The Highlands, Scotland
Laura Dorantt, HGFP Project Assistant and Fork to Farm Global Dialogue Facilitator
Highland Good Food Partnership (HGFP) started as a conversation about how locally-produced food could become more mainstream. Both Emma Whitham and Martin Sherring had been involved in running community markets in the Highlands. They formed a plan to find some answers – a conversation leading to a conference. The conversation quickly developed as the links between local food, education, waste, community growing, and health became apparent. The conference was then held online over five afternoons in January and February 2021.
During the conference several themes and projects emerged which have been running since. You can read more about what happened at the conference here, a summary of the outcomes here, and a detailed report on the conference. One of the main developments was the appetite for organisational support and coordination, which led to the formation of the Highland Good Food Partnership. Active members include farmers and crofters; Highland Council officers working on community growing, education and climate change; a former chair of Scotland Food and Drink; and representatives from NHS Highland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise amongst other organisations and individuals.
Even though it took place before the Fork to Farm Dialogues, the conference is an example of an outcome from local conversations about sustainable food systems. In August 2021 Laura Dorantt, became involved in the HGFP and joined the Fork to Farm Community of Practice as the facilitator of HGFP participation in Fork to Farm COP26 activities. This brought the partnership into contact with other Fork to Farm groups around the world and enabled the HGFP to take part in the Fork to Farm Global Dialogue.
Instead of listening to farmers in high end hotels, policymakers were listening to farmers in the landscape, and they had an opportunity to see the farmlands, what the farmers are growing. And when farmers explained the challenges to them, they could easily understand because they were right within the landscape.
One piece of advice:
“To get the conversation started I think you need to give people talking points to start with. If you say to people: ‘talk about your food systems, the challenges and the solutions, go!”, you're not going to get much of a conversation because I think people might think, “Oh, I haven't got anything to say, or I don't know how useful my experience is going to be” but the whole point is that until we start talking, we don't actually find out."
Laura describes the HGFP as a collective with a vision of taking a food systems approach to local food. This necessarily means that different sectors, like local government, education, health, hospitality, and food growers and producers, need to work together. The collective is formed of a wide range of community and industry stakeholders, both individuals and groups, who share a common goal of creating a better and fairer local food system. At the time the partnership began, Highland Council was discussing food-related policy, including a community food growing strategy. “The success of the Highland Good Food Conference supported the council to implement some of their food related strategies”. Additionally,people from the council working on climate change, education, school meals and waste attended the conference and have built relationships with different partnership members.
A year on, Laura reflects how even though the partnership’s relationship with the Council can be challenging for both parties it is moving in a positive direction. Where the HGFP and the council share the same vision, for instance in relation to community food growing, the two have been able to work together. One example of this is the council earmarking areas of its land suitable for community use and the HGFP forging links with the communities themselves.
For Laura, being in contact with facilitators who were just beginning their Fork to Farm Dialogues prompted her to reflect on the HGFP. One facilitator made the point that these dialogues should be about including all sorts of farmers and for facilitators to constantly be asking themselves the question of “who is missing?.” For Laura, this flagged up the absence of relationships with the National Farmers Union which “are not very strong but are definitely relationships that we would like to build. So, we've identified another way of engaging with a wider variety of farmers.” This was particularly important as most farmer members currently are regenerative organic or agroecological farmers.
To engage more farmers, Laura believes it is important to create a space where they feel they can get involved no matter the type of farming they do or whether their work is linked to community-oriented projects. Thus “approaching them and seeing what happens, rather than putting up a barrier… that's why the dialogue is so essential, because if you create that open, safe space, where people feel that they can talk from their own experience, that they are not being judged, that they are not being demonised. Then the conversation starts.”
For Laura and the HGFP one of the main positive outcomes of being involved in the Fork to Farm Community of Practice was the process of bringing together a group to attend the Fork to Farm Global Dialogue. Before joining the dialogue online, the group had a “really interesting conversation in the council office in Inverness, it was fantastic”. Particularly, it became an opportunity to involve a younger male member of the partnership. Laura noted that the HGFP is eager to include as many different voices in the ongoing conversation as possible. . Laura described how “it was just brilliant to listen to him speak. Because it's his quest. He wants to show people that market gardening can be a profitable business and it shouldn't just have to be a lifestyle choice. To show that it’s economically viable. I loved his passion. I loved his honesty as well. He didn't agree with everything. He didn't just go along with consensus thinking. He really, you know, very quietly and modestly spoke his truth. It was fantastic to have him alongside the other participants.'' Being involved in the Fork to Farm dialogues was a useful way to review the HGFP practice and open up the doors for other people to become involved.