The Borders, Scotland
Yvan Biot, Fork to Farm Local Dialogue Facilitator
The Fork to Farm Dialogue in the Scottish Borders began in September 2020 within Greener Melrose, a group of environmentally concerned Borders residents. Gradually, as the group formed, a collective idea of what they wanted to do emerged and they began to reach out to others. This initial process took a long time, made more difficult by the inability to meet in person due to COVID-19. When the time was right, an invitation was sent to 30 carefully selected representatives of relevant stakeholders. Yvan Biot and Donald MacPhillimy became the main coordinators of the project. COP26 was an opportunity to “focus our minds on something very specific. It also acted as a very powerful magnet to get people around the table.”
Looking back, Yvan sees three phases to the Borders Fork to Farm process. The first phase was “about nine months’ gestation for the group that was intending to host the dialogues to agree what the dialogues were going to be about. That process took longer than I had originally thought it would, largely because the hosting organisation has a certain view about food and farming. And it took a while to get ourselves prepared for running a dialogue that wasn't aimed at just promoting our own view of food and farming.”
The second phase focused on farmers and non-farmers to understand what matters to them. The group took time to reach out to representatives from various strands of the farming and non-farming communities to develop “a kind of reconnaissance map of what the core issues are that keep these various groups of people concerned about food and farming.” A social event bringing interested people together was held in a local pub where Pat Black from Go Deep Scotland and Diana Garduno Jimenez from Nourish Scotland came in as external facilitators, and took the group through some creative visioning activities.
This dialogue is not a discrete action but a long-term process that we have to establish one step at a time. Trust will be an important element to keep the dialogue going, and that will wax and wane depending on who is and who isn’t in at any one time. So, I don't see this as a one-off thing. It is a social process.
One piece of advice:
“Make sure that you have a strong convening platform which is accepted as a powerful player in the region where you operate and build partnerships with other groups and organisations in their area. For the Borders, this will be the next step, which building on learning from their process will involve inviting people over for dinner and having lots and lots and lots of one-to-one conversations.”
The third phase was about preparing for and participating in COP 26, and focusing the conversation on climate change and food. This started with a second stakeholder event, this time using remote meeting facilities. The Farming for 1.5 degrees report framed the wider conversation about what climate change might mean for farming in the region and what could be done about it. The results of this meeting were used to help design a recipe card; prepare and run a focused farmer conversation at the Global Fork to Farm event, and organise a remote youth engagement session in conversation with a group of COP26 participants and Glasgow residents. Although the latter was constrained by practical issues, it represented a useful way for the Fork to Farm group in the Borders to begin engaging young people in the process. “It's only through the action we had in Glasgow, that we kind of managed to start interacting with young people.” For Yvan, the way in which they successfully engaged with young people was by “letting them lead the conversation, defining what was important to them.”
A key design principle for the conversation in the Borders was to ensure that the dialogue involved people with different perspectives as “if we just talk about what we want the world to look like we would only talk to a small bubble of people who think like us and we would have no impact.” This meant letting go of “your own prejudices, and preconceived ideas of what the future looks like, or should look like. And that is the most difficult thing to do”. They made sure to involve farmers from different farming systems, including large scale; meat production; mixed cropping; mechanised farming as well as organic farming, including beef and organic vegetable production. They also made sure that the non-farming community included a broad range of perspectives. For Yvan, the group’s main challenge was their lack of “convening power”. He saw this as the main reason for the “waning interest from the large-scale commercial farming interest, and that's a little bit the conundrum that we have with this process here. We don't really represent a strong enough platform to command all farmers’ and other stakeholders’ attention.”
The lack of convening power was evident especially in the reluctant involvement of the local council. Attempts at engaging the local council through different channels (the sustainable development committee, planning, policy, community engagement) were met with a degree of distrust, with officers “unable to find time to engage beyond their own well-defined brief and acting as gatekeepers to local authority, to be protected from undue influence from (perceived narrow) interest groups … “ Although one councillor remained interested throughout, it was difficult to engage other councillors and council officers. While some inroads were made, especially with the youth engagement team, Yvan ultimately believes that the council did not perceive them as a “powerful enough interlocutor” and are not yet prepared to give up control of the process, which remains a significant obstacle.
For some consumers, taking part in the process meant “a realisation that there are other outlets for food than Lidl and Sainsbury's [big supermarket chains in the UK]. This could lead to a more proactive search for other sources of food supply.” Furthermore, “some of the people who have a more pronounced ‘anti-meat’ stance have come to realise that it is possible to produce beef and meat in a way that is ecologically not only safe, but also proactively positive.” On the producers’ side, “the process has prompted some young farmers to apply a carbon management tool to their farm and a reflection of what the impacts are of running a 2 million chicken farm on the environment.” Also, some organic beef farmers have realised the potential for intensive vegetable production in peri-urban settings.