Notes from Bristol's 1st Food System research workshop

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Bristol Converge food sector workshop 1 introduction

The workshop began at 10 am on November 1 2011 at the Bristol and Bath Science Centre, with 19 participants plus the Converge Project research team (9 people, Vala Ragnarsdottir, Harald Sverdrup, Deniz Koca, Sigrun Maria Kristinsdottir, Ian Roderick, Alice-Marie Archer, Charlotte Olof Biering, Emmilie Brownlee, and Jenneth Parker).

We started with a lecture given by Vala Ragnarsdóttir (see above slideshow), including an introduction of the Converge research project and of the research participants, and setting the stage for the day’s project. The introduction included “the state we are in”, resource depletion (including oil and phosphorous), what sustainability means, the TNS sustainability principles, the ISIS compass, city food production and an overview of what sustainable food production could look like for Bristol.

The aim with the whole project is to map what sustainable food systems in Iceland, Bristol and two impoverished villages in India look like. The outcome, the model, will be sent to the European Union, but participants will also get a copy of it and can use it as they please.


The folowing image shows how we will build the model over the 3 workshops.

Image of the process that we go through during th


Project 1:

Then we started with a scenario – a volcano in Iceland has erupted continuously for 3 months, and no air traffic is possible in the northern hemisphere. Oil is very expensive, so those ships that can travel come only sporadically. The government has an emergency meeting and decides that all food should be produced in the Bristol bioregion. The question is how? After some brainstorming in groups of about 6 people, the participants came up with the following thoughts:

Group 1: We decided upon a timeline: immediate, short to median term, and long term that we decided is 5 years to 7 generations. We thought there would be panic in supermarkets, so authorities need exercise some control there, and they would need to control distribution as well. As lots of people live in the Southeast of the country, we need to take that into account. We thought of calorie intake, and thought that even though we can get people to eat less, or 2000 to 2500 calories per day, we still need to produce a lot of food. So our solution is potatoes, as carbohydrates are the key. We thought we could get 4 crops over the year. As time goes on, we can reduce the food people eat, but for that to happen, we need a rationing system, and people also need to understand what can be grown in this part of the world.

Group 2: We thought rationing would probably play a large part in such a reality. We started with who was going to coordinate matters, and thought Bristol City council would be a good candidate. We need a body to identify where we can grow food, and land acquisition program would be started within the city – this program would consider other ways to use space. We would also need some sort of a seed bank or seed distributor. Since people will want to grow their own things, we need to educate people on that, plus plan allotments for private food gardens. As this region is not suitable for grain, we thought we could swap with other regions and grow root vegetables here.

Group 3: We thought to start looking at Bristol’s local demand, our real network needed for our consumption. We also decided to set a limit on calorie intake, 2000 to 2500 calories per person, and thought we must be very clear about that level. Then we discussed land availability, distribution and how much we have, and from there we thought we could see how much we can’t meet. Then we figure out how we meet what we can’t manufacture ourselves. We need to look at crop capacity and decide whether we use commercial land. Here we saw an opportunity for people to do their own work, and realized that this process needs to be managed top down. However, we also realize that black market and organized crime will be an issue. Distribution etc also needs to be managed top down, but the grass root will be doing the work. We also thought that supermarkets would play an important role, as they will give over their infrastructure under duress - emergency plan set by authorities could make that happen.

After this, Vala read the proposed Converge Principles

Project 2: Harald Sverdrup and Deniz Koca take over and Harald begins by explaining what occurs in each of the 3 workshops (fig. 1). Figure The process of the Converge three workshops Harald explains our goal today: We start with the vision “Sustainable food system in Bristol”. Then we focus on goals and hurdles, and make mindmaps of how things are connected. There will, of course, be overlap between the groups. In Workshop no 2 at the end of November, our vision is more or less set. We know about our goals and have a list of hurdles. And have started on a systems insight. From there, we continue on with our systems insight. The team will in the meanwhile have joined the outcomes from the three different groups into one mind map, clean-written the different causal loop diagrams you made in workshop 1 (see figures below). From that joined and clean-written mind map (causal loop diagram), we start the second workshop and try to come up with solutions. In workshop 3, vision, goals, hurdles and system insight are established, so we focus then much more on solutions and action plans. Then a lively discussion begins, where workshop participants asked a few questions, summarized along with the answers here below. With system maps, we attempt to map reality. Causal relationships are depicted here, that is to say, how things react to other things.

Your feedback is all-important, if you send us feedback, we will include it in the model. It is important to remember that while a computer is a machine, human communities don’t work like a machine. However, as these models are not linear, we can allow for non-linear relationships. In addition, there is a lot of causal reaction in human actions – i.e. you buy a yellow car without knowing why, but there may be a reason for it, perhaps you’ve seen an advertisement figuring very happy people in a yellow car. It’s our challenge to see these causal relationships. As for physical numbers, those will be added into the model later, right now we’re focusing on these causal relationships. This is the reason for the workshop participants having such diverse backgrounds – you have the expertise that we need to create the model. The group was shown the three causal loop diagrams created in Iceland, and then the final diagram, where the research team has combined the three into one single causal loop diagram. The final model is based entirely on the mental mapping the group does, the research team builds the model from that. The model will have indicators, both action indicators and success indicators. This way, we can see what indicators are important to see the acceleration to sustainability.

Vision for a sustainable food system in Bristol

After lunch, we regrouped and people at each table began identifying the vision of sustainable food system in Bristol. Results of the visioning exercise –

Group 1 -To start with we need to understand what sustainability actually means, for any city. This means that we need to understand what proportion of import we can or can’t have. Though we can run a closed economy, we might not have to do that, as we may be able to import either domestically or internationally. Once we’ve got that vision, then we know what we have. We feel we need to reduce the amount we can buy in supermarkets to something more manageable. We talked a lot about branding, what brands would look like in the future, ethical brands. People buy brands and we discussed how we could change behaviour and encourage ethical branding. Farmers are important in this discussion as they supply us with what we need. Something really interesting about sustainable food system in Bristol is that most of our food will come from our bioregion, and that means people who live here will make most of it – it will create jobs. Local currency could be created, and we could look at different subgroups within the context of a single umbrella local currency. We want the system to be ethical, participatory, communal, and diverse. We want people to feel good about having fewer options, create a culture of enoughness.

Group 2 - We got tangled up in vision, hurdles and goals, but our vision includes the fact that we want the ability to feed everyone. Fair trade is of importance. A strong component in our discussion was that we make maximum use of transport, less carbon, low chemicals, and equitable access to market by producers. Some things were left unresolved, such as we are not certain whether we would need rationing. We have good soil here, and in our vision, biodiversity is honoured, we aim to close the loop, seek balance and allow people to self organize. We want meat to be a treat – that way carnivores enjoy their meat more and less regularly. We had a debate on regulation – where does regulation go in.? Some of us thought all should be centralized, including markets, but then the questions arise of how much and by whom? We also thought we should make use of what we termed edible walls – where we grow things in our walls. A sustainable Bristol region would feed all, be inclusive, self-organizing, and landscape would be used for more things than just production. We also discussed education, awareness and interconnection.

Group 3 We talked about localness, people wanting to have a story of where the food comes from, and that leads to food education. We would like to encourage people to eat locally and give them the reason to do so. We had a discussion on organic food, we all agree organic makes sense, but having more of it certified as organic is not necessarily the issue here. The system should be diverse and offer a range of food experiences, but at the same time we need to lessen food miles, and find balance here. We discussed the role of emotion in what we eat; in WWII people ate 2500 calories a day and were a lot healthier. Now we eat more calories and are less healthy. It is important to keep in mind that most of the time when people eat, they’re not eating to sustain their bodies, but rather out of habit, for emotional reasons, social reasons, etc. So that brought us back to education – the role it has, along with lack of encouragement in food technology, agriculture is mainstreamed and we need a stronger educational base. You think differently about your food if it’s not created by faceless workers like the case is today. Equity should also be thought of. If we go back only 100 years, ordinary working people knew about the importance of nutrition, but we seem to have lost it, brands have somewhat taken it away. So a sustainable food system here would be somewhat mosaic, there can be big and there can be small, national and international, and it would create local jobs.

Hurdles and obstacles

From here, we went to hurdles and obstacles, and people were encouraged to use freely what all the groups had laid out during the visioning exercise.

Group 1: We discussed mostly the Bristol City Council, where we feel there is a lot of talk and not a lot of action. We also discussed big businesses – these and BCC need to be on board with us so we can get anything done, and it’s important to keep in mind that big business has great influence on BCC.

Group 2: We discussed waste – where does it go in the bioregion? Other hurdles we spoke of were contracts, access to money and resources, common agricultural policies, privatization of land and world trade organizations that leave no room for the little man. Single European market, cheap food from abroad, other framework agreements – all of these are on a bigger scale and leave no room for smaller people to get involved.

Group 3: We all hate change, so we see resistance to change important. Capital investment – profit margins are so small that we have a hard time getting people to invest. Then we discussed if food prices are too cheap, and found out that the power lies with the supermarkets, as they control the prizing. Transport and distribution is also of importance – getting food from the producer to the consumer. One of the biggest hurdles is to make people aware of what they eat and where it comes from, so obviously education is needed. Outputs of the visioning exercise from these three groups are summarised in Appendix A.

Next, the groups did causal loop diagramming on baselines of the local production system. The groups were given three different themes to work with.

Group – Production - We looked at what existing land mass is used for – some land is used to grow grain which is then used for food for animals, while other land is used directly to grass-feed animals. Environmental practices all stem back to demand and income – it would be better to encourage people to grow less grain which also means you need fewer fertilizers. With education, the community can be more involved, and the consumer better informed about his food – or even participate in growing his food. The market has effects on localized food.

Figure - Food Production in Bristol - conceptual map

Group – logistics and distribution  - We need to make connections from the field to the plate, look at the whole supply chain. We need to discuss the impact in terms of farmer, fuel, chemicals and so on. We should be aware of what is used in the processing of individual crop, including the waste. There are wastes and materials consumed in that process which we often don’t think about. Fuel imports also need to be considered, they are very important here. Wholesaling and retailing also includes waste creation that is often forgotten. When it comes to the consumer, we have both waste in packaging and in food not consumed. There is also a difference in whether we’re looking at a large scale retailer or a local retailer – in the latter case, customers would have access to local food.

1st Map of Logistics Chain

2nd Map of Logistics and Distribution Model.

Group - consumption and values  -When it comes to consumer markets and governance it can be difficult to see what’s what. We start from the effect of consumer behaviour, where does it come from, and how do you work back? It’s driven by retailers, has effects on production and consumption. Big business like Wal-Mart are the biggest processors of consumer behaviour, which is driven by the economy in the form of discounts and selling addictive substances (sugar, coffee). We have both lost leaders and positive leaders, and some of this doesn’t add up. People chose unethical or bad retailers as the choice of items from those is so much larger. So we discussed how it’s possible to change the behaviour of retailers, f.ex. with a mandatory tax system, i.e. on CO2. Then we discussed our particular weak spatial planning in Bristol, as supermarkets take up a lot of land and put smaller businesses out of business. Finally, branding is a massive drive in consumer marketing.

From Schumacher Website


This concludes the notes from the first workshop.

Below is a first draft of Causal Loop Diagram that shows how the team gathers the information from the first workshop, and relevant information sources. We will use this Causal Loop Diagram as a starting point for the discussions during the next workshop, which will lead us to develop more advanced versions of CLDs. 

For more info see:


notes for group bristol ws 1_DK_SMK.docx1.07 MB