Call for greater investment at community scale: new policy brief

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Better digital networks, accessible venues and nutrition-based subsidies could all help community-scale food providers play a greater role in making the UK food system more resilient and nutritious, that’s the findings of a new policy and practice brief from the GFS FSR Programme.

The study, Making community-scale food systems more resilient: reorienting consumption practices by supporting community scale supply chain models, was conducted by researchers from across the Programme’s 13 Projects. The research focused on barriers to market faced by three community-scale food provision models – farmers markets, salad suppliers and community growers – as COVID-19 changed food consumption patterns.

During the pandemic, the small size and local ties of these food providers allowed for a quick response to the evolving demand for food. Farmers markets, salad suppliers and community growers were able to make healthy, locally grown foods more accessible while strengthening community ties through collaboration and volunteer opportunities.

Despite helping to enhance food security by making fresh food more accessible and strengthening community ties, community-scale businesses weren’t able to maximise their resilience-enhancing potential for a number of reasons, including delays in food safety inspections, lack of guidance around COVID-safe working practices and unsuitable retail venues.

Interventions needed

The study makes the case for three types of intervention to fully realise the potential of community-scale food providers to enhance food system resilience.

  • Develop a geographically categorised, online network of community-scale food providers and provide a web platform to connect local suppliers and buyers.
  • Provide accessible venues for community-scale food sale and distribution, facilitate development of local food processing facilities, and increase access to public lands for food growing.
  • Give nutrition-based subsidies to community-scale growers, insurance schemes for community-scale food providers, and long-term grants for organisations assisting in local nutrition efforts, such as community food hubs

The research team was led by Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Associate Professor of Food Systems at the University of the West of England Bristol, and included Dr Bethan Mead, Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool; Dr Isabel Fletcher, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh; Dr Luca Panzone, Senior Lecturer in Consumer Behaviour at Newcastle University.

Dr John Ingram, Coordination Team Leader on the GFS FSR Programme said: “The pandemic revealed the important role that small, local food providers play in our food system. It’s clear, however, that in order to fully explore these organisations’ ability to enhance food system resilience, more investment and research is needed.”

Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy said: “We’ve seen how, in addition to their potential to enhance food system resilience, community-scale supply chains come with associated health and social benefits. Public health is a public good, therefore it makes sense that community-scale supply chains should be approached using the ‘public money for public goods’ principle contained in the UK Agricultural Act. This would help secure longer-term funding for community-scale growers, suppliers, distributors, and other organisations involved in local food provision services.”


Illustration: John Bellamy




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Banner photo credit: John Bellamy