Blog by Esther Barratt, October 2022

At the end of May, I began an 8-week internship at Food Matters as a Research and Project Assistant. After years of learning through a screen, and what felt like many lost opportunities from COVID’s unforgiving grip, coming into an office and becoming immersed into the running of an organisation was an exciting, and strangely novel prospect.

Starting work at Food Matters filled me with gratitude. Our work partly focuses on supporting food partnerships, who have become fundamental support mechanisms to millions across the UK, amplified through the pandemic, providing indispensable support to thousands more who were impacted by the repercussions of COVID.

Having already developed an interest in food systems and sustainability – which my dissertation on agroecological farming systems allowed me to explore further – this internship presented me with the opportunity to zoom out beyond one method of sustainable food production, to look at whole food systems.

The past 8 weeks have taught me some invaluable lessons about the fundamental importance of the work organisations such as Food Matters and food partnerships do, the innovative and different approaches to research and facilitation, and what a healthy and supportive working environment feels like. Over this time, whilst some aspects of Food Matters’ work have become clearer, the complexity and siloed nature of the food system, and the challenges food partnerships face have become evident. This is what this blog is all about – what becomes clear and what becomes more complex after 8 weeks at Food Matters…

What Has Become Clear…

Reflecting on my time here, the working environment feels like the best place to begin. The kindness and warmth of the team makes such a difference to working life and fosters confidence. This allowed me to make the most of the opportunity, adding volume to my voice, in what I want to do; where I feel the biggest opportunity for learning is, and even suggesting areas for improvement or adaptation of Food Matters’ project work. Within this environment, working not only becomes more enjoyable but also fosters a sense of agency, making work feel empowering. I’ll leave this role with a clear idea of what an excellent working environment feels like and hope to bring that same energy to wherever I end up next.

I’ll leave this role with a clear idea of what an excellent working environment feels like                                   

Interning at Food Matters has also brought clarity to the power of participatory approaches in demonstrating that people are experts in their own lives. Having only touched briefly on participation and facilitation during my time at university, time spent here has demonstrated the value in such approaches. It has shown me the power participation can hold in developing mechanisms of support and change in a way those affected will find most beneficial, whilst simultaneously building agency and empowerment. There is so much to be learnt from the voice of the unheard. Promotion of these kinds of approaches feels so needed, especially after the disconnected and disappointing National Food Strategy, released in June. Although there are differences in scale, the premise overrides: the representation and inclusivity that participatory approaches are grounded in develops policies, strategies, and changes that are resilient, robust, and appropriate. Participatory approaches certainly feel like a step in the right direction towards building social justice into the food system.

What has become seemingly more complex…

As with so many aspects of food systems, the more you find out, the more complicated they become, and the more difficult it is to find solutions. There is no one blanket solution to deal with the climate crisis, inequality, poverty, health, and many other challenges that define the food system and determine food security. Our current food system is ingrained with contentious and intricate webs of challenges, threatening global security.

One challenge that has become very apparent is the difficulty food partnerships face in tackling the immediate cost of living crisis, whilst also developing long term, context specific resilience. How do you balance short-term emergency responses and long-term system change? This is particularly challenging to partnerships whose work is paramount in so many contexts, but who often function on inconsistent funding, creating huge challenges around time and capacity.

How do you balance short-term emergency responses and long-term system change?

The cost of living crisis is a huge challenge that will require immense grassroots power to help those worst impacted. But crises do not take turns. A worsening climate emergency, the impacts of Brexit, crises of political instability and war/invasion remain present and relentless. Managing the immediate impacts of crises, whilst also building long-term local food system resilience is, for many food partnership coordinators, an overwhelming and continuous challenge. Seeing fragments of how these balances are curated leaves me with a huge appreciation of the complex, pressured decisions partnership’s face, and overcome. These decisions are reached through meticulous planning, research, and design. As I’ve researched, the more I realise just how much there is to know.

In this sense, what has become clearer is just that. The more you learn about something, the more you realise there is to know and in getting to that point, you realise just how much you don’t know. However, everything you do learn better equips you for making progress in the complex environment of fair and resilient food systems.

Since the time of writing, Esther has accepted a part-time position as Sustainable Food Places Project Assistant. We’re thrilled that Esther will continue her valuable work as part of the SFP team.

Blog by Esther Barratt, October 2022

At the end of May, I began an 8-week internship at Food Matters as a Research and Project Assistant. After years of learning through a screen, and what felt like many lost opportunities from COVID’s unforgiving grip, coming into an office and becoming immersed into the running of an organisation was an exciting, and strangely novel prospect.

Starting work at Food Matters filled me with gratitude. Our work partly focuses on supporting food partnerships, who have become fundamental support mechanisms to millions across the UK, amplified through the pandemic, providing indispensable support to thousands more who were impacted by the repercussions of COVID.

Having already developed an interest in food systems and sustainability – which my dissertation on agroecological farming systems allowed me to explore further – this internship presented me with the opportunity to zoom out beyond one method of sustainable food production, to look at whole food systems.

The past 8 weeks have taught me some invaluable lessons about the fundamental importance of the work organisations such as Food Matters and food partnerships do, the innovative and different approaches to research and facilitation, and what a healthy and supportive working environment feels like. Over this time, whilst some aspects of Food Matters’ work have become clearer, the complexity and siloed nature of the food system, and the challenges food partnerships face have become evident. This is what this blog is all about – what becomes clear and what becomes more complex after 8 weeks at Food Matters…

What Has Become Clear…

Reflecting on my time here, the working environment feels like the best place to begin. The kindness and warmth of the team makes such a difference to working life and fosters confidence. This allowed me to make the most of the opportunity, adding volume to my voice, in what I want to do; where I feel the biggest opportunity for learning is, and even suggesting areas for improvement or adaptation of Food Matters’ project work. Within this environment, working not only becomes more enjoyable but also fosters a sense of agency, making work feel empowering. I’ll leave this role with a clear idea of what an excellent working environment feels like and hope to bring that same energy to wherever I end up next.

I’ll leave this role with a clear idea of what an excellent working environment feels like                                   

Interning at Food Matters has also brought clarity to the power of participatory approaches in demonstrating that people are experts in their own lives. Having only touched briefly on participation and facilitation during my time at university, time spent here has demonstrated the value in such approaches. It has shown me the power participation can hold in developing mechanisms of support and change in a way those affected will find most beneficial, whilst simultaneously building agency and empowerment. There is so much to be learnt from the voice of the unheard. Promotion of these kinds of approaches feels so needed, especially after the disconnected and disappointing National Food Strategy, released in June. Although there are differences in scale, the premise overrides: the representation and inclusivity that participatory approaches are grounded in develops policies, strategies, and changes that are resilient, robust, and appropriate. Participatory approaches certainly feel like a step in the right direction towards building social justice into the food system.

What has become seemingly more complex…

As with so many aspects of food systems, the more you find out, the more complicated they become, and the more difficult it is to find solutions. There is no one blanket solution to deal with the climate crisis, inequality, poverty, health, and many other challenges that define the food system and determine food security. Our current food system is ingrained with contentious and intricate webs of challenges, threatening global security.

One challenge that has become very apparent is the difficulty food partnerships face in tackling the immediate cost of living crisis, whilst also developing long term, context specific resilience. How do you balance short-term emergency responses and long-term system change? This is particularly challenging to partnerships whose work is paramount in so many contexts, but who often function on inconsistent funding, creating huge challenges around time and capacity.

How do you balance short-term emergency responses and long-term system change?

The cost of living crisis is a huge challenge that will require immense grassroots power to help those worst impacted. But crises do not take turns. A worsening climate emergency, the impacts of Brexit, crises of political instability and war/invasion remain present and relentless. Managing the immediate impacts of crises, whilst also building long-term local food system resilience is, for many food partnership coordinators, an overwhelming and continuous challenge. Seeing fragments of how these balances are curated leaves me with a huge appreciation of the complex, pressured decisions partnership’s face, and overcome. These decisions are reached through meticulous planning, research, and design. As I’ve researched, the more I realise just how much there is to know.

In this sense, what has become clearer is just that. The more you learn about something, the more you realise there is to know and in getting to that point, you realise just how much you don’t know. However, everything you do learn better equips you for making progress in the complex environment of fair and resilient food systems.

Since the time of writing, Esther has accepted a part-time position as Sustainable Food Places Project Assistant. We’re thrilled that Esther will continue her valuable work as part of the SFP team.

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