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Planting the seeds of food security

The current global pandemic and accompanying lockdown has shown us so many truths that were not so evident before.

We now know that frontline workers include bus and lorry drivers, supermarket workers, post office and delivery staff and others, alongside nurses, doctors, gardaí and other emergency workers.

The importance of our food sources has also placed a spotlight on modern supply chain management.

Our food security is so vital to us. We’ve been lucky that our food supply hasn’t been affected too badly over the last two months, although it has affected local food producers, some of whom haven’t been able to sell the same level of produce as farmers’ markets have been closed down.

Those local food producers are vital to us when so much of our food is imported. We need to encourage local food production.

A group called the Cork Food Policy Council said this week that they see the Covid-19 crisis as a turning point where a more resilient, sustainable and local food system can be built for Cork and they are teaming up with a number of European cities to explore the impact Covid-19 has had on food systems. The Cork Food Policy Council is a non-statutory group of food system representatives working towards an inclusive, fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system for everyone.

“We want to identify what adaptation measures have been taken, and we wish to review the experiences of different agencies, organisations, and community groups across Cork in response to the challenges of access to and distribution of food during this period,” said Janas Harrington, Chair of the Cork Food Policy Council.

Innovations that emerged prior to the crisis like the Cork-originated Neighbourfood network, which has expanded hugely over the next few months, have been vital.

Producers on Neighbourfood take home 80 per cent of all sales, compared to an average of 10 per cent to 15 per cent with a supermarket.

It’s now spreading throughout Ireland, due in part, no doubt, to the lack of farmers’ markets in the last two months. Farmers markets have now re-started since Monday thankfully of course.

“Communities have come together to plug gaps in food systems, we have witnessed an immense outpouring of community spirit and willingness to help the most vulnerable in our community, from those cocooning to those living with homelessness,” said Cork Food Policy Coordinator Maria Young.

Cork Food Policy Council point out that a number of innovative ways to distribute food to vulnerable groups have been developed including:

- Direct delivery of food by retailers

- The involvement of sporting organisations in the delivery of food

- Provision of food hampers by charitable organisation and schools

- Provision of food to charitable organisation from food hubs

- Provision of take away services by various organisations

They also point that the lockdown has lead to some positive behaviour changes with people cooking more frequently and baking more, as well as planting more vegetables and herbs.

Cork Food Policy Council is keen to build on these positive changes and future-proof the Cork food system to ensure a resilient and sustainable local food system for all.

“One way to do this is to develop a culture where community gardens and allotments are seen as the norm rather than the exception and where farmer’s markets are accessible to all, rather than perceived as a middleclass luxury,” concluded Janas Harrington, Chair of the Cork Food Policy Council.

The Cork Food Policy Council is asking people to take part in a Europe-wide survey. To take part in the survey go to https://letsfoodideas.com/en/questionnaire-covid-19/.