Exploring Food Connections: in Scotland, the US and the Netherlands

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The view from the top of the hill at Whitmuir Farm. Photo by Jelmer Jeuring.

Slow Food Youth Network Scotland and Nourish Scotland joined forces for a Saturday afternoon and evening following food from soil to plate at  Whitmuir The Organic Place, a family farm just south of Edinburgh on April 9th.

The event sought to explore how we can support Scottish producers better in producing tasty, healthy, sustainable food – both now and in the future.

A local food revolution is well underway in Scotland. We’re seeing more small farms and market gardens, more farmers’ markets and more urban food growing. Micro-breweries, community bakeries and other small, innovative producers are rapidly changing our Scottish larder. Small producers tend to take better care of people and the environment and create more and more meaningful employment – but it’s not easy to make a living from local food.

The afternoon allowed us to examine and strengthen the connections between those of us who enjoy eating good sustainable food with the people who are passionate about producing it. By  connecting city dwellers to producers in this and other countries, we can better understand the strengths and weaknesses of our local food chains, understand some of the issues within contemporary sustainable farming and examine innovative ways in which we can shorten the chain between producers and consumers.  

The day provided an opportunity to hear from aspiring, new and experienced farmers from Scotland and beyond, as well as pioneering retailers, chefs and activists working to change the food system with guests from from Scotland, the US and the Netherlands! 

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Bryde Marshall from Falkland Kitchen Farm talks about sharing resources within her local farming community. Photo by Jelmer Jeuring.

 

Event Contributors

Pete Ritchie & Heather Anderson – current owners of Whitmuir Organics. Pete Ritchie is also the director of Nourish Scotland. Our hosts Heather and Pete from Whitmuir Farm  provided a tour of their farm and told us about the challenges they have faced in developing their organic farming business, complete with farm shop, gallery and cafe.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming – Severine is a farmer, activist, and organiser based in the Champlain Valley of New York. She is founder and director of The Greenhorns, a grassroots cultural organisation which supports the growing movement of young farmers America. She told us about her background and the formation of the Greenhorns and presented a witty and provocative slideshow, illustrating her thoughts on what radical change is needed to change food systems.

The Youth Food Academy – The Youth Food Movement, the Dutch branch of the Slow Food Youth Network, has been running their Youth Food Academy since 2009. Every year, 25 young people are selected for the Academy from the varied spectrum of the food system in the Netherlands, from farmers to fishermen to social entrepreneurs. A core part of the Academy is also a international study trip and this year, they decided to visit bonnie Scotland. For this event the YFM selected five participants that represented different rungs of the food chain and each gave their story and reflections on the role they play in shaping a better food future.

Bryde Marshall, Falkland Kitchen Farm, Fife – Bryde and her partner Nat started their wee farm in 2014 as part of the Falkland Estate’s New Farmer Scheme. They’re growing vegetables and keep bees. Bryde told us about the steep learning curve of setting up a farming business from scratch with limited experience. She talked about how their local community of small businesses have all worked together to share tools and machinery as well as collaborating to provide opportunities for selling direct at local markets and through their veg box scheme. 

The Food Assembly – The Food Assembly brings together people to buy fresh food directly from local farmers and food producers. Edinburgh and Glasgow recently joined more than 700 Assemblies all over Europe! Stuart from Leith Food Assembly explained the model and concept of the food assembly and how they  have worked with local businesses including Whitmuir Farm to bring sustainable food from local producers  direct to customers within the inner city, with customers ordering their weekly groceries online and then collecting from Jeremiah’s Taproom,  a pub on Leith Walk.

After splitting into groups which combined the speakers, our Dutch guests and local visitors, there was a chance for some brainstorming and healthy debate about how we can best shorten the links between producers and consumers. The day  closed with a delicious, local and organic dinner with produce from the farm, cooked up by The Edinburgh Larder

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Photo by Jelmer Jeuring.

We asked a few SFYN members what they thought of the day and their time spent with the members of the YFM Academy.

Sammi: ‘I really enjoyed getting to know some of the folks with the Youth Food Academy.  What an incredible experience to be able to hear firsthand about how to create an inspiring youth food movement! I was interested to hear about how they have been able to engage with so many different types of people involved with and interested in food.  I have definitely taken on some of their advice and am excited to help move SFYN forward here in Scotland.  I am also keen to visit the Netherlands to see their work in action!’

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Chicken  at Whitmuir. Photo by Jelmer Jeuirng.

Gillian: ‘For me the opportunity to meet and hear from unconventional ‘food career’ individuals from the Netherlands group such as communicators, designers and storytellers and witness how the YFM academy embraces them as integral individuals within the food chain was an inspiration and confidence boost for me in developing my own career as a communicator. 

Of particular resonance was the work of Marieke Creemers, who through her work as a storyteller she is striving to promote the cultural value of food by sharing the stories of small business which in turn helps to improve their own commercial value. 

The whole 3 days spent with the group also helped me better understand aspects of the Scottish food system such as the role of food banks and the international export market that I had some knowledge of but had not been able to hear about or question first hand from experts. I also feel much better connected to the youth movement throughout Europe and look forward to catching up with many of them at Terra Madre later this year!

Support for the event from the Scottish contributors and YFM NL has undoubtedly given all involved with the early beginnings of SFYN Scotland a real boost to continue growing the network here in Scotland and expand its range of members. I only hope in as much time as YFM NL have had that we might be in the position to set up our own Academy here in Scotland – and you can guarantee I’ll be signing up!’

Some more photos of the event at Whitmuir, taken by Jelmer Jeuring.

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