Food, poverty and farming’s position is the focus of the Oxford Farming Conference’s latest podcast

Denise Bentley

Co-founder and CEO of First Love Foundation, and National Food Strategy Advisory panel member, Denise Bentley, joined OFC Co-Chair Sarah Mukherjee on the latest OFC podcast. 

In this special interview they reflect on First Love Foundation’s inspiring approach to tackle hunger and poverty, the wider societal and policy factors, and the role of the farming sector in overcoming these challenges and building resilience.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw a dramatic 320% increase in the number of people seeking help from the organisation.

Denise says, “Although we can respond by giving access to food, to deliver a truly effective service, we need to rip the plaster off and understand what the underlying problems leading to food poverty are.

“With this holistic model, we focus our efforts on the deep-rooted issues that have led an individual to crisis, with the goal of cementing permanent change.”

Denise recognises that eliminating poverty cannot be achieved alone, and the UK-wide systemic change, that has already helped to bring about a shift in various areas, is still very much what is needed.

“Without personally experiencing poverty, it is hard for an outsider to understand the relentless battle. My course has therefore always been to introduce those in positions of power to those going through difficult times, to put themselves in their shoes and then do something about it.

“Using this case study method, those who have the power to influence change often re-purpose resources, assets and influence from within their own organisations to not only solve the problem with the person that they have met, but at a wider societal and systemic level too”. 

During the podcast, Sarah also draws on her experience working with the low-waged and un-waged, to highlight the importance of First Love Foundation’s work:

“One thing that really struck me is that if you’re struggling with one thing, you’re struggling with everything. That’s why we need to adopt more joined-up thinking in terms of food, nutrition, society and sustainability.”

Denise, who joined a panel with Henry Dimbleby at the Oxford Farming Conference in 2020, stresses that whilst the National Food Strategy accepts that the issue of welfare benefits is out of the scope of the report, affordability of food for everyone, is something which needs to be addressed. 

“People need access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. But if you have no income, that’s impossible, so there’s a little bit more work to do.

If the scope of the strategy is to fix the food system using a farm to fork approach, the people I am dealing with do not even have a seat at the table.”

Going forward, Denise understands that is it is not simply about exposing our producers to the poverty that prevails within our society but recognising the pivotal role that farmers and the wider industry has to play in solving it. Through the establishment of networks between farmers and communities, and continued work in building resilience in the person’s life, the vision would be for all members of society, in crisis or not, to have the means of accessing good, affordable food.

To listen to the podcast, visit or any major podcast platform.

The 2022 Oxford Farming Conference will take place from 5 to 7 January 2022, and will include a session with Henry Dimbleby. Tickets are now on sale at but will be limited so booking early is recommended.