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Alchemic Kitchen: Envisaging a regional food economy to transform our food system.

Creating regional food economies, feeding people fairly and regenerating nature with alchemy, a kitchen and a community.

Photo of Megan Romania
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Global Feedback Limited ('Feedback')

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://feedbackglobal.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

London

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United Kingdom

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Liverpool city region is situated in the North West of England and covers an area of 724 km^2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

England

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I was born and raised in Liverpool, a city in England’s North West. Before joining Feedback and founding Alchemic Kitchen, I worked on sustainable food and environment-focused projects for 20 years. I know the region, its people, its challenges and opportunities; I’ve worked with many different groups of people, so I can easily jump between grassroots community orgs, funders and academics. For example, I chair the Rose Voucher steering group, which works with the charity Alexandra Rose to provide free fruit and veg from a mobile van for vulnerable families in 3 of the city’s wards. I’m a council member of the Merseyside Civic Society and have gathered a group of influential people for Alchemic Kitchen’s advisory board, such as the CEO of the Merseyside Waste and Recycling Authority and the COO of the Knowsley Business Chamber. I also set up and co-chair the Knowledge Quarter Sustainability Network.

Today, I run Alchemic Kitchen, a concept I dreamed up and founded in face of the food system challenges facing my beloved Liverpool city region. Alchemic Kitchen is a social enterprise, currently supported by grant funding through our host charity, Feedback, a UK environmental campaign group aiming to regenerate nature by transforming the food system. Alchemic Kitchen draws on important visions: realising the true value of food and the true value of people. We do this via a programme of workshops, outings and trainings adapted and inspired by demand from local community orgs, such as a veterans’ organisation, centres for people recovering from addictions and groups helping low-income families with children facing holiday hunger. In tandem, we gather surplus food arising in the region (from retail supply chains & farms) and, from this, make delicious, zero-waste preserves, chutneys and jams, which we sell to raise awareness of food waste issues and help fund our community work. Alchemic Kitchen forms the baseline and inspiration for my Vision for Liverpool city region.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Liverpool city region is a place of contrasts. We have the legacy of past glories found in the beautiful architecture, many cultural institutions and wonderfully diverse communities from our status as a major seaside port and immigration starting point for the USA. We’re a shiny new tourism destination, with shopping, restaurants and bars attracting visitors from across the world keen to spend time and money in our city. We’re brave, changemakers and influencers both locally and internationally, best evidenced by none other than Liverpool-born band, the Beatles.

We also have the legacy of poor health and high levels of deprivation following decades of industry decline, generational unemployment and under investment. We have health inequalities resulting from poor diet, low income and funding cuts that continue to affect our most vulnerable citizens. We have a thriving independent business sector yet are facing the economic challenge of a £57M hole in our council’s running costs due to the inequality of devolved council income vs social care expenditure to support a more vulnerable citizenship through the austerity measures of the past decade. We’re situated on the sea but have no regional fishing economies: During the 19th and 20th centuries, significant pollution from industry and the docks destroyed the oyster beds; while the water is now clean, with mussels and salmon to boot, the skills and businesses to catch these have been lost.

We have a densely populated (1,518,000 pop.) and diverse North West region comprising rural ag., industrial towns and busy cities. Despite the well-established ag. base that produces brassicas, apples, dairy and beef, we grow little food in Liverpool city region. What’s more, high inequality and urban deprivation have led to parts of the region being classified as food deserts.

We talk about being ‘Scouse’, not English, and we enjoy strong links with Europe and are one of the few regions that voted to stay in the EU in the UK’s EU exit referendum. We have a citizen’s mindset and are proud of our rich, deeply rooted community bonds. We like to act first and ask for forgiveness afterwards. A prime example is the setting up of the Granby 4 Streets community market in Toxteth. No licences, no official support – now a thriving monthly market that has given several micro food businesses their start. A social enterprise we work with, Homebaked Anfield, is a community-led bakery which was created from an artist’s residency in an abandoned bakery in 2008 and, 12 years on, is employing locals and putting social investment back into the local area (still a challenging environment of boarded up houses and shops). My plan is for Alchemic Kitchen to join this vanguard as a space that empowers locals to take charge of their local food system, transforming it into one that enables all to access fresh, affordable produce fairly while bringing those facing social isolation closer to the community.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

724

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1518000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

In 2020 we face some clear, stark food system challenges, broadly considered in terms of production and inputs, access and consumption, and value and environment.

Production: The region lacks a diverse hinterland of food production to supply the conurbation. Agriculture is dominated by dairy and red meat, with only 3% of total UK horticultural production taking place in the North West. A coastal city, we lack a marine resources economy. Alongside this paucity of production and resultant high inputs from other regions, like the rest of the UK, we generate significant waste, including at farm-level. We estimate that farmers regularly waste 10-16% of their crop/year; WRAP estimates waste of some crops is up to 25%. The regional food system struggles to provide adequate nutrition and keep socio-economic value in the region.

Access: 12 of Liverpool’s 30 wards are in the top 10% of England’s most deprived; 40% of households are living at/below the poverty line. The Child Poverty Life Chances Strategy Summary (2015-2018) found that 82,205 children within the region are growing up in poverty, 1/3 of whom are under 5. When rent and other bills are fixed costs, the food budget takes much of the strain of low/falling incomes, leading to increasingly constrained purchasing and the prioritisation of calorie-dense, nutrient-sparse food.

Value: Counter-intuitively, food is simply too cheap. Prices don’t reflect production/processing; those growing, preparing, serving and selling food are among the lowest paid in the region. To deliver low-cost food, production’s been de-regionalised: Food production, retail and manufacture are largely controlled by corporations. While some of these may be HQ’d in the region, they’re largely divorced from local values and value chains, majorly financially benefiting shareholders. Low access to varied, locally grown food, combined with high food poverty has led to communities having little awareness of how food is produced, its nutritional benefits or how it can be most deliciously and healthily enjoyed: We’ve lost the true value of food. 

By 2050, climate change will be felt in Liverpool. A rising sea tide would cause large central and coastal areas to submerge; put thousands of homes at risk; and hinder Liverpool’s ability to maintain its port status, as ships would no longer be able to feasibly access the harbour. Horticultural production may be increasingly challenging; the wider UK may face food access issues, with greater reliance on imports. All this may increase food costs, impacting the budgets of the poorest, unless there’s considerable shift in wages and social support. Present inequalities will only continue to expand. Food availability in the region will become less diverse, with an increased focus on technology- and investor-driven production and low citizen awareness of nutrition and food’s value.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Vision: A regional food system that keeps prosperity, nutrients and wellbeing in the city region. Community ownership, revitalised production and a circular approach to ecological, social and financial value are ways to ensure all city region inhabitants have access to secure, nutritious, delicious food. Production: A revitalised, local food production system, from redeveloping Liverpool’s oyster beds and cultivating multi-trophic, nutritionally dense future foods (eg mussels, seaweed) to promoting agro-forestry approaches to regional farming (allow carbon capture while providing max. nutritional value for min. environmental impact). A network of small-scale growers linked to community-owned regional/local food businesses which employ locals, seeded and supported by the region’s many anchor institutions (eg universities/hospitals). Access: Deep community involvement in sourcing and using food they want/need via bodies like regional procurement boards, staffed by community and anchor institution reps, with links to production, schools and other hubs. Greater regional coordination will allow a high-level of circularity within Liverpool region food systems. We envisage a Northern Food Corridor, linked to procurement boards, which would enable surplus food redistribution from growers/producers across the North of England. Value: Food distribution won't be seen as a band-aid for food poverty but as a rational use of nutrients and resources, adhering to the food use hierarchy to ensure that people (food), animals (feed) and soils (remainders/compost) are fed. As locals become more engaged in the enterprises and processes of producing/using food, they’ll learn its value. Improved access will allow for greater communal meal sharing, including community feasts and meals which provide opportunities for community integration and flexible social support networks that include groups who are often excluded.

To trial this Vision, we’ve developed and co-created a pilot regional social enterprise (Alchemic Kitchen), part of what we see as a future network of regional, locally owned and run enterprises which pin together the fabric of the future food economy. Regional enterprises are key to keeping prosperity, nutrients and skills local. Alchemic Kitchen aims for community members (particularly those in difficult circumstances) to gain useful culinary/kitchen skills, develop a deeper connection to where food comes from and learn how to innovatively use produce. This creative, sustainable business model makes the case to public procurers to invest in and use local capacity to grow, harvest and create food products; shifts attitudes and culture surrounding food and waste; and enables the development of a regional food economy by keeping money, skills and produce local. With these skills and econ growth, locals can develop their own enterprises, growing local economies and helping them avoid brain drain by making rural areas attractive to/viable options for youth.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

With these challenges addressed, we envisage a thriving regional food economy which connects all members of the community, bringing them together to work alongside one another to continue driving the prosperity of Liverpool city region. Specifically, we envisage a region with increased access to healthy, affordable produce, and all the health benefits stemming from this increase in fruits and vegetables. We envisage a community that is acutely aware of the economic and social benefits of keeping their hard-earned money in the local economy by investing in regionally grown produce and locally crafted, revalorised products. We see a significant increase in skills-learning and employment access for those at the farthest corners of the community (e.g. military veterans, homeless, people in recovery, etc.) and their subsequent reduced social isolation and increased wellbeing. We envisage a greater connected-ness between farmers and community members, with a greater number of community members volunteering to ‘glean’ (harvest) would-be-wasted produce from farms so that it can benefit the local communities, from being revalorised by Alchemic Kitchen to redistributed to homeless shelters, food banks, women’s refuges and more. Our Vision is of a North with more autonomy over how it feeds its citizens, with circular food economies as a way of achieving regional resilience.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

With our Vision, we’re getting back to the basics and putting the forgotten human dimension back into the equation for a regenerative, nourishing food future. Currently, profit wins at the expense of connection and our planet’s resources. But we know that food is more than just a tool for sating hunger: It has a key part to play in creating social connection, regenerating soils and places, bettering mental and physical well-being, expanding knowledge, exchanging cultures, boosting the economy and creating transactional satisfaction. A whole system approach has the potential to yield so many benefits for people and the planet.

Our micro, people-centred, ‘whole system’ Vision is not for some utopian yesteryear, but a creative regeneration of the food hierarchy that will utilise smart technology as much as reviving older techniques and practices to support an efficient, but kind, food system that replenishes and nurtures from start to finish. It will support the building of local economic resilience in the Liverpool city region, helping to develop a strong place-based economy that could challenge existing food systems by revaluing food and stepping away from corporate profit at the expense of people and planet. At Alchemic Kitchen, we work with people who have been through tough times, homelessness, addiction, mental and physical health issues, veterans, vulnerable families and individuals, and it’s important to us that we involve them in the design of our new food system. Our Vision is co-created by and for local people, not parachuted in.

Our Vision, piloted by Alchemic Kitchen, is a transformational, practical, and innovative social enterprise showcasing how food plays a vital part in all aspects of human and planetary life. We help reduce on-farm and market food waste and encourage a revaluation of food, looking at how it is produced, distributed and disposed of, without forgetting the vital components of replenishment, economic stability and accessibility for the people it feeds. A combination of education, action and production, Alchemic Kitchen creates new products from food that might otherwise be discarded, getting as much nutritional value from it as possible. Embracing sustainable thinking, the kitchen takes inspiration from the past, using old techniques of fermenting, pickling, and drying; it also uses new ideas from diverse food cultures around the world: crafting breads from brewery waste and pickles from local cabbages are just two examples. We work with local people to create these products, teaching food skills, promoting social cohesion and encouraging onward learning and entrepreneurship.

The IPCC (2019) report on climate and land is clear that the way we produce and consume our food is having serious impacts on the environment, from depleting freshwater supplies to exhausting our soils and driving biodiversity loss. With these issues in mind, Alchemic Kitchen has developed a model which works for the environment: By sourcing would-be-wasted produce on farms, often caused by supermarkets’ desire for ‘perfect’ produce (and thus pigeonholing farmers into an unfair system of necessary overproduction), and food at-risk of being tossed by local markets, Alchemic Kitchen keeps already-produced food in the system through a unique revalorisation process. Thus, even would-be-wasted beer grain can be repurposed into delicious granola, for example.

In the current system of profit-over-planet, cheap, highly processed foods dominate supermarket shelves and food deserts. Liverpool city region is no exception: With fast food restaurants like KFC, McDonalds and Subway lining the streets, and little access to fresh produce and farmers markets, it’s clear that the local food system needs to change. Alchemic Kitchen seeks to address this gap by providing healthier, substantially plant-based options in the form of revalorised products.

Our pilot is only a small beginning: Our Vision of the regional food economy in Liverpool in 2050 involves many other layers, but they all begin from the same principles of fair and ecological production, equitable access and community-rooted value. Our Vision is of a patchwork of similar locally and regionally owned enterprises, alongside community institutions catalysed by anchor institutions such as hospitals, local authorities and universities. We see opportunities in the development of locally controlled new food sectors, including foods which will provide micronutrient alternatives to high meat and dairy consumption – likely to become particularly important as the region shifts away from dairy and red meat production.

Our model has significant potential to drive the local food economy. From paying farmers for would-be-wasted produce on their farms, to creating new, tasty products from that produce with local community members, and subsequently selling the products, Alchemic Kitchen ensures that local produce and local money is kept locally. Moreover, the training aspect of the Alchemic Kitchen would allow a fellow trainee to create their own local business, thereby growing the local economy with locally owned/run businesses. Our model will moreover catalyse new markets for regionally produced food, including new foods, such a locally grown seafood.

Alchemic Kitchen has a unique role to play in cultivating a social culture which combats social isolation and increases knowledge-sharing (and retention) both between generations and across diverse populations. All our work and activities are underpinned by the understanding that food has a unique power to connect diverse people of all ages and backgrounds and is transcendent of politics, capable of breaking down social barriers and fostering wellbeing in communities. We gear our activities towards sustained engagement, inspiring participants to think differently about food systems, and fostering an understanding that taking action on food in their local communities is a form of agency, empowering them to shift from being a simple food consumer to a food citizen and to effect positive change. We will actively bring local community members together to help reach our shared vision of a healthier, more sustainable Liverpool city region.

Our Vision of a regenerative, nourishing food system demands bold action from policymakers to support smaller, locally rooted initiatives for food economies. There is a need for action, backed by regulation, that supports training, living wage provision, family-friendly working practices, reduced business rates for start-ups, reviews of planning policies that directly impact green spaces, encouragement of public money spent for public good through procurement reviews. We need more efficient ways to transport food in the region, drawing upon the newly created Northern Food Corridor that will swap surplus from one area to the next, using transport in an efficient manner that ensures no wasted journeys.

As mentioned before, our Vision was not developed by top-down, outsider processes but rather by Liverpool enthusiasts, alongside a number of stakeholders across the North West, including Merseyside Recycling Waste Authority, Knowsley Chamber of Business, One Knowsley (voluntary & social enterprise support), One Ark (social housing landlords), Knowsley Council, Myerscough College (adult education), Speke House (homeless military veterans in recovery), Tom Harrison House (veterans and first responders in recovery), Liverpool Cares (linking older and younger people to reduce isolation), Friends of Eaton Street Park, Homebaked Anfield, Hope University, Liverpool Knowledge Quarter Sustainability Network, Liverpool University, Ministry of Defence, Feedback’s Gleaning Network and Liverpool Veterans HQ. This co-creation of Alchemic Kitchen was a necessary process by which we ensured our Vision would be viable, desirable and feasible to develop in Liverpool city region. Moreover, Alchemic Kitchen will encourage and support anyone with local and sustainable food initiatives that could make a difference to people living in the Liverpool city region. Moreover, our Vision is an operationalisation of the conceptual model for a circular food system developed by our host charity Feedback: We hope to bring our learnings to national policy makers and other community groups through Feedback, to enable replication throughout the UK and further afield.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

Our Vision developed through both looking outward and inward. This period has been dominated by Covid-19; we’ve found that among the many impacts of the pandemic has been an opportunity to look up from the current system and envisage a better one. We’ve consulted our steering group, internal visioning workshops, and wider discussions in local forums. We’ve further investigated latest research on good nutrition within ecological limits. During Covid-19 Alchemic Kitchen rapidly, responsively shifted its model to become a temporary provider of support to communities. This cemented our position within the immediate community and led to forming a collaborative partnership with local organisations in Knowsley (part of the region) to found a sister project, the Knowsley Kitchen, another pilot of a future food system in one of England’s top 3 most deprived areas. This has helped us see possible roadmaps to reach our Vision. We’re proud of our service to our community in this time of need.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

  • Agrain Denmark: Danish business; discussed the tech & business model behind their use of local beer grain mash to produce flour for bread, cakes and snacks.
  • One Knowsley: Umbrella body for voluntary organisations in the area and a key advisory for our locally embedded work.
  • Merseyside Waste & Recycling Authority: The region’s waste body and an advisor to our project.
  • Liverpool Independent Delivery Service: A start-up rapidly responding to Covid-19 to deliver fresh food to households from local suppliers to the restaurant trade, whose supply chains were disrupted. A partner for our new food vision project, Knowsley Kitchen.
  • Livv Housing: A social housing provide; advisor to Alchemic Kitchen.
  • Toast Ale: A key partner funding our Covid-19 response work and a model of a circular social enterprise which could be replicated in the region.


Worked closely with experts from our host charity Feedback and consulted their network of experts and practitioners (e.g. Sustainable Food Places).

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

During a crisis, it can be challenging to make time to reflect and think about the long-term future, yet simultaneously there’s a hunger for change and an openness to new ways of thinking and doing. We’ve consulted our steering group on the future of Alchemic Kitchen within our wider Vision. We sent out a short survey to our contacts and asked questions on Twitter, where we have a strong local network of friends and allies from across Liverpool’s food sector. Our diverse stakeholders include:

  • Karen Mower, founder Incredible Edible Knowsley. Part of the Incredible Edible network; grows food with and for the community.
  • The Revd Canon Malcolm Rogers, MBE Vicar of Huyton Quarry, Area Dean of Huyton and The Bishop of Liverpool's Canon For Reconciliation. Mal is a convener of all faith-based groups in Knowsley and is connected to numerous community networks.
  • Gary See, Torrington Drive Community Association (TDCA) manager. TDCA is a committee made up of people who’ve worked with local residents for the past 30 years.
  • Pam Bowes, manager for Home-Start Knowsley. Has insight into the difficulties faced by Knowsley families.
  • Corin Bell, Open Kitchen Manchester. Founder and director of Manchester’s first waste food pay-it-forward catering social enterprise.
  • Rene Meijer, Food Works Sheffield. CEO.  A social enterprise collecting food destined for landfill and making it available to the people of Sheffield.
  • Paul Myers, Co-founder and managing director of Farm Urban, now named Greens for Good, a micro herb and salad farm producing fresh food underground using technology.
  • Iain Young, University of Liverpool microbiologist who we’ve consulted about reviving the oyster beds in Crobsy, developing rope-grown mussels and harvesting seaweed.
  • Erika Rushton, Creative Economist founder and secretariat of Kindred, which connects, supports and harnesses local entrepreneurialism for social good in the Region.

For full list/description, see additional upload.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Covid-19’s impacts (e.g. supply chain falters; panic buying) tell us much about the local food system and how it needs to change to be resilient, fair, regenerative. Food responses have been largely led either by the independent voluntary sector (e.g. food banks) or by large retailers. Without proper regional and local coordination this has inevitably led to gaps. For example, the UK government replaced ‘Free School Meals’ with a voucher system which allowed parents to spend £15/week in designated supermarkets. When the scheme first opened, some families in Liverpool region found that, even if they could access the vouchers, they couldn’t spend them as there were no designated retailers in their area. This signal exposes the lack of resilience caused by a concentrated food supply chain and urban food deserts.

In response to the lack of access, which has been worsened, not created, by the crisis, a local start-up delivery service has opened, Liverpool Independent Delivery Services. LIDS works with local food businesses and producers who’ve lost markets due to the closure of restaurants and other catering businesses and are instead supplying citizens directly. Its success signals the wave of enthusiasm for alternative ways to access good food. We’re working with LIDS on a new, exciting prosumer model of supplying fresh, healthy food in Knowsley, the 3rd most deprived area in the country, to offer a sustainable model that can continue post-crisis.

Outside the crisis, we’re seeing signals further afield which drive optimism. In the New York City region, oyster beds are being rehabilitated by the Billion Oyster Project, which works with students to rebuild the beds and re-establish an abundant ecosystem and food source. Would such an approach work in Liverpool?

Regarding circular food systems, we reached out to a business in Denmark called Agrain, which uses beer mash to produce bread, low-sugar cakes and pastries. They wish to syndicate their model in other European countries, and we have strong links with local craft breweries – a promising start.

Another inspiring signal is the emergence of ‘chaos gardens’ in some US farms – essentially cover crops which include a variety of foods which can be gleaned by the local community and which simultaneously regenerate soil ready for the next main crop (Miller 2020). This presents a promising transitional step towards more mixed, regenerative agricultural models.

Long-term trends tell a mixed story. In the last few decades, the UK food retail market has concentrated into the hands of a few major retailers, almost all shareholder owned. Progress on household food waste has stalled, but survey signals during the crisis indicated new waste-preventing behaviours emerging (Hubbub 2020). At a policy level, food continues to be side-lined both regionally and nationally: the UK has no national food policy and the recent UK Agriculture Bill makes no attempt to integrate healthy food into agricultural planning.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Clara, 21, wakes up in 2051 and greets her mum, Emily. Clara smiled as she saw a bottle of her mum’s famous Liverpudlian Oyster Sauce, featuring a photo of her grandad. 30 years ago, the City Council opened a new scheme for reviving the oyster beds; he applied and encouraged Emily to join his business. She combined their start-up with a course in sustainable ocean food systems management at Liverpool Hope Uni. Now, she has her own business – Liverpool’s first locally produced oyster products, including her sauce. Outside, Clara jumped on her bike. This was her day off from her 4-days/week Young Food Citizen Apprenticeship at the community growing space, 10 mins away by bike and paid above the Living Wage, unlike in her mum’s time. There, her work varies between supporting the Community Procurement Group to make decisions (e.g. who supplies local school meals) to running cooking workshops at local farmers markets. Cycling, she passed a long row of fruit trees, part of a decade-old street-by-street orchard project. Soon, there’d be a communal picking, processing and bottling weekend to create preserves, some distributed locally, some exchanged with other food zones. She later noticed blackened markings on the sides of the houses; it was hard to believe that, 30 years ago, there were that many cars and that much pollution. Now, it’s a reformed cycling highway; the only vehicle she passed was an electric van taking household food scraps to the local compost centre. Further, she saw Paul, owner of a zero-waste microbrewery in town, which runs entirely on renewables and sends its spent beer grain to produce flour for the local bakery. Paul’s father was the local butcher; he now works part-time in a mobile abattoir circling the city, visiting the small number of livestock now integrated with mixed horticultural farms. Last, she passed an old food bank, now a food cooperative bulk buying products not manufactured in the region for locals to replenish their supplies.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

It’s clear that our current linear, resource-heavy way of producing and consuming our food is seriously impacting the environment, from depleting freshwater supplies to exhausting our soils and driving biodiversity loss through an ever-expanding agricultural frontier (IPCC 2019; Bajželj et al. 2014). In our 2050 Vision, our food system is supportive of both human and planetary health, and we have redefined food system ‘productivity’ to measure level of nutritional content consumed, for the least environmental impact, or the greatest environmental enhancement (rather than profit per acre, for example). In this way, the onus is on producing high-quality nutrition, minimising waste and reducing environmental burdens of all kinds, from nitrogen pollution to GHGs.  

Alchemic Kitchen has developed a circular, sustainable model of the food system that is dedicated to reducing the burdens we place on our food system, inspired by our host charity Feedback’s model (https://feedbackglobal.org/about-us/our-model/). By sourcing would-be-wasted produce on farms and food at-risk of being tossed by local markets, the Alchemic Kitchen keeps already-produced food in the system through a revalorisation process – critical, as food waste reduction has been identified by Project Drawdown as the most important measure we can take to mitigate climate change (Project Drawdown 2020). Thus, even would-be-wasted beer grain can be repurposed into flour or delicious granolas, for example. What was previously viewed as waste has value, which means less is later disposed of (whether through composting or landfills); given that up to 5 million tonnes of food is wasted on UK farms every year, the savings could be huge. Our 2050 food system will prioritise soil health, nutritional output, local biodiversity and good livelihoods by prioritising small, mixed agricultural systems which are more resilient to the changes wrought by climate change (for example, using silviopasture to promote biodiversity, deliver quality nutrition through perennials such as fruit and nut trees) and sequester carbon. In the North West of England, this shift is likely to require a profound shift away from a meat- and dairy-driven farming economy (see ‘Economy’).

Alongside more familiar, rural food production, albeit in new forms, our 2050 food system will incorporate new forms of food production, with variety providing some measure of resilience against the changes wrought by climate change. Unfed aquaculture requiring no land or marine ingredients, underground growing, rooftop growing, the use of public spaces for co-leisure food production, such as fruit trees and other perennials. By creating a greener, more abundant city and peri-urban space, we will increase small-scale biodiversity pockets, including providing habitats for bees and other pollinators, increasing shade cover, reducing urban heating and reducing surface run-off from inevitable wetter, milder winters.

 The Liverpool City Council (2016) have identified hotter, drier summers; milder, wetter winters; extreme weather events; surface water flooding; and air quality as major future concerns to Liverpudlians brought on by climate change. Our Vision has taken all these into consideration, first, with increased attention to the region’s 130+ parks and greenspaces. In 2050, citizens of the region will be knowledgeable of managing the city’s thousands of fruit trees and bushes and will have a sense of community ownership of them. With this increased nature connection will come an increased attention to the land on which these trees grow, and in 2050, the greenspaces will have been fully capitalised on with increased planting of trees and other edible (and some non-edible) plants, which will help reduce surface-run off, increase biodiversity (especially insect/bee pollination), and reduce urban heating (see Hölzinger, 2011; Liverpool City Council 2016; Bird et al. 2003; Collins et al. 1997; Thomas and Nisbet 2006). This increase in available local produce will reduce the need for cars and public transport, which will help improve air quality for citizens – critical, as there is a high proportion of North West communities with increased vulnerability to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. This heat, availability, and rain capture will be further emphasised by the city’s new rooftop gardens (as modelled in Manchester, where green roofs in densely build-up areas reduced runoff by over 17%; Gill et al. 2007), as well as underground growing, both of which we’re seeing piloted in Liverpool now (Food Urban; Goodness Gracious). Thus, even with the extreme and unpredictable weather events that will occur in 2050, citizens (and especially vulnerable) people will be less impacted by food supply chain disruptions and, through our regional food economy, will be knowledgeable about how to use locally grown produce.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

England has deeply complex food issues experienced at the household level. For example, The Food Foundation (2018) found that the poorest fifth of families, representing 4 million children, would need to set aside 40% of their total weekly income after housing costs to be able to afford to eat enough fruit and vegetable as per government guidelines – it’s scandalous, though unsurprising, that around 80% of UK children are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. The backdrop of Brexit and the threats to global food production and supply chains presented by the changing climate (IPCC, 2019) risk further exacerbating these food access inequalities. The ‘Due North’ inquiry (PHE 2014) indicated that the impact of health damaging environments, lack of opportunities to access positive health factors, such as a healthy diet, and austerity measures are greater in the North of England, and it advocated for integrating support and services working in partnership to tackle these issues.

In many parts of Liverpool city region, we have a serious problem with access to food, in particular healthy, fresh food. Traditionally, urban planning has not engaged with food issues other than in the location of food outlets (whether supermarket or fast food). Policy need to integrate transport, planning, the built environment, community spaces and healthy policy to achieve impact. Public Health initiatives have tended to focus on children and obesity and very little, if any, attention has been paid to food access. Current approaches to transport, planning and provision of community services may have unintended consequences for food access for people – and these consequences may differ according to the level of financial independence, location where you live, family circumstances and food skill ability.

In response to this reality, reimagining the built environment and actively pursuing policies that support fresh food growing and production within neighbourhoods is a key tenet of our Vision. Leading by example and allowing people to really connect with food at a visceral level is essential to them understanding and learning to value food. In 2050, then, this would mean peri-urban agricultural systems integrated into the region, with community ownership of previous ‘brown’ land and community-led decisions over what is grown. Our Vision sees our region converted from somewhere with a huge dearth of options for buying locally produced, healthy food, to somewhere where everyone lives within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride of access to good food. This will take multiple forms, from our peri-urban farms (using locally collected food scraps for compost), to communal kitchens and ovens, ‘mobile’ food shops which pop up in different neighbourhoods on different days (like a moveable farmers market): all of which create strong incentives to shop little and often, with regular daily exercise, rather than the current model where difficulty of access encourages bulk shops and purchase of cheap, highly processed, long-life products.

 Although there is considerable convergence on the need to radically change diets, there is significant divergence on how diets should change in different geographical areas to ensure nutritional needs are met with the minimum environmental impact. Moreover, currently there is generally low citizen understanding of what we need to ensure a balanced diet, which includes vital micronutrients such as vitamin B12 and calcium. While recent years have seen an increased push for plant-based diets (whether wholly or partially), these vital micronutrients can be difficult to obtain through plant-based diets alone and may prove a daunting task for people on low-incomes. Research indicates that ‘future foods’ (such as insects, algae, mussels and seaweeds) have the potential to supply these key nutrients for diets in a far less ecologically impactful way than meat, alongside a predominately plant-based diet (Van Zanten et al. 2018). These are ‘new’ foods to many: foods which have not yet been incorporated into diets or into general public understanding. But, we are enthusiastic about Liverpool’s optimal position to be pioneers in this frontier, particularly given the region’s currently unused seabed, and in 2050, we see Liverpool as leaders in producing aquatic future foods like mussels, seaweed, and algae, ensuring that all in the region not only have access to these local sources of vital micronutrients but are also involved in their cultivation and ownership (community-led, community-owned production).

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Lack of unionisation and relentless pressure toward efficiency has led to low wages and working conditions for food workers. Zero-contract hours and in-work poverty leave food system workers’ economic and food security on a knife edge. In the farming world, a relentless squeeze on farm-gate prices but the powerful retail sector devalues not only food but those who dedicated their lives to its production. Between 2018 and 2019, dairy farmers lost 33% of farm income.

Our Vision marks the end of the supermarket era. This model of delivery food from farms to people has seen huge numbers of smaller farms go out of business, a proliferation of products such as industrially produced and highly processed meat products which are damaging to both human and planetary health, and a strangling of diversity of production and distribution models in favour of consolidation and shareholder-driven profits.

By adopting business models which keep value within the region and do not externalise it towards shareholders, we will build a new network of food businesses of many different types – cooperatives, social enterprises, community-supported models, micro-enterprises – which keep nutritional and financial value in the region.

We are very aware that the transitions to mitigate the climate impacts of our current food system, such as a massive reduction in meat and dairy consumption, pose difficult questions of equity and justice – especially for the many farmers in our region who produce these products. Our 2050 Liverpool city region includes a role for farmers and land workers in creating our future rural and peri-urban agricultural system, involving diverse farms which offer more satisfying, year-round work and rely less on poorly paid seasonal labour. In 2050, more people are drawn into food production and distribution work, entailing a reversal in the trend towards ever greater specialisation of roles, and far more local ownership of food production.

During the transition towards 2050, our model has significant potential to drive the regional economy. From paying farmers for would-be-wasted produce on their farms, to creating new, tasty products from that produce with local community members, and subsequently selling the products. We envisage our own social enterprise, Alchemic Kitchen, forward-modelling this by using locally produced farm or supply chain surplus to train local people in food skills, keeping both nutrients, skills and financial value in the region.

 Within the context of wider social reform, for example a shift towards Universal Basic Income, described by some UK politicians as an idea ‘whose time has come’ in the context of Covid19, in 2050 we envisage a food and economic system where hours are reduced, enabling a more equal distribution of childcare and job roles between men and women. We see our hub and spoke model (see illustration) allowing individuals to hold multiple roles both within and without the food system, none of which require a long commute. Covid-19 has demonstrated that many roles can easily be done from home, leaving more time for ‘work’ outside of our main jobs, and increasing family time.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

A sustainable community food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.

“Liverpool is the pool of life”, wrote Carl Jung, and he was right. We’re a vibrant city region offering world-class academic institutions extending across a wide range of subjects, a place in search of innovative solutions and smart interventions that will improve all residents’ quality of life via sustainable, replicable, collaborative partnerships. We propose to work within this wonderful Liverpool Living Laboratory and use it as a pilot space to test a range of inventive ideas that will demonstrate how the principles of the circular economy can be applied to a food strategy within a distinct area to benefit all within it.

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

Our 2050 food system will be embedded in Liverpool’s strong regional identity, using food to bring people together; we’ll reinvigorate old methods of food production and consumption (e.g. locally produced shellfish) and make the most of the diverse cultural and culinary traditions brought to the region by successive waves of immigration. Home to the oldest settled Chinese community in Europe, the first mosque in Britain and Afro-Caribbean families that can trace their roots back to the 16th century, we’ve always been a melting pot of immigrants passing through and choosing to stay. We’re home to communities from Eastern and Central Europe, Yemen, Syria, Somalia; we’ve welcomed refugees, with whom Alchemic Kitchen’s been working (e.g. SHARe – Support & Help for Asylum seekers and Refugees – Knowsley). Above all, we’re Scousers, named after our regional dish, scouse, brought to us by Scandinavian sailors who knew it as lobskaus; this hearty stew has become embedded in our collective folk culture, so much so that we have a celebratory day – Global Scouse Day – on 28 Feb. when all Scousers across the world make scouse and celebrate. Locally we have a saying, “Scouse, not English”, and that sums up our attitude to life. We’re curious people who don’t care much for authority and have a deep sense of community.

Alchemic Kitchen has a unique role to play in cultivating a social culture which combats social isolation and increases knowledge-sharing (and retention) both between generations and across diverse populations. All our work and activities are underpinned by the understanding that food has a unique power to connect diverse people of all ages and backgrounds irrespective of politics, capable of breaking down social barriers and fostering wellbeing in communities. We gear our activities towards sustained rather than one-off or sporadic engagement, inspiring participants to think differently about food systems, and fostering an understanding that taking action on food in their local communities is a form of agency, empowering them to shift from being a simple food consumer to a food citizen and to effect positive change. We will actively bring local community members together to help reach our shared vision of a healthier, more sustainable Merseyside.

Previously sailors and merchant traders, Scousers have entrepreneurship in their bones. We lost our way in terms of our food production due to the decline of our maritime industry and the pollution it caused. Building on our agricultural land and turning farms into housing estates further eroded our ability to feed ourselves. But this will change. We’re fortunate to have much green and open space in our region, which sits underused at the heart of our communities, and of being a coastal city. Reinventing old ways with new skills and techniques to make the most of pockets of land, hidden underground spaces and empty shorelines, our Vision sees us using our natural assets to enhance and improve all our citizens’ lives.

 Neighbourhood scale food production and growing will enhance the larger more commercial farms that ring our region. We’ll 1) introduce “chaos crops” or pocket farming in small spaces that everyone can access and tend; 2) replant fruit trees, nut hedges and other edible landscaping to refamiliarize people with what they can pick and eat without needing permission; 3) nuture small food businesses to start up, with policy driven support and investment from local government; 4) bring back community ownership and local asset building; 5) collaborate with our newest citizens from the Middle East and central Europe, who’ve expressed interest (to us) in reinvigorating their agricultural heritage in the Region, planting and growing food to supplement their family diets, as the English used to 100 years ago. Community shared beehives, hens and pigs, fed and managed by all to enable all to enjoy, whilst teaching the circular food system of grow, use, replenish and recycle to new generations.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Tech advances are needed across the board – largely from the perspective of delivery technologies, some of which are already available today, at a price which allows widespread regional and local roll-out. From better understanding of how to maximise peri-urban agricultural opportunities in a regenerative way, to tech which facilitates a localised circular economy (e.g. the use of food waste as a feed source to grown insects, either for direct consumption or as animal or fish feed). Logistical models which ensure food is delivered where it is needed and reduces the number of journeys required, zero-carbon transport systems, and localised renewable energy production with smart grids which store and deliver energy where and when it is needed.

We’re not suggesting a return to the past; there are many opportunities to update old practices with new tech. The region’s fruit trees hold significant potential for geolocation, to measure and track an individual tree’s growth and unique needs. Automated monitoring of planting and producing across the city can help rural and peri-urban farmers to precision planting to meet demand and allow by-products to meet their most effective use within our circular economy. For supply chain resilience, we see a connected online network for linking the various stakeholders involved in our Vision (e.g. horticulture farms with local markets), connecting across the city region and the wider North West of England; we know we can’t get all we need in one space, and this well-linked corridor would ensure that products get to where they’re needed in the most efficient way possible (e.g. supply chain and logistics modelling ensures fewest possible journeys when moving food around). For surplus, we see sophisticated distributed online networks for sharing and avoiding waste (something which is already taking place in the form of Olio and other apps). Advances in tech for growing underground and on rooftops (e.g. Farm Urban, Goodness Gracious and for monitoring sensitive aquatic growing habitats and avoiding benthic overload similar to that unveiled in Feb. 2020 by Northrop Grumman for the Chesapeake Bay. We’re looking to a future that uses tech to help facilitate a more efficient, circular, equitable food system. We must ensure we don’t further divorce people from where their food comes from and put social justice at the heart of these technologies: one unanswered tech and equity question will be how the development of ‘tech meats’ is owned and resourced. There is an opportunity, if these products become a mainstay of everyday diets, to avoid replicating the ownership structures of the current meat industry, where vertical supply chain integration has seen just a few very large corporations control vast swathes of the industry. Will the right tech developments enable community ownership models for the production of meat/dairy alternatives?

There’s a clear relationship between groups that are digitally excluded and those at greater risk of poor health. Those excluded/living in deprived areas often lack the skills, ability and means to get online. In 2050, all Liverpool city region citizens will have deep digital access, linking community hubs more effectively and seamlessly. One approach is centralised internet access which households and institutions network into rather than individual connections to the web. Digital connectivity prevents isolation and allows better coordination across our future food system.

This has already begun. Our region has an action plan in place to drive econ. growth and achieve the goal of becoming the UK’s most digitally connected city region. Policies on housing, transport, skills and energy must support digital connectivity to benefit all in the Region and beyond. Ultrafast connectivity will supercharge our Region and transform how we all work, live, play. Connecting our communities and ensuring that digital inclusion is a key tenet of how our region develops into the future. This will be achieved by creating a full fibre network that covers the 6 local authority areas that make up our city region. Key assets include the Hartree super-computer, one of the biggest, fastest computers in the UK, which is based in the Halton district of the Region. We’re also the landing point for one of the UK’s main trans-Atlantic fibre optic cables, carrying internet traffic between the UK, North America and the rest of the world. Work began on the broadband infrastructure in January 2020 and is scheduled for completion by 2023. Locally, we are already part of a wider project  - KGV Grow Project - working with Groundwork and Incredible Edible Knowsley to improve the skills and educational life chances of people in the area through a mix of food activities, gardening and health and wellbeing courses. Digital inclusion will form part of this, so it’s important to ensure that tech plays a part in developing the regional food system of the future that will benefit our communities.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

We need bold action from policymakers to support smaller, locally rooted initiatives for food economies. We need 1) a food policy for Liverpool, grounded in principles of circularity, access, value; 2) land use planning accounting for local preferences, environmental, nutritional needs; 3) action, backed by regulation, that supports training, basic income provision, family-friendly working practices, reduced business rates for start-ups, reviewed planning policies that directly impact green spaces, public money spent for public good via procurement reviews; 4) more efficient ways to transport food in the region, drawing on the new Northern Food Corridor that will swap surplus from one area to the next, using efficient transport with no wasted journeys.

Above all, we need regional policymakers who embrace food as an essential stratum of creating zero-carbon, high quality futures for citizens. Devolution is underway in the UK; trends suggest we may continue to devolve power to regions and city authorities (e.g. mayors). This may need to be accompanied by new forms of regional government (e.g. regional food boards sitting above local food groups staffed by food councillors for each neighbourhood). Policymaking must be an exercise in democratic discussion and decision-making, whereby citizens can see real responsibility and power in their hands, to create buy-in rather than apathy. Citizens Assemblies are beginning in the UK, albeit without policy power: these forms of decision-making must become commonplace, with civic participation seen as part of everyday life.

Policymaking must be more sensitive and cohesive; food policy should be a partnership of health, environmental and economic priorities rather than siloed into different departments and as result, ineffectually tackled. Regional institutions will play a far greater role: universities and hospitals will be less divorced from their immediate neighbourhoods via civic participation in long-term institutional planning, made relevant to local people’s lives via awareness of the buying power that anchor institutions like these bring to their area. In the UK there has been interest in the Detroit D2D procurement programme focused on strengthening B2B connections throughout the city to increase the local spend of larger corporations with Detroit-based business and to support the capacity of smaller vendors. The city of Preston (NW England) has developed its own version of this, implementing the principles of Community Wealth Building within Preston and the wider Lancashire region. We have good connections with Preston, including the food partnership The Larder and the University of Central Lancaster (UCLA), and can use these relationships to learn from Preston’s challenges and successes for our Vision.

While the UK doesn’t have a national cross-government food strategy, there are signs of change: the need to craft a new agricultural and environmental regime in the wake of Brexit has opened the door to a National Food Strategy consultation, the first in 75 years. Also, positive food change often comes from the energy, innovation and action of grass-root communities: A People’s Food Policy was published in 2017 as a result of an extensive independent civil society process. The ways policy can support such positive food change include 1) Establishing a network for community food activists to help them share ideas and resources, co-create projects, and direct them to advice, training, grants and toolkits. 2) Mapping and making available assets such as green- and brownfield sites, or redundant buildings that can be used for community food-growing/other projects. 3) Lobbying for urban food-growing possibilities incorporated in local development projects via the creation of roof gardens/community growing spaces in residential housing/commercial developments. 4) Increasing community food growing via additional provision of allotments, edible landscaping, chaos crops and initiatives (e.g. The Big Dig; Incredible Edible).

Some of this would be difficult to achieve without changes to local authority policies/practice, aimed at improving individual/community access to resources that could be used for food enterprises/projects. This is why it’s necessary to approach the problems by creating a strong cross-sector food Vision for the future. To transform food cultures and the systems that support them, food should be good for local economies, businesses and jobs, and for the people, their cultural acceptance and the planet. This requires 1) Developing strategies, policies, services that support the development and long-term success of healthy, sustainable food businesses. 2) Supporting new sustainable food entrepreneurs via vocational training and business planning, finance, development advice, support and/or grants. 3) Helping producers improve how they connect with local consumers and/or achieve better access to wholesale and retail markets via events/marketing initiatives.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Our circular, sustainable model of the food system is dedicated to reducing the burdens we place on our food system and incorporates all six themes, as well as a deep understanding of the changes to the food system needed to regenerate nature and prevent climate breakdown. From here, we looked to human and economic systems for the business and social models that would best enable an ecologically regenerative approach to producing food. Current economic, corporate and policy systems – democracy which is distant from normal people’s lives and finance-driven corporate control of food production – are blocking needed change. We envisage a system which connects more direct forms of democratic decision-making, which functions best at a regional and local level, with business models drawing in, engaging, empowering numerous people within a region, rather than those which alienate value back towards shareholders.

These changes require enormous shifts in how policymakers see their roles, as well as commensurate technological and scientific developments to facilitate more regenerative and regionalised production.  Policymaking needs to be more agile and collaborative: a shift towards more direct democracy is vital to both ensure that local people ‘come with’ food policy changes and to empower citizens to take an active role in their food system. We want to see a regional partnership that combines health, environmental and economic priorities. Culturally, all our work is driven by the knowledge that food has a unique ability to connect diverse people of all ages and backgrounds and support social cohesion and wellbeing in communities. We target activities that engage and inspire people to shift from being simple food consumers to active food citizens. Technology will enable us to be efficient and inclusive in developing the future regional food economy. Persuading local authorities to think differently about how to manage the built environment and to actively pursue policies that support fresh food growing and production within neighbourhoods is a key tenet. Part of this is making the economic case for locally produced and distributed food. Our model has significant potential to drive the regional economy. We envisage our own social enterprise, Alchemic Kitchen, forward-modelling this by using locally produced surplus to train local people in food skills, keeping nutrients, skills and financial value in the region.

The Covid-19 crisis highlights the need to reimagine our food system and shrink it down to a more human size, and create small producer and grower supply chains that can work together to feed their local populace as much as expand into the wider world. Our Vision is a replicable, holistic approach to a circular food strategy within a geographical area. Food is not just food. It’s an interconnected microcosm of life and a great way to demonstrate how a circular economy can work for people and planet.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

As evidenced by the accelerating ecological and climate crisis that current approaches to producing, delivering, consuming and disposing of food will have to fundamentally shift, and the future food system in our region will look very different from today’s. The clearest trade-off is on business models and current conceptions of value creation. There is no role for the shareholder-owned corporation in our 2050 food system: These dominant business models will be replaced by new ones, focused on internalising nutritional and financial value. This will entail a major change in how new infrastructure and investment in our food system is funded: public investment, crowd-funding and community-ownership models will have to be trialled and scaled up. These individual enterprise may be less individually-resilient and more high risk than the incumbent model, with its huge financial and market power. However, not enabling this transition presents bigger risks: to our health, and to the health of our planet. Models that are typically considered ‘efficient’ but that in reality simply externalise their costs will be traded for redundancies in the system; concentration will be traded for dispersal; increasing resilience.

It is clear the diets will have to change, and that this will bring big changes both to our daily meals and to the livelihoods involved in creating them. We will eat less imported foods (though imports will remain a feature of diets), and probably less diverse diets than we have come to currently expect: We’re not being parochial or advocating localism; we are suggesting a return to a more natural rhythm of seasonal production and produce. We can’t live off swedes and kale, but neither should we be expecting to find asparagus and strawberries in the shops in December. Choice will be traded for seasonality and local distinctiveness.

Culturally, we may see trade-offs between time and resource intensity. We may travel less, and spend more time connecting digitally to people further away. We may spend more time involved in communal activities, such as creating a new food plot, or joining group decision-making processes. Individual household-level ‘feasts’ during cultural holidays, may be traded for more communal feasting, with food increasingly seen as a tool for community conviviality.  

 Rapidly decreasing meat consumption will pose serious trade-offs for current farmer livelihoods and a need for public investment in new approaches to land management and retraining for farmers who face a shift towards new ways of using and enhancing the land. We do not pretend that these changes to way of life and production systems will be easy: we only know that they will be necessary and that they must be pursued in the most equitable way possible.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

We’ve taken the ‘Beacons of Hope’ Funnel as a model for planning our feasibility. This funnel was developed by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, based on the multi-level perspective, an analytical tool used to describe systemic change and transition. Our immediate focus is on establishing initiatives, the pilot programmes, events and focused-message campaigns that we need to engage in to lay the foundation of our 2050 normative change for the food system in our region. Our 3-year milestones are:

  • Establishing a network of local and regional food growers, makers, producers, educators, activists, community organisations and policymakers who will coalesce together to create our future. Part of this involves building a spatial dataset of the existing food environment (from takeaways to grocery stores, restaurants to growing spaces) so we can identify gaps, challenges and opportunities. We’ll utilise our connections with academic partners from the University of Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Food Systems and Food Technology & Innovation department at the School of Health Sciences, Liverpool Hope University, to help model and map.
  • Creating and expanding a pilot partnership that embodies our Vision for a regenerative, nourishing food system. It’ll support citizens with access to fresh food; co-operative food spaces for growing and producing food; training and skill sharing; fairly paid employment and diverse entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Effective campaigning for, and creating, a regional food board to transform food cultures and the systems that support them. Food should be good for local economies, businesses and jobs, as well as for the people, their cultural acceptance and the planet. Transforming our food system requires changes to local authority policies and practice. We have an unprecedented opportunity in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis to get policymakers focused on the benefits a regenerative food system can provide.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

  • Understanding and appreciating the value of key workers, complemented by high-quality regional training for regional food economy jobs; key food workers paid median national wage.
  • Well-established, self-governing Northern food corridor, with citizen food groups set up and functional, enabling surplus food redistribution from growers/producers across the North of England.
  • Decentralised policymaking allowing far greater use of regional procurement and emphasis that has shifted from cost-based value to social value, based on principles of fair and ecological production, equitable access and community-rooted value.
  • Food is part of the economic landscape and is understood as such by local authorities, who invest in smaller, locally rooted initiatives.
  • Beginning of an understanding of a ‘Northern Diet’ and how we can reduce reliance on imported products within this, to minimise food miles and work within a circular economic model for the region. A diet that looks at what is readily available within a short distance (e.g. potatoes, lamb [grazes wetlands unsuitable for crops], seafood). Seasonality important.
  • Expanding Alchemic Kitchen into an interlinked group of small production spaces that collaborate to reduce surplus but still produce food with a value that extends the life of that ingredient. Spaces that teach food skills and provide employment and income, which can act as a catalyst for people to set up their own food related business. Replicated in several areas of the region.
  • Trialling the revitalised, local food production system we’ve envisioned, from redeveloping Liverpool’s oyster beds and cultivating rope-grown mussels, and seaweed, to promoting agro-forestry approaches to regional farming with  “chaos crops” (e.g. cover crops such as peas, radish, kale, etc.).
  •  A thriving network of small-scale growers linked to community-owned regional/local food businesses which employ locals, seeded and supported by the region’s many anchor institutions.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

Alchemic Kitchen was incubated and founded through an initial three- year grant which allowed us to assess needs in the region, build networks and relationships and test different models, as well as establish our first experimental kitchen space and launch some initial products and trainings. This funding period expires in October 2020, and although further funding is available regionally for specific project activities (for example, workshops to decrease household food waste), the prize funding would be the difference between a next project cycle dominated by piecemeal fundraising, with limited staff capacity and uncertainty about the future, and a project cycle in which we could achieve genuinely transformational change in the region. This is a crucial moment for food systems. Experience of Covid-19 has provided lived experience of not only some of the ways in which our food system is broken, but also the paths towards fixing it. We want to catalyse on this window of opportunity. We would use this prize funding to co-create the next three years of Alchemic Kitchen activities, including: mapping the regional food space, a co-creative and iterative process which identifies gaps and areas of greatest need and allows partnership to emerge to fill them; technological and space investments to allow us to create learning and creating spaces for product development and experimentation; staff – Lucy’s role as Director of the Alchemic Kitchen, a part-time development chef, marketing manager and training manager; pilot projects on new food production, including pilots of local seafood production and beer grain to bread projects; found links between anchor institutions and local production systems; create a marketing and sales cooperative for regional food producers to reach a wider market; participate in emerging networks for food redistribution and reuse; create our first accredited food skills training programme, targeting some of the most vulnerable local communities.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

We are proud of the way our vision integrates a circular, ecologically regenerative approach to food production and consumption, with a people-powered model for food system design and decision-making. No two regions are the same, and our vision responds to Liverpool’s unique circumstances and challenges. But we believe that food systems in regions around the world will be more resilient, less burdensome on human and planetary health, and more regenerative, if we recognise that current business models for delivering food are harming us and our planet, rather than helping. Convenience is not king, when it comes with a side-helping of soil depletion, air pollution and ultra-processed high calorie, low nutrient food. Instead of outsourcing our food system to corporations who have proven themselves ineffective guardians of our food and our environment, we need to get our hands dirty ourselves. We need to find ways to enable people who have become so distanced from their food that a cabbage grown down the road from them is a foreign sight, to learn, step by step, a new relationship with food. This begins with reframing themselves as key actors within their food production systems – not passive consumers, but citizens with power, with rights and with responsibilities. The seeds of this change are already within our communities, but they need to be nurtured and given space to grow and to thrive.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

'Hub and Spoke'

Circles = People/families/communities

Diamonds = Food system units

Rectangles = institutions/anchors

Double red line with arrows = nutritional/financial value

Single red dotted line = agency/participation

Double red dotted line = knowledge/capabilities


All influenced by outside tech developments, devolution of regional decisions, national policymaking, new models of food production, climate and ecological trends, and cultural influences.

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Hi Megan Romania congratulations on such a rich Vision which puts together so many ideas and defines their interconnectedness. For refinement, how might you detail out your Vision detailing out feasibility through risk mitigation details and how ideas will strengthen one another?

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