Oxfordshire win Bronze Sustainable Food Places Award

Efforts made across Oxfordshire to improve food sustainability have been recognised after the county won a Bronze Sustainable Food Places Award – the first two tier county to do so.

The Sustainable Food Places Award is designed to recognise and celebrate the success of those places taking a joined up, holistic approach to food and that are achieving significant positive change on a range of key food issues.

The award has recognised the collective efforts of businesses, community and voluntary groups, councils, universities and individuals right across Oxfordshire.

Many organisations are committed to tackling food poverty and will continue working collectively alongside Good Food Oxford to support transformation of the local food system.

Councillor Mark Lygo, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health, said: “In Oxfordshire, food makes up nearly half of our ecological footprint – 43 per cent, while we waste nearly 10 million tonnes of food each year. The impact of COVID-19 in Oxfordshire has increased awareness of the food system and the vital role it plays in residents’ everyday lives alongside the growing pressures of climate change, biodiversity loss and the need for healthy affordable food.

“From obesity and diet related ill health, to food poverty and waste, from climate change and biodiversity loss to social isolation, food is not only at the heart of some of our greatest problems but is also a vital part of the solution – and there is still a lot of work to do.

“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a massive increase in the number of users of community food services. More than half of services reported a significant increase in demand from families with children, with other significant increases among single parents and working age individuals.

“We know that a healthy, and sustainable food system in Oxfordshire is a vital foundation for equality – and without it, disadvantaged children could get left behind.

“I am delighted that we, as a county, have been recognised for our collective efforts to improve sustainability, and improve access to good food.

“In partnership with a number of organisations, we are working with Good Food Oxford to develop a countywide food strategy that will ensure joined up working to ensure that our local food system is good for people, good for the planet and good for communities.”

Throughout the pandemic, there has been work across the county to tackle food poverty, diverting excess food in the retail supply to community food organisations. This has saved tonnes of food per week from landfill and made sure it gets to those who need it.

The county council and district councils have co-ordinated across the county to provide food and essential support through grants to food support organisations as well as support to individuals. The countywide approach recognises that food organisations work across localities that cross council boundaries.

Fiona Steel, from Good Food Oxford, said: The Sustainable Food Places Bronze Award is fantastic recognition for the work that is happening across the county to build a fairer and more sustainable local food system. It is a huge achievement to be the first two-tier county to receive this award nationally. It is credit to the collective action of our cross-sector networks of businesses, community groups, local volunteers, public institutions and councils committed to a better food system for everyone in Oxfordshire.

“We are delighted with the partnerships that have been developed across all of the districts and city councils and look forward to working with these partners as we continue our Sustainable Food Places journey towards silver and gold”.

Oxford City Council also unanimously voted earlier this year to support a countywide food strategy, based on the experiences and insights of the pandemic. In the first lockdown, normal food support for vulnerable people and families was unable to operate in a COVID-safe way and the council stepped in to fill the gap.

This revealed some issues of relying on supply chain surplus, and the council worked with a nutritionist from Oxford Brookes University to ensure food support was providing a basis for healthy, nourishing meals, as well as being culturally appropriate.

Tackling food poverty is about more than just providing groceries – the city’s network of community food groups are estimated to save over three tonnes of food per week from being wasted. Community larders also provide social connections to tackle the isolation that is often a knock-on effect of financial hardship and an opportunity for everyone to work together on tackling root causal issues.

Councillor Louise Upton, Oxford City Council Cabinet Member for Safer, Healthier Oxford, said: “It’s great news that Oxfordshire has been awarded a Bronze Sustainable Food Places Award. As the city council we are committed to improving sustainability, and we believe tackling food poverty is a key part of that.

“Food is regularly wasted in our current food supply system. The council works closely with food support organisations to help them divert this good food to people who need it. We also help community food groups ensure there is a healthy balance in the food available, so that everyone can enjoy fresh produce.

“We’ve been helped by some great local businesses, who want to cut waste and help others. We can provide the network to link those businesses to the people that need support.

“We have a thriving food scene in the city that supports local producers. There are regular community markets as well as the weekly Gloucester Green market and the great sustainable produce of the covered market.

“It’s not only about the food we buy – it’s also about what we cook. We know some families don’t even have the basics of cooking equipment, and through our emergency support we’ve provided pots, pans, microwaves and other basics to give people the essential tools for cooking. Community food groups have run cooking classes to show how to turn food support into tasty meals.

“It’s easy to make sustainable food choices when you have the money. As a council we can help food businesses make more sustainable decisions, from supply chains to food waste, and give those with less money the opportunity to eat nutritious food that will provide a foundation for good health.”

Addressing the food environment is an important part of tackling obesity for future generations. The county council is now looking to to deliver a year-long community insight project to explore the reality of a healthy weight for Oxfordshire residents; people’s support systems, assets, where people live, work, play, learn, shop and the impact of COVID-19 on how easy it is to be healthy.

About Good Food Oxford

Good Food Oxford was launched in December 2013 to help support the existing work of many organisations in and around Oxford City to catalyse new initiatives and collaborations, and to encourage more joined-up thinking, research and policy around food issues.

Since then over 140 organisations have signed the charter and Good Food Oxford has delivered workshops, consultancy, events and networking for its members, including a 10 day annual Pumpkin Festival.

Good Food Oxford has supported the expansion of Sustainable Food Places work across Oxfordshire working with new partners in their response to COVID-19 and widening their reach from Oxford City to across Oxfordshire.

Collectively Oxfordshire County Council and Good Food Oxford, as Oxfordshire’s Sustainable Food Network, are working together with cross sector partners (planners, businesses, local authority, voluntary sector, universities, NHS) under the banner of Sustainable Food Places and the whole systems approach to healthy weight.

Good Food Oxford is committed to collective action, such as through the food poverty action plan that includes over 60 pledges from more than 40 organisations from all areas of Oxfordshire on how they are tackling food poverty.

Due to be published in July, this plan will raise awareness of the phenomenal work already taking place across the county and will also highlight, from the ground up, where the gaps are and what further action and support is needed. Those who would like to join the call for action then make their pledge on the Good Food Oxford website.

The organisation has since expanded to include the whole of Oxfordshire. Find out more about what Good Food Oxford does at goodfoodoxfordshire.org

  • Sustainable Food Place; learn more about the award on the Sustainable Food Places website.
  • View Oxfordshire County Council’s latest climate action update to find out how the council is reducing its own emissions and helping Oxfordshire become net zero, tackling climate change.