What should Kendal do about climate change?

Alison Park of Low Sizergh Barn reflects on the issues and recommendations from Kendal’s Climate Change Citizens Jury. 

Commissioned by Kendal Town Council, 20 people set out last year to answer the question, what should Kendal do about climate change?

After weeks of listening to experts and debating information on energy, transport, food and political leadership the jurors published 27 recommendations at the start of 2021. These will now focus the action that Kendal residents want to see. The jury attended 10 expert sessions. They included Professor Becky Willis and Professor Mike Berners-Lee – nationally renowned academics, authors and climate activists living in Kendal. Local farmer, Richard Geldard also presented.

Alison says, “We’re pleased the jury looked at food as it’s one of the top four contributors to CO2 emissions. And the message is clear, there is much for us all, individuals, businesses, communities and government, to do.

“Professor of Food Policy, Tim Lang, outlined the complex challenges involved in reducing the carbon impact of our food supply. Issues include the lengthening of supply chains over the past 70 years and waste in the supply chain. Consumer links to food production have been lost and government policy has driven mass production at low cost. That’s led to a loss of biodiversity and poor soil health.

Low Sizergh’s diverse habitats support soil health and biodiversity

“Jurors also learned that farmers get only 5% of the value of the food they produce. And that the proportion of household income spent on food is now 12% less than in 1957. In future, farmers need to be supported to produce good food that’s farmed in a way that benefits nature and climate.

“Another relevant fact was that the UK eats the most ultra-processed foods in Europe. Just over 51% of our diet is made up of food that hasn’t been prepared from primary produce. Is there a link to data confirming 60% of UK adults and 1 in 3 children starting secondary school are overweight or obese?

“Constructive action, past and present – in government, private sector, civil society and communities – will change this state of affairs. But some of the solutions presented need consideration to ensure they will work well here.

“For instance, Paul Allen, author of Zero Carbon Britain advocated shifting land use towards growing crops to feed people. There’s nothing like a recommendation to eat more plant-based foods to stir up South Lakes meat and dairy farmers.

“Levens farmer Richard Geldard reminded jurors that farmers can only plant what will actually grow on their farms. Grass is the best crop for the land in the South Lakes, which is not suited to growing cereals and pulses. We need cattle and sheep to convert that grass into food for humans.

“It’s a vital point. The debate needs to be more nuanced than ‘meat and dairy farming is bad, plant-based food production is good’. We are dairy farming in a way that combines perennial plants in a diverse grass sward with carefully managed grazing animals. This takes excess carbon out of the atmosphere where it causes global warming and stores it in the soil instead. Getting it right will aid the growth of plants and be the driver of a healthy soil system with a flourishing network of microbes, fungi and earthworms. The sward is also an excellent habitat for pollinators.

Producing local food for local people. Milk from the Low Sizergh herd is used for cheese and ice cream as well as sold raw from a vending machine

“It’s great to hear that Kendal’s jury want to create more opportunities for local farmers and producers to sell their products too. Hopefully, this proposal will take account of the many opportunities that are already in existence – from farmers markets to farm shops, local butchers to the food service sector.

“Cumbria Action for Sustainability has initiatives to address this and North Lancashire’s sustainable food network, Food Futures is actively recruiting farmers to help create a 10-year plan for ‘a thriving local food system that is healthy, resilient and fair’.

“Growing Well, the mental health charity, is an established horticulture enterprise on our farm land. They grow a variety of vegetables for their organic crop share. It’s a successful example of community-supported agriculture providing local food for local people. And it sits happily alongside our holistic, organic dairy farming approach. They sell their produce in our farm shop, as do many other local and specialist producers.”

Farm shops, farmers markets, local butchers and the food service sector sit at the heart of our local food system

Alison concludes, “Now is the time to be part of a change in our food system. That call is only going to get louder, locally, nationally and globally. Let’s make sure those changes really do work.”

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