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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.

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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

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Alchemic Kitchen recipe

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