Here I am back in Manchester, gradually catching back up with the work (and sleep) that awaited me after such an intensive week in Krems. So the final morning consisted of a kind of a debrief, looking at if the forum had fulfilled our expectations and what we would take back with us from it to our countries and food sovereignty work. It's funny I realised I had no idea what to expect of the forum before I came. I'd come along slightly suprised that I had been included in this delegation of amazing people (not that we're not all amazing obviously!, but just these seemed to be experts in the field, and I wasn't sure how much I'd have to offer). So my my main expectations were to learn a lot, and to meet people and make contacts for my trip to Spain in the Autumn (to continue researching practical examples of a fairer food trading system).
These expectations were more than fulfilled (and exceeded in terms of the organisation of the event - the professional set up with the interpreters (see above photo), the food, the facilitation - all really well done). I learnt a lot about the practical initiatives that people are working on in different countries to try and work towards food sovereignty: CSA's, AMAP's, networks of producers, consumers co-ops, small unions trying to improve workers rights for migrant workers, NGOs lobbying and negotiating to try and improve the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform, the struggle against seed patenting as well as GMO's.
I heard the stories of a wide range of people working away to change the food system and the way that society values food. I also found that I could use what I've learned through Kindling to give ideas to others - my MSc research, work with Manchester Veg People, the public procurement work (Sustainable Fayre), FeedingManchester and the Land Army - there was a great response to what we are doing here.
Possibly the most inspiring part of the forum for me was the realisation at the end of the forum that a room of 400 people, from 35 different countries, agreed on the problems with the current system, felt that these must be addressed at the root to achieve food sovereignty, and agreed that food sovereignty is not only crucial but also achievable. The reaction to the reading of the declaration was pretty incredible and a real re-inforcement of the feeling from the workshop sessions that people are going to continue their work on this and form partnerships within their own countries and across Europe.
As for us from the UK delegation we've all come back with our own projects (one of mine being the creation of this essential building blocks for Alternative Food Distribution Systems), as well as looking at ways to move forward on this together. Lots to do - and all very exciting!
For me this trip was made possbile with a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (www.wcmt.org.uk). This great Trust supports individuals to travel overseas to learn from projects in a very practical way to help you get something off the ground back here. So many thanks to everyone at the Trust (I told everyone about it at the forum - so expect an influx of food related applications!). Now on to planning phase two of the trip to co-ops in Spain...
Just as a little aside (I'm not sure where else to put it, but as the forum was full of little snapshots of peoples lives and situations I want to put it somewhere). One farmer from Southern Italy told me that his farm produces the best hazel nuts in the world. This is despite having to abandon a large quantity of their harvest every few years to the church (as land owners) - as a result of blind auctions on the land rental, timed (cleverly) to co-incide with the harvest. I was quite shocked that this unjust practise (and complete waste of the farmers time and resources) is possible and still happening in Europe, but he said things are worse for other farmers (hazel nuts fetch a good price). As well as farming and producing local bread, cheese etc., this inspiring farmer dedicates himself to changing the food system through for example running practical training on his farm and running a local farmers market with a group of producers - with entertainment, free food for children, and the farmers mind the children so that their mum's can use the time to meet and organise with others.