Kent Food Partnership tackles food crisis

Since the start of 2023, a group of stakeholders invested in Kent’s food system have been quietly working on the establishment of the Kent Food Partnership.

The partnership brings together lead agencies Produced in Kent and Social Enterprise Kent with local government, public health, Kent Universities, food and drink business representatives and community groups to try and turn the tide on a food system that is not geared towards accessible, healthy good food, but instead is making us ill and is wrecking the planet.

Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation, has been appointed chair of the partnership’s steering group. Anna has an abundance of experience in this sector having worked for the Department for International Development, Save The Children and other international organisations. In 2014, she was awarded an OBE for her work to address the global burden of undernutrition.

Anna said: “I’m really excited to be chairing this new partnership. At The Food Foundation, we see lots of opportunities for local leadership to improve food environments in local places – that’s why we’re also working with the University Kent in their ambition to become a Right to Food University.

“With a major anchor institution taking action alongside an exciting new partnership involving civil society, business, local government and researchers, food in Kent is poised to enter an exciting new chapter.

“I’ll be making sure that access to affordable healthy and sustainable food is at the heart of these plans.”

The mission of the Kent Food Partnership is to create a diverse and inclusive environment across Kent in which all its citizens and visitors can access, know about and cook good, healthy and affordable food that is sustainably grown, produced, processed, distributed, sold and served.

In its first year, the partnership’s Steering Group will focus on developing its governance structure and strategy paper which will be built on the following strategic objectives:

  1. Promote healthy, sustainably produced and affordable food to the public
  2. Tackle food poverty and diet-related ill-health
  3. Build community food knowledge, skills and resources
  4. Promote a diverse and vibrant food economy
  5. Transform catering and food procurement
  6. Reduce waste and the ecological footprint of the food system

Trade organisation Produced in Kent is well placed to play an instrumental role in the Kent Food Partnership, representing local independent businesses from across the county involved in growing, producing, selling and serving food and drink.

Floortje Hoette, CEO of Produced in Kent, said: “Putting sustainable food businesses at the heart of the local economy – one of the priority areas the Kent Food partnership is looking at – is an important step in fixing our broken food system.

“By establishing and promoting more local routes to market for growers and producers – local retail and hospitality, outdoor markets, food hubs – we reduce food miles, open the door to fairer pay and create better access to good food for the wider public.

“Government must get behind food and drink businesses who are trying to do the right thing for people and planet. Without political and financial support in place for sustainable food businesses, creating a better food system will be impossible.”

The second lead agency, Social Enterprise Kent (SEK), is focusing on another of the partnership’s priority areas – tackling food poverty and promoting healthy eating.

Closely collaborating with representatives of public and community health organisations, food banks and other food support charities, SEK is mapping gaps in the current provision of activities and outlining an action plan for next year.

SEK CEO Rebecca Smith said: “SEK is proud to be a lead agency for the Kent Food Partnership and playing a key role in overcoming the challenge we face in taking forward the mission of creating diverse and inclusive environments across Kent.

“At this stage of developments, we are focusing on tackling food poverty and promoting healthy eating through a Kent-wide collaboration of cross-sector organisations representing the voice of the community.

“We know how powerful this way of working can be by sharing knowledge, experiences, good practice, and gaps, we aim to pool resources together and make a positive contribution to people’s lives.”

Creating a Good Food Movement of residents who know about, can grow and cook good food is a third priority area of the Kent Food Partnership, with organic farm and educational centre Bore Place as the chosen organisation to lead on this.

Venue and marketing director Florence Clark said: “There are so many fantastic grassroots initiatives engaging communities in growing, cooking and composting across Kent.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to bring these groups together to collaborate and learn from each other as well as communicate with a wider audience about the benefits to wellbeing of growing and cooking from scratch.

“We are delighted to be involved in the Kent Food Partnership and to be helping to drive this agenda forward across the county.”

Kent Food Partnership steering group members University of Kent and Greenwich University are looking at the transformation of catering services and procurement systems, and a reduction of the ecological footprint of the food system respectively.

Both Universities have a track record on food-related research and are involved in the Growing Kent and Medway project, which looks at innovation in the Kent F&D sector. The University of Kent is also committed to becoming a Right to Food University.

Coming in September, the Partnership’s Steering Group will present its draft Kent Food Strategy at its first Kent Food Summit to the stakeholders who have been involved in the Partnership thus far, as well as representatives from local government, health institutions, industry and community groups.

Around the same time, the partnership hopes to be admitted as a member of the Sustainable Food Places community, which represents over 80 regional food partnerships in the UK and was set up in 2015 by the Soil Association, Sustain and Food Matters.

The Medway Food Partnership, working along the same aims as the Kent Food Partnership and sitting as an observer on the Steering Group, became a member in 2022.

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