PACT Food group

PACT event serves food for thought

Plant ecologist Naomi van der Velden explores alternatives to mass food production at the PACT Local Food Matters event in Penrith on Wednesday 15 October 2014

The benefits of producing food close to home and buying from local producers were high on the menu at an event in Penrith last week. Local Food Matters, run by Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT), attracted food enthusiasts, producers and sustainability groups from around the north of England.

“It was very encouraging to see such a good turnout, bringing people together to discuss why sourcing food locally is important,” said Nigel Jenkins, chairman of PACT. “The event allowed us to share ideas and experience from the food projects happening in our area and other parts of the north.”

Penrith resident Naomi van der Velden, a plant ecologist at the University of Cumbria who also works for Permaculture UK, opened the event with a presentation about food production.

Naomi discussed the degree of waste that typically occurs with mass food production, and what all of us can do to reduce it – from the energy used during processing and transportation, through to packaging and the food that’s wasted along the way. She shared ideas from a few projects in the UK and abroad which are moving away from factory farming and production, and instead returning to growing on a smaller scale and at a more local level.

The audience then had a choice of three discussion groups. Mark Lloyd from Sustainable Carlisle led a conversation about ways of linking up local producers with consumers, based on their Fair Food and Fair Meals Direct projects, which they’ve now also set up in Penrith.

Chris Cant from Penrith and Eden District Freegle talked with his group about how to encourage more people to grow their own fruit and vegetables, while Joan Robinson from PACT got her group discussing community gardening.

The owners of the Old Battery House Farm near Alston ended the evening with their inspiring account of raising rare-breed Mangalitsa pigs, using traditional methods and the highest welfare standards. The story of their project to build a straw-bale barn to house the pigs has attracted nearly 7,000 followers worldwide on their Facebook page ‘If pigs could fly?’, tuning in for daily video updates.

The Penrith-based charity Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) and Resource Cumbria also had stalls at the event, allowing attendees to find out about projects to create a more sustainable way of life in the county, and see the new food digester and composter units that are available cheaply to residents of Eden, Allerdale and Barrow.

A Freegle stall saw lots of surplus apples and damson trees changing hands. There’s another chance to give away unwanted goods or pick up something you might need at Freegle’s ‘Give and Take’ event on 8 November at the Salvation Army hall in Penrith.