I’ve just arrived back in Bristol, my home during the week and my base of activity for the Sustainable Food Trust.
Each Sunday evening or Monday morning, before I leave the farm, obeying some kind of primeval hunter gatherer instinct, I load up with my car with enough raw unpasteurised milk to last me five days from our bulk milk tank, plus, more recently, cheese made from our own milk by my son Sam, frozen meat from one of our home killed animals, and a boot load of firewood.
Whether or not shipping my staple food and fuel needs just over 100 miles in the back of my ageing Volkswagen Passat Estate makes any sort of sense in terms of carbon footprint is not really the driver for this behaviour – it is linked to something far more primitive.
It has become something of a ritual, which also helps me to stay connected with my farm when I cannot be there. I am emotionally and ecologically ‘hefted’ to my hill in Wales and knowing that I derive my bodily sustenance and warmth from its soils gives an enormous sense of satisfaction.
Reflecting on this, I realise that I am enormously privileged to be in this position, where attaining self-sufficiency in food and fuel is no mere dry construct of my intellectual imagination discussed at gatherings of policy in London. It is something I can taste and sense from direct experience, now actually quite rare in this globally traded industrialised world, where all of food and fuel comes from anonymous producers who sell their commodity crops to industrial processors who supply just in time distribution centres to supermarkets.
Perhaps this privileged insight into the logistics of creating this symbolic, if fuel hungry, example of self-sufficiency in staple foods and energy for one person has a greater significance and potential usefulness than merely enabling me to reflect on my good fortune. It means that when speaking about the wider need for developing a strategy for food security, I can stand on a foundation of actual experience.
This does not necessarily mean that I will have a monopoly of wisdom or understanding of the enormous global challenges entailed in scaling this model to the point where whole communities cities, regions and even nations can achieve equivalent self-sufficiency – far from it.
However, in some interesting way speaking from practical experience, and the authority that accompanies this, is of inestimable value in discussions about policy options and strategies for moving towards more sustainable food and energy systems.
For instance, in discussions about whether Britain can feed itself, I can already see that the idea of achieving a goal of total national self-sufficiency in all foods is not really the issue, partly because we would never be able to produce many of the so-called luxury foods, such as tea, coffee, bananas and oranges, which in the case of coffee I for one would have an extremely hard time giving up!
No, the real question, during a time of emergency when there has been a sudden introduction of trade in key staple foods and energy, caused perhaps by a climatic event, war, or trade dispute is not whether I will be able to have oranges or coffee tomorrow – it would actually be about whether I would be able to stay in my house, in my city, knowing that somehow there would be a guaranteed continuity of supply of my key energy and food staples.
If I knew this was the case, I would be likely to stay put, whereas conversely, if everyone around me was swept up in a panic about where the staples were coming from, I would probably contemplate migrating to an area of greater food security.
Scaled up, this would be a recipe for the collapse of civil society and a descent into anarchy. But I know from practical experience that organising the logistics of rebuilding local distribution systems for key staple foods, not based on a transportation system using a Volkswagen Passat but perhaps instead of using trains, perhaps canals and electric trucks all of course powered by renewable energy is absolutely within our collective capacity.
To construct such food systems what will be needed is for groups of experts in ecological agriculture, local food-processing, renewable energy and sustainable transport to work together in a new way. For me this is an incredibly exciting prospect, and a project that I feel completely dedicated to supporting in every way possible over the coming years.
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