health Board Public Health Team and procurement lead, surplus food projects and others.
To create collaboration, you must choose how to work together
It was clear that there was a strong interest in a collaborative approach to enable an effective delivery of a wide range of strategic objectives including: nature recovery and reaching net zero, reducing diet-related disease, reducing inequalities in accessing healthy food, supporting a vibrant and diversified local food economy, as well as fostering local distinctiveness, and the promotion of the cultural history of Ceredigion and the Welsh language.
The holistic systems approach embodied in the six-key areas of Sustainable Food Places framework was recognised as an effective vehicle for making progress. When a new group of stakeholders initially come together and there are no democratic structures in place for decision-making, it feels important to engender a sense of valuing the contribution of each stakeholder. The way the group went about doing this was through an explicit recognition of the complexity of the local food system, and an election that everyone take-up a ‘piece of the jigsaw’. Therefore, through coming out of our own silos, and instead working towards collective action, that we can become ‘more than the sum of our parts.’ Augusta says; ‘in those early meetings we took time to look more closely at the interconnected crises in our current food system, and we heard from inspiring food initiatives in Ceredigion and beyond. This gave time for the group to develop a more focussed sense of collective purpose’.
A boost of confidence from the Welsh Government
Shortly after their inaugural meetings they received news that the Wales Ministry of Social Justice, in collaboration with Food Sense Wales, in recognition of the important work that Local Food Partnerships do, allocated a grant opportunity of £90K for each Welsh local authority area to develop a local food partnership.
To ensure that all partners had an equal opportunity to act as host for a coordinator and project, Augusta worked with the council to develop a tender brief. The tender was successfully won by Menter a Busnes, an independent non-profit organisation that supports business and enterprise innovation across the food sector in Wales. Prior to employing a coordinator, Augusta worked with the team at Menter a Busnes to develop a small grant brief open to organisations across the county. The grant criteria encouraged applications that would deliver cross-sector work in Ceredigion under any one or more of the six-key areas of the Sustainable Food Places framework.
Putting people in place for action
Shortly after this, Menter a Busnes appointed a coordinator. Ann Owen is an agroecological market gardener at Einon’s Garden and has a wealth of experience and passion for transforming local food systems having trained with the Transition Network and more recently working with the Mach Maethlon project in Machynlleth. Augusta then met Ann weekly for half an hour check-ins to connect and offer support. This kind of close working relationship offers promise for future regional collaboration between Sustainable Food Places. At the last Ceredigion stakeholder meeting, a vote to apply for Sustainable Food Places membership was unanimous. The county is now well on its way to having all the required evidence to put forward an application for membership in 2024.
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