Tag: gleaning

The on-farm food waste mountain

25th Jul 19 by Martin Bowman, Policy and Campaigns Manager

Feedback reacts to WRAP’s announcement today that around 3.6 million tonnes of food is wasted annually on UK farms.

Today, WRAP have released a ground-breaking report, for the first time revealing estimates of the food wasted on UK farms. Including the 2 million tonnes of surplus (usually human-edible food used as animal feed), there is a total of 3.6 million tonnes, more than the food waste and surplus at manufacturing and retail level combined.

Farmers are frustrated

This confirms what Feedback have long been hearing from UK farmers. But it would be a mistake to blame farmers for this waste. Feedback’s Gleaning Network saves leftover food from UK farms for charity, and we regularly speak to farmers who are devastated to have to waste perfectly edible food that they’ve toiled long hours to grow. Why? Feedback’s report Farmers Talk Food Waste found that UK fruit and vegetable farmers were forced to waste 10-16% of their crop due to supermarket and middlemen practices – including rejections of food for being the wrong size and shape, encouraging systemic overproduction by punishing undersupply, low farm-gate prices which sometimes below the cost of harvest, and Unfair Trading Practices like last minute order cancellations. We need to support farmers by reforming these supermarket practices, to help them reduce costs and waste.

The problems of sugar, milk and meat

Some of the more surprising findings of WRAP’s report are the scale of food waste occurring in sectors outside fruit and vegetables. For instance, they find that the highest volumes of food waste by weight occur for sugar beet – 347,000 tonnes or 3.9% of production. Sugar is not only bad for the nation’s health and teeth, but it has hugely negative impacts on soil erosion and uses up more land than the rest of UK vegetable production combined – we’ll be releasing more on this soon through our sugar campaign. The report also finds that the 4th most wasted product is milk and the 6th is poultry. Much of this is as a result of animal diseases and contamination, so this is not necessarily edible to humans. However, given the huge environmental footprint of meat and need to slash UK meat production and consumption to stay within safe limits of climate change, it’s startling to see such large volumes wasted. See our campaign The Cow in the Room for more info.

Producing food which is never eaten is a vast waste of natural resources including land, water and soil at a time of environmental emergency – this presents a huge opportunity to liberate land and resources which are desperately needed for reforestation and growing sustainable food. A report commissioned by the Committee for Climate Change recently found that reducing food waste could save considerable carbon emissions and liberate 482,000 hectares of arable land and 459,000 hectares of grasslands – and their calculations did not include food wasted on farms, which could contribute even more. We now know that planting trees is one of the most important ways we have to prevent a climate crisis – so this liberated land presents great potential.

Up to 5,000,000 tonnes

But WRAP’s figure is still an estimate – mainly based on non-UK data and self-reporting by farmers which is notorious for underreporting food waste. Therefore, this may well be an under-estimate of the levels of waste – the data isn’t good enough to tell yet. WRAP’s report estimates that the reality is probably somewhere in between 1.9 and 5 million tonnes per year – if it was 5 million tonnes, it would be nearly as much edible food as is thrown away by consumers.

Throughout the EU, farm-level food waste is almost completely ignored, assumed to be minimal and unimportant due to a pervasive narrative that this only a problem in the Global South due to lack of storage and infrastructure. Feedback have been campaigning hard to persuade the EU to measure food waste on farms, but the Commission recently made the terrible decision to exclude almost all on-farm food waste from the compulsory food waste measurement EU countries will have to begin in 2020. But due to campaigning, a ray of light is that the Commission has now pledged to release funds for some pilot studies to measure agricultural food waste in more detail.

The reason that UK data is still so shaky is that the government has consistently cut funding for food waste measurement and prevention. WRAP originally estimated that they would have robust data ready by 2018, but with limited funding this deadline has drifted. Now we know the scale of the problem, we need the government to fund detailed measurement of on-farm food waste to go beyond estimates and generate accurate baselines from which to set targeted reduction of on-farm food waste – like for other sectors.

Going backwards

We also call on the government to renew the Groceries Code Adjudicator and extend their remit to protect indirect suppliers like farmers from Unfair Trading Practices like last-minute order cancellations which cause waste. This is particularly important in the face of the current Adjudicator Christine Tacon’s surprising advice that the UK move back towards a system where Unfair Trading Practices are self-regulated by the industry. The Groceries Code Supply of Practice was self-regulated by industry for years before the Adjudicator was introduced, and without an independent regulator with power to punish businesses for non-compliance, supermarkets predictably failed to self-enforce the Code. It is difficult to see why voluntary self-regulation would be any more effective now. The farming industry and NGOs campaigned hard for years to achieve the introduction of a regulator with teeth to fight Unfair Trading Practices, and this gain must not be reversed.

Finally, Feedback calls on supermarkets to relax cosmetic standards on their core product ranges, pay farmers a good price for their produce, stop punishing their suppliers in cases of undersupply, and flexibly market gluts of produce. WRAP’s figures show that a worrying amount of produce is still being wasted, despite the launch of wonky veg ranges – retailers need to use wonky veg ranges to test their consumers’ acceptance of lower cosmetic specs, and then relax cosmetic specs for their core product lines accordingly.

The fight against food waste on farms continues! Want to witness the food waste first hand? Click here to get involved in one of our gleaning days.

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a Week at Feedback

15th Jul 19 by Ella Jarvis, Feedback Work Experience

A week in the life of Feedback work experience: Ella Jarvis reflects on her time in the office.

Ella Jarvis spent a week on work experience at Feedback, she reflects on her time working with the Feedback team.

Before my time at Feedback I had some knowledge on the devastating effects that climate change is having on our planet, due to my study of A level Geography. However, I had little knowledge on how our current food system has been a major factor that has driven these changes. Through my work experience I have gained so much knowledge regarding the issues caused by the food system and it has given me the opportunity to realise that this system needs to soon change to become sustainable.

The new knowledge and experience gained during my time at Feedback has meant that I thoroughly enjoyed my week here. I was given the opportunity to work with Claire, Food Citizens Project Manager, to help her design programmes which are going to take place in schools and I also worked with James, Project Manager, as he was planning gleans on pumpkin farms for after halloween. This has not only given me the practical skills of using different computer software, such as excel spreadsheets, but it also made me aware of the wider problems that food waste is having on the whole planet and how our current behaviours (like having pumpkins at Halloween) are unsustainable. I was able to explore the different campaigns at Feedback and they have served as a big source of inspiration for the changes that I am now going to make to my lifestyle.

I believe that this desire to change my poor habits is the most valuable thing that I will take away from my work experience here and it has made me realise that action, even by a single individual, does make a difference and that if people work together globally the effects of climate change can be reduced and this is imperative for the planet to continue to thrive. Feedback have also motivated me to want to campaign in my school for changes in the canteen which I will pursue. This experience has made me realise that we must all become active citizens and with a global effort, changes to the food system are possible.

Thank you Ella for your hard work!

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The Future of Gleaning

15th Apr 19 by Dan Woolley, Head of Pilot Programmes

Gleaning is an ancient tradition, but what is its future? Dan Woolley reflects on how far it has come, and what's coming next.

Back in 2012 Feedback took a small group of volunteers to a field in Kent to rescue a glut of cabbages and cauliflowers that were not wanted by the supermarkets. From this small seed of an idea blossomed something as bright and beautiful as a field full of brassica: we called it The Gleaning Network.

More than six years since that first gleaning day, we’re immensely proud to look back on all we’ve achieved. But it’s important to also look forward: to consider the role of gleaning in the rapidly changing landscape of food, food waste and farming. So here I want to look at the future of gleaning. I want to share ideas on how gleaning can become a sustainable, replicable and nationwide project; one that serves the interests of communities, farmers and the planet we all share.

But first, here’s a quick recap of what’s happened in the world of gleaning thus far.

Gleaning past and present

For as long as human beings have grown crops, there have been times of surplus; such is the variability of weather. Gleaning – whereby a farmer allows people onto their land to gather leftover crops or grain – seems to have arisen as both a practical and an equitable response to dealing with such instances of surplus. No one knows for sure when and where the practice originated, but we do know it’s referenced in the Old Testament. “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest… you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger.” (Levictus 9:9-10).

Fast forward to the 21st century, food surpluses still exist – only they no longer occur sporadically, unpredictably, or at small-scale. Instead, overproduction and waste is embedded into our agricultural systems, as a rational response by farmers to the need to guarantee their supply for capricious supermarket buyers.

Yet growing all this food consumes vast quantities of water, energy and fertiliser (as well, of course, as land), while exhausting our soil fertility.

2012: step forward, Olympians

In 2012, as our research was beginning to reveal the sheer scale of waste which can occur on farms, we decided that gleaning was needed once again. While we at Feedback have always maintained that redistribution is not, in itself, a solution to food waste, we knew that the efforts of food redistribution organisations were hindered and frustrated by a lack of access to fresh, nutritious food. It is worth adding that, sadly, redistribution agencies are all too often used by supermarkets and other food businesses as a dumping ground for cheap, poor quality, low nutrition food.

We believed, too, that gleaning had an important role beyond redistribution – one focused on the deeper systemic problems and the longer-term solutions. While food waste was slowly making its way onto the radar of both policymakers and the public, farm-level food waste was almost always absent from the conversation. The Gleaning Network sought to address this in a number of ways. By working with farmers to understand the drivers of food waste and the imbalances of power. By taking large numbers of volunteers to farms to witness first hand the scale of food waste. And by working with the media at every level we have been able to bring evidence and stories into the spotlight.

From small acorns…

The Gleaning Network has now worked with over 60 farmers and 2,000 volunteers to rescue more than 400 tonnes of fruits and vegetables. We’ve been truly inspired by so many of those people. By the volunteers who turn out in rain, sleet and driving winds to spend their day plucking kale and brassica from muddy fields (people of north west England, we salute you!). By those farmers who time and again open their fields to our volunteers, donating their time and support to the cause and their vegetables and fruits to those in need. By the college student who, surrounded by endless rows of food waste, put the situation into beautifully simple words: “food waste is crazy!” You have all been inspirational.

There are still also many people whom we have not worked with. These include the thousands of people who have signed up to our gleaning volunteer list, but who live in parts of the UK where gleaning has yet to take root. They also include the several dozen people who have written to us over the last six years to express interest in setting up a gleaning hub in their region. We’ve always wished we were able to offer more support to all these people. The reality, however, is that it simply hasn’t been possible – until now.

Community-led Gleaning

We know from the conversations we’ve had in the field, that gleaning has often been a focal point around which communities can (re)connect. We believe the time is now right for Feedback to help communities to take the lead:

  • In 2019 we will offer support and training for a number of community groups in England (for groups in Scotland, Wales and N.I., please see below), giving them the knowledge and experience they need to setup and run their own local/regional gleaning project.
  • Here we use the term ‘community group’ in its broadest sense: we are interested to work with groups, organisations, projects and enterprises of all shapes and sizes. The formal/legal structure of your group is at this point less important than your enthusiasm!
  • As part of this project we will create a bespoke gleaning website which will host a range of resources. We envisage that these resources will be made available for use by groups throughout the UK (not only those in England) and potentially beyond.
  • We will also explore ways in which these new gleaning groups can support and share knowledge with one another.

If you are interested to find out more about any of these ideas, or to register an interest in community-led gleaning, we’d love to hear from you. You can fill in the form by clicking here to express your interest.

Thank you – it’s been an amazing journey so far, and we can’t wait for the next chapter.

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