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Community / Food growing policy given green light by councillors

Photo: Transition Turriefield

A NEW policy which aims to address the “twin issues” of rising food poverty and climate change by supporting people to grow their own produce has been approved by Shetland Islands Council.

A key objective of the Fair Food Policy is to increase food growing, encourage healthy eating and promote access to affordable food.

There is also a commitment from the council to make land available for food growing.

The policy was warmly welcomed and approved at a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday.

It comes at a time when more people are growing their own food following lockdown, with orders for example of Polycrub kits well up on usual.

The policy follows on from work undertaken by a project which looked at the levels of inequality in Shetland around five years ago.

It sets out a framework through which the SIC can “most effectively support Shetland to move towards being an equitable food community”.

The inclusion of a food growing strategy in the policy will also fulfil a requirement of the community empowerment (Scotland) act which aims to make it easier for communities to access affordable, healthy and environmentally sound food.

Council leader Steven Coutts said in the policy’s foreword that the SIC is “committed to enabling as many people as possible, across Shetland, to grow their own food, and as close to their own home, as is practicable”.

“Effort will be made to ensure those on a low income will feel able to get involved,” he added.

“Therefore, although the council is required to increase the provision of land available for growing, the work in this area will also focus on developing the skills, knowledge and support to sustain the growing and cooking of local food.”

Coutts said success of the project needs commitment of other partners, as well as enthusiasm from those involved.

He encourages anyone with an interest in the area to get in touch with the council.

The policy was first drafted in the autumn and winter last year, but it has been reviewed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The policy says there is a growing issue of food poverty in Shetland, which in turns leads to challenges in attaining a healthy diet on a low income.

This has been attributed to reforms in the welfare system, and in particular the delay in receiving the first Universal Credit payment, as well as Shetland’s relatively high cost of living.

While more people have been looking into growing their own food during lockdown, there has been an increase in emergency food provision – with the Shetland Foodbank in Lerwick distributing around 100 parcels a month.

A formal consultation on the policy was run in February and people in low income households said the cost of fresh food was a significant issue.

They had a positive response to the idea of food growing mentors, as well as children growing produce at school.

The policy could give rise to projects like growing produce in a social housing scheme or workplace, and tapping into the experience of the older crofter generation.

It adds that the masterplan for the redevelopment of old Anderson High School site includes individual household and community green space, with fair food due to link into this.

Garden Organic, a UK-based organic growing charity, and local organisation Transition Turriefield have informed the policy.

There are also hopes that more work can be done in the area of food waste and composting.

After a question from Lerwick member Amanda Hawick community planning and development manager Emma Perring confirmed that housing associations had been involved in the development of the policy.

She also told Wednesday’s meeting there could be potential for the project to apply for money from the newly established Crown Estate Scotland funding pot.

North Mainland member Alastair Cooper also stressed that the land needed to be right for growing when it came to the prospect of allotments.

Perring agreed, adding that there could be a focus on people utilising space in gardens before looking elsewhere.

“The emphasis is on starting small and using what people already have,” she said.

South Mainland member Robbie McGregor, who said he grows produce himself, added that it was important for novices to receive help and advice.

Perring reiterated that mentoring from established growers was a key factor in this, although the coronavirus pandemic has changed how this may be delivered.