The tragedy of food waste

10433265_10152472087051257_9114670192187825949_nHave you ever walked through your local supermarket and thought, “Gosh, look at this plentiful place full of produce!”? Have you ever realised that your local plentiful supermarket is only one such place, in one neighbourhood of one city in one country? In other words, there are millions of supermarkets on the planet brimming with animal products, by-products and cultivated produce…have you ever noticed how supermarkets are empty of food at closing time? No, me neither. And that’s because supermarkets don’t sell all their food at the end of each day and, due to domestic laws, produce which is perfectly edible but exceeds arbitrary sell-by dates will be thrown away.

According to a Guardian article from July 9, the EU wastes approximately 89 million tonnes (that’s 89,000,000,000 kilograms or almost 200,000,000,000 pounds) a year.

Those are staggering numbers, especially given the amount of people that cannot afford fresh food. Most of us take our access to fresh food for granted. An extremely fascinating study by UK-based think thank Overseas Development Institute sheds light on a case of negative feedback: “foods that become cheaper [processed foods] compared to others are likely to be consumed more” and in turn, this drives the prices of certain fresh foods (source).

Over the years, the EU has imposed strict guidelines for what fresh produce needs to look like. In order to make sure all farmers and producers sell similar produce and compete on a level playing field, there are certain standards of colour, weight and shape that fruits and vegetables need to maintain. Aesthetic features, in most cases, are not reflective of quality or nutritional value (unless something is visibly expired), meaning that tonnes of fruits and vegetables that do not meet the criteria can’t be sold.

Thankfully, these rules have been relaxed and only 10 fruits and vegetables are bound by such guidelines, which is that is a step forward.

Food is not only going to waste at the production level, but also at the retailer level. Supermarkets can and should be doing more to make sure food they no longer wish to sell is somehow passed on.

France at the forefront

Although the EU has recently adopted a resolution asking the European Commission to “encourage the creation of agreements” between supermarkets and food charities, this feels like a mere suggestion, not a requirement.
France, on the other hand, seems to be understanding the problem of food waste with a bit more gusto than its neighbours. Large food retailers can receive a fine of up to €75,000 (just over £50,000) for throwing away edible food.

Some supermarkets chains have shown to be very progressive in this matter. French giant Carrefour carries out an extensive programme of food donation and distribution, which, in 2013, was equivalent to 77 million meals. They have also donated over €630,000 (about £445,000) to food banks in four countries.

Not so easy

Unfortunately, the redistribution of food is not always a simple task. There are logistical issues – such as transport or finding recipients who have the facilities to store donated food – which are a hindrance to more action being taken by the supermarkets. More importantly, it’s cheaper for supermarkets to dispose of food than redistribute it.
Despite some difficulties, it can be done, as Carrefour has demonstrated. There are other ways to incentivise distribution: some European countries are helping the problem by offering tax rebates or even refunds to businesses that donate food.

Last but not least

Supermarkets here are, slowly, starting to take the problem seriously. ASDA has pledged £200,000 to pay for the transportation of edible food to FareShare, a charity that seeks to distribute food and works with many charities – but considering ASDA’s 2014 profits were over £700m, we think they could pledge more. There exist other initiatives, such as FoodCycle, a ‘social supermarket’ which aims to open hubs around the UK. They get their surplus from the leading supermarkets and sell it at around a third of the price.

But people do not think this is enough, as recent petitions (1, 2, and 3) have shown. Although the large supermarket chains (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s Asda and the British Retail Consortium) have made the decision to tackle the issue of food waste in the UK, it does not yet feel that there are concrete strategies in place to reduce the amount of food they get rid of.

Still, the issue is being discussed and will hopefully become one of those things in years to come when we look back with embarrassment that we ever threw away any food at all. But it’s not the future yet, so we need to carry on pushing the supermarket chains for change and we also need to make every effort ourselves, as individuals, to waste as little food as possible.

And the photo?
I took that about a year ago at the Mark & Spencer’s by Cannon Street station in London. I could see staff putting ready meals, sushi and other comestible stuff in clear bin bags. I was a bit shocked and I hoped they were perhaps donating them. I asked a staff member what they were going to do with the food in the bags, “They’re going in the bin.”

Chronicles of the Chelsea Flower Show

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Last Saturday, we took a camera, an umbrella and a bit of luck to the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show.  Despite the usual London weather patterns, there was only one real challenge- no ticket and sold out.  Prepared for rejection at the gate, it still seemed a worthy effort to jump on the tube and give it a shot. Sure enough… after a little old fashion networking magic- a ticket was being ripped from the man’s roll of printed entry tokens.  Victory!

As a newcomer to this famous British flower tradition- I was blown away at the level of artistry, creativity, and the amount of flowers is still hard for me grasp.  Small gardens, big gardens, exotic gardens, artisan gardens– it was a feast for the eyes, nose and especially the soul.  There were reports of over 100,000 people expected to visit the show. If you didn’t get to go this year- BBC had beautiful coverage with all 15 episodes still available on BBC iPlayer.

And just In case you missed tracking us live on twitter – here are a few of favourite images I took with my DSLR. You can check out more from our live feed via Twitter – @urbanfarmerLDN.  We do have one tip for next year- take your best totes with you for the mass exodus of flowers on the last day.  The exhibits sell off or even GIVE AWAY FLOWERS.  My arms are still sore from the tube ride home with hands full of very LARGE red tulips.

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Experience London’s ONLY ‘English Wine Shop’

England’s wine business is booming yet interestingly, there is only one store in the entire capitol that exclusively showcases English Wine. Most people don’t think of England as being a grape growing- or you could call it grape farming region.  But the story is true and for us Londonites – it’s developing right under our nose.  So we thought to go check out what this little store with a big mission is all about.

Here is a short video of our trip down to The Wine Pantry at Borough Market and the lovely girls that make it come alive.   Next stop will be our visit with Julia to her new store. Be on the lookout!

The Wine Pantry is a wine store and tasting room situated in London’s Borough Market.  One of the founders- Julia Stafford -could also be considered an ambassador of sorts for English wine.  Several years ago she was taken back at the fact that a city as big as London and as close to a fine grape growing region had no exclusive English Wine Store. She then was inspired to do something about it.  And so the Wine Pantry opened its doors, strategically in Borough Market. (See our Blog on ‘Borough Market‘)  Building the business was one thing, but more so was her desire to promote and support our local vineyards by connecting them directly to the consumer in the city.

The business has grown so much and received loads of community enthusiasm that they opened a second store- English Wine and Spirits Co.  just last year. The team felt it was also important to expand from wine into various other spirits made here in the UK while providing a larger and full service tasting room.  But Julia’s inspiration came from the wine- grapes grown just outside of London that are now winning global competitions with not enough people knowing it.  (See our blog for more about the story- ‘A growing trend… Grapes‘)

This is another story of how important these human links are in bringing value to our city life- connecting farmers to urban dwellers, boosting local sales and expanding local pride. And in this case for what seems to be a hidden secret- English Wine. But not for long…

26% of boroughs have no animal welfare.

We have included data from The Good Food for London 2012, 2013 and 2014 report which provides specifics from local authorities about initiatives on animal welfare.

Since 2007 the Food Business Team have worked to improve London’s welfare of animals on city farms.

Data courtesy of Good For Food.
Data courtesy of Good For Food, 2013.
Data courtesy of Good for Food.
Data courtesy of Good for Food., 2014

The data identifies the improvements in animal welfare from 2012 to 2014.

We have pulled out that there has been a 60% increase in London boroughs achieving a Good Egg Award for buying cage-free eggs over the past two years.

We also learnt that Islington is the only borough in London to have achieved a Good Chicken Award and a Good Egg Award for buying higher welfare chicken and cage-free eggs between 2012 and 2014.

However a large proportion of areas in West, East and Central London have failed to improve their rating and have not achieved a Good Farm Animals Welfare Award.

These include Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Sutton, Kensington & Chelsea, Bromley and Greenwich.

74% of boroughs have improved their rating from not achieving a Good Farm Animal Welfare Award to achieving a Good Egg Award for buying cage-free eggs from 2013 to 2014. These are Newham, Hackney, Lewisham, Bexley and Barking & Dagenham.

This is great news for Urban Farmer London as it shows that there has been a rise in animal welfare.

We spoke to Hannah (23), Hannah (22), Natalie (22), Lorna (22), Ben (24), Denise (22), Olivia (21), Heidi (23), Judy (50+), Corneille (50+), Lauren (22), Chloe (24), Elizabeth (22), Saskia (22) and Eleanor (25) about this.

We asked them which borough they found most surprising to not have received the award in 2012 and 2013:

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Data from speaking to members of the public by Sandy Tabalo.

35% believed that Hackney would have had an Animal Welfare Award in 2013, with Bexley coming in at a close second at 29%.

However luckily no borough has lost an award which is fantastic news, as this reflects the improvement in animal farms across the city year on year.

We look forward to analysing the 2015 results as we hope for a continued increase in animal welfare across London’s boroughs!

Remember to keep on urban farming!

Our guest post from Nigel Akehurst!

Five London based Urban Farming Stories you should know about.. 

Every week there seems to be a new urban farming project springing up. Which is great news for the growing number of locavores – people who want to source (and sometimes grow their own) organically grown local food.  It’s an exciting trend that is only going to get bigger as more people begin to think about their health and the importance of eating good quality food. Until I started Indie Farmer in 2013 I had no idea the number of urban farming projects there were in London but I’ve since been fortunate enough to visit quite a few of them and have picked out a few of my favorites below.

Image Courtesy from Indiefarmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Hot off the press – our latest urban farming story about Fortnum & Mason Roof Garden, was submitted by Aiste Saulyte a photographer and urban farmer based in London. She helped Matt Franks the founder of Connected Roots construct the roof top garden at Fortnum & Mason, whilst also photographing the build and interviewing him about the project.

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

My second favourite urban farm in London is Connected Roots – Google Allotments. Back in x Matt invited me along to the Google Allotments in Tottenham Court Road. Being a bit of technology geek myself I jumped at the chance to find out more about Google and their roof top allotments. It turned out that one of the Google growers was even wearing Google glass – no doubt recording all the growing advice!

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Remember the 2012 Olympic logo? Love it or loathe it Wolff Olin Roof Top Garden were the international branding agency responsible for creating it. Based in a canal side warehouse building they created a roof top garden to grow a mixture of vegetables and herbs to be used in the staff restaurants. I met Paul Richens the architect and Head Gardner at the project to find out more.

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Transformed from a derelict shop on Dalston Lane into an urban farm and aquaponic’s centre – I interviewed the Something & Son team behind the project – FARM: shop Aquaponics.

Finally it is clear that Urban growing has become so popular in London that there are now trade shows dedicated to it. Grow London’s upscale designer urban gardening show, based in Hampstead Heath, launched last year to much fanfare. I went down to find out what all the fuss was about and managed to do a bit of celebrity spotting too.

Follow Nigel @nigelakehurst and the Indie Farmer @indiefarm.

A Question from our Community:

The Urban Farmer promotes the benefits of city farming.

We believe that it encourages the importance of fresh produce and helps communities cooperate with one another, surprising for a city with over 7 million people!

We were so grateful when we received a question today from urban farmer lover, Lauren Abbott. Lauren has a great love for animals owning a rabbit herself in North London.

However she suddenly became worried about the animals’ health on London farms due to levels of pollution and generic city life.

However rest assured Lauren, a report published from Nature World states that animals are the same as humans. Animals, especially City birds, have a greater life expectancy than in the countryside.

Despite concerns about pollution, their wellbeing is not hindered in the city.

City farms look after the wellbeing of animals by ensuring that they have enough grass and open space to survive. Furthermore the animals are taken on regular walks and are well fed, such as the donkeys at Spitalfields Farm.

Also according to Stepney Green trustee, Bessie, animals on London’s farms have a great impact on the happiness of Londoners.

So, thanks for the question Lauren and I hope that this answers your question.

Keep the questions coming guys as we love hearing from you!

An interview with Deen City Farm.

Today the urban farmer visited Deen City Farm in South Wimbledon.

The Farm has 220 different types of animals and offers horse riding lessons for those in the City.

We spoke to Shannon to understand what she does on a daily basis, why urban farming in London is so important and her favourite farmyard animal at Deen City.

Deen City Farm has 1,789 followers on Twitter, so if you want to give them a Tweet their handle is @deencityfarm or visit their website here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and plan on visiting the farm!

A week on social media.

It has been another busy week on Twitter for Urban Farming.

An Urban Farming group have tweeted about bee farming being accepted by Edmonton Council.

There have also been a variety of discussions amongst users about the design of future micro parks in London.

Farm the City London have expressed their delight about the new design for the Sensory Garden in the City.

We love that everyone is still on the Urban Farming hype!

If you like what we’ve put together, follow the Twitter accounts of the ones we have mentioned to learn about what they plan on doing about urban farming in London and their thoughts about it in the City.

Check out our twitter @urbanfarmerLDN for more tweets about urban farming!