Four times a year, the Sustainable Food Trust hosts collaborative leadership away-days, bringing together individuals in positions of influence, to inspire and catalyse the actions that will help to move the sustainable food agenda forwards.

On 19th May, we hosted such a group on an excursion to the Duchy Home Farm. Participants included television and media producers, land-owners, the heads of wildlife conservation organisations, representatives from American fast-food retailer Chipotle, and the owners of one of the UK’s biggest vegetable box-schemes. As a flagship model of organic farming, Duchy Home Farm provides an ideal setting for discussions about food systems change. The purpose of these away-days being to explore the successes and challenges of running a mixed-use, medium-sized, sustainable farming enterprise; and to stimulate conversation, across sectors, about the urgency and scale of change that is needed.

Duchy Home Farm was chosen because of the Prince of Wales’ unique convening power, bringing together busy individuals who might not otherwise commit a day of their time to exploring these important issues. An important aspect of the Duchy Home Farm, quite apart from its influential owner, is that it operates in a real world environment of ordinary commercial conditions, with a fairly steep rents, and a range of soils (some quite difficult)  – in other words, it is like thousands of other family farms scattered throughout the UK.

The Sustainable Food Trust has a programme of work dedicated to bringing together leaders in order to collaborate together more effectively. We believe that the conversations generated on these away-days are vital in order to support individuals in realising their areas of commonality. We try to bring together all those working in food; from major retailers, to small-scale producers, to sustainability NGOs. It is our belief that the sustainable food movement has so far failed to break into the mainstream, in-part because the various sectors working for social change fail to connect up as much as you would think. The conventional farmers don’t talk to the organic farmers, the animal-welfare organisations don’t talk to the conservation organisations, while the chefs, food-producers and media consider themselves to be about ‘good food,’ but seperate from the agricultural systems or public policies that create the dominant infrastructure.

Through leadership and collaboration away-days, the SFT hopes to build consensus around the transition strategies needed to drive a more cohesive food movement, one where all organisations working towards change can align behind some key principles, and be more powerful as a collective whole than we are in our individual silos. SFT Chief Executive, Patrick Holden says; “The changes that are needed to make our food systems more sustainable will not be possible without the emergence of a latticework of connectivity between a wide range of individuals and organisations occupying key positions of influence within the food and environmental movements. The best conditions for building such a network of trust, occur when people come together on a farm and are inspired by its practice. That’s why we see the farm as the inspirational seed-bed for the emergence of a new food movement.”

As we aim to bring together a wide-range of people, these conversations are often stimulated by the varied backgrounds and differing agro-political views. These days are by-no means an exercise in purporting our own agenda, and the most interesting debates often come from those who disagree with us. As both an educational and exploratory exercise, away-days to flagship farms provide the appropriate atmosphere for reflection and debate, regarding not only sustainability in practice, but also the urgent necessity of the transition.

To find out more about our leadership and collaboration programme of work, or to apply to participate in an away-day, please email: info@sustainablefoodtrust.org

Photographs taken by Steph French

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