Working Through the Hungry Gap

13th Aug 20 by Hannah White, EcoTalent intern

During my internship, I have been impressed with the lengths that Sutton Community Farm go to combat food waste in their environment.

Hannah White did a paid internship on Sutton Community Farm as part of our EcoTalent project.

EcoTalent is one of 31 Our Bright Future projects across the UK. Each one is equipping 11-24 year olds to make a difference in their local community and for the environment. Our Bright Future is a £33 million programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Read Hannah’s reflections on working through the ‘Hungry Gap’.

The months of April through July on the farm have proved challenging and certainly action-packed. The dynamic shift from winter into the spring/summer season was framed by the great turnaround of crops in the fields and tunnels; swapping out spinach and pak choi for fresh courgettes and juicy tomatoes. However, with the excitement of planting new life and new crops comes the great dip in harvestable produce and thus the onset of the ‘hungry gap’.

Having worked through this time (and to come out relieved on the other side) I have seen the effects this period has, the work that goes into transitioning production throughout, and the methods used to deal with the challenges this time brings for a small farm. One consequence that appears most prevalent throughout this ‘dry spell’ is an increase in the level of food waste created. Old produce, apparently deemed ‘unfit’ for retailers and consumers, is cleared out to make way for new season crops, leaving it, along with all resources, time and money involved, to go to waste. A slapdash system which is ultimately leading to severe environmental consequences.

Throughout this internship we have learnt and discussed the biggest impacts of climate change today, with food waste being one of the significant leading causes. Not only is this due to the physical GHG emissions released through poor food waste management but also because all those resources used, from growing processes through to transporting food, also go to waste as well. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that over 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year, equating to around a third of all food and in turn an area of land wasted equivalent to the size of China! This is consequently directly associated with increasing food shortages, water stress, biodiversity loss and increased greenhouse gas emissions. This hungry gap therefore poses a serious environmental threat.

However, despite these scary realities, food waste has also been identified as one of the most effective areas, and arguably one of the easiest, to target to reduce emissions contributing towards global warming and climate change, both at an individual and industrial level. In fact, it was listed by Project Drawdown as the 3rd most effective action we can take to reduce global emissions. Targeting these impacts throughout the hungry gap would make a significant impact on reducing the pressure on our environment.

During my internship, I have been impressed with the lengths that Sutton Community Farm go to combat food waste in their environment. Their most impactful initiative, the treasured ‘Elf-Shelf’, allows volunteers and the community to take home free surplus or otherwise deemed unsuitable produce, harvested from the farm and external suppliers, which would ultimately have gone to waste. The creativity of the community with this ‘food waste’ never ceased to amaze me; whether it was making 20 jars of kimchi from leftover pak choi, birthdays cakes from excess beetroot or dying clothes from an abundance of onion skins – there’s definitely a big leaf which we should be taking out of their book! Where some food waste and loss is inevitable however, this small farm is ready to combat it with its home-grown compost teaming with an abundance of life to sustainably break it down ready to feed the produce grown throughout the following year. There’s no escaping, this farm had food waste covered!

Overall, this internship has taught me that a time of great transition like the hungry gap can have detrimental effects for food waste and the environment but when managed effectively and conscientiously, businesses and communities can thrive and succeed through it. It has also promoted the importance of taking responsibility in limiting our food waste where we can – shop locally and sustainably –  never underestimate our power as a consumer!

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