In the limelight - Sustainable Food Production

Barbara Bray

The topic of sustainable food production seems to be front and centre of most agendas in the agri-food world at the moment. Certainly, that’s my perception as someone who spends all of her time working in that space.

I was reminded recently, that it is 25 years since I graduated from agricultural college. The time I spent at Silsoe College, Cranfield University, was memorable for the experience of being immersed in a wide range of disciplines and meeting alumni who had gone on to have interesting and varied careers in sectors including government and policy, water, soil, food manufacture and environmental management.

Learning from others is a huge part of professional and personal development and I have seen the benefit of putting a diverse group of people together to share knowledge and experience when I ran the OFC Scholars programme over the last 2 years. There were rich discussions in the workshops and new ideas came out of the tasks we set on the themes of sustainability and of recruitment and retention in the industry.

In my role as co-chairman, working with people is a significant part of what we do. Liaising with the Patron, HRH Princess Anne and her team, speaking with the conference sponsors, discussions with ORFC and, the regular council meetings where we shape the conference and ensure good governance of the OFC charity form the bulk of what we do. The exciting part of finding speakers who can challenge, inform and inspire is what motivates us.

I am fortunate that in my day to day role as a Registered Nutritionist and Food Safety consultant, I am able to work across a range of projects including speaking and chairing events, writing articles as well as running sustainable nutrition workshops and supporting businesses on food safety compliance. I enjoy meeting people and finding out what they do as well as opportunities to work together. This year I was pleased to support the LEAF Open Farm Sunday initiative with an article on eating sustainably and healthily. It’s too convenient to think of just one or two areas to focus on such as calories consumed or where the food has come from, when in reality a whole range of factors are involved in producing and consuming a sustainable diet. It’s great to see the work that LEAF is doing to show people how food is produced and prompt discussions about responsible consumption.

It was a fantastic experience earlier this year being involved in the Love and Soil event set up by a good friend of mine Dr Amy-Jane Beer, partnering with Northern Heartlands and Tipping Points, a programme funded by the University of Leeds. What started out as a physical symposium set in the grounds of Castle Howard with invited guests from the farming, academic, conservation, art and music sectors, eventually became an online slow conversation. We took the concept of the messy middle where people are trying to find a calm and respectful space to voice their opinion about farming and the environment. The result was a private website where selected delegates could speak or write freely on a range of topics about farming and the environment. What I loved about it was the passion that everyone had for what they were doing and how the conversation was so thoughtful and considered over the 4 week period. It enabled people to be reflective and take on new information or ideas and then respond in a way that then inspired others to contribute. A short film with snippets of the conversation has been produced and can be viewed on the Northern Heartlands website.

I’m sure that the topic sustainable food production will continue to be prominent over the next few years.

It’s timely that the 2022 conference aims to address the potential challenges faced by food producers in the transition to a sustainable intensification system producing accessible, good quality food for a healthy diet.

In our conference mission to challenge, inform and inspire, we will look at the policies, science and societal issues that are likely to have the biggest impact on those agri-food businesses ‘caught in the middle’. I look forward to seeing what will come out of those discussions in the year ahead.

See you at Oxford…..

Barbara is a food safety consultant and registered nutritionist driving and delivering food safety in food supply chains and developing nutrition strategy for businesses.

With a passion for educating people about food and nutrition, Barbara is a trustee for International Affairs with the Nutrition Society and sits on the food and nutrition committee for the Institute of Food Science and Technology.

A professional speaker and 2017 Nuffield Farming Scholar, Barbara speaks at food and agriculture events and gave a TEDx talk at the University of Chester in February 2020. She was awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to food and nutrition.