Accelerating Sustainable Food Business Solutions to Reshape Our Cities
19/08/2020 - Impact Hub

2007 marked an important milestone for the Earth’s cities. It happened without us realizing at the time.

In one of the world’s urban centers – perhaps Dhaka or New York, or maybe Tokyo or Lagos – somebody (we’ll never know who) tipped the balance on the urban-rural scales. This unknown individual was the first person to inhabit a world in which the planet’s urban population outnumbered the rural.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and urban areas. The UN predicts that by 2050, this proportion will rise to more than two thirds. It is almost certain that our global society will never again be predominantly agrarian.

More than four billion people work, live, and sustain themselves in the metropolis. Technological leaps have enabled many (though by no means all) of us city-dwellers to sustain ourselves adequately, despite breaking our traditional connection with agricultural life.

But the inconvenient truth, laid out for us even more clearly since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that our increasingly urban existence is not sustainable, for us or the planet that we live on.

Photo: Global Climate Strike 2019, Lausanne. Sign’s Translation: “An earthling without an Earth is landless”. Planet: “Bye, I let you go!”

The hidden costs of our diets

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) in their ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020’ report, sound the alarm loud and clear about the growing impact of what we eat.

“All diets around the world… have hidden costs whose understanding is critical to identify trade-offs and synergies that affect the achievement of other SDGs.” – FAO, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020’

According to the report, the world’s food system makes up a third of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, establishing it as one of the key drivers of rising global temperatures and the consequent climate crisis. Meanwhile, the individual costs to our own health of what we eat will add up to 1.3 trillion USD by 2030.

It is clear that without rapid innovation on a global scale, what we eat in our cities and how we produce it poses an existential challenge.

Photo: Sutton Community Farm

Feeding the City

In 2018, Impact Hub King’s Cross kicked off an incubation program for UK-based social entrepreneurs aiming to combat the key challenges in our urban food systems.

The program was born out of the passion for and expertise around sustainable food among the Impact Hub King’s Cross community. Back in 2015, the members and team co-created the ‘Food Talks’ quarterly event series, in which leading industry thinkers explore the major issues affecting the food system. This is where the seed for the Feeding the City incubator was planted.

Feeding the City Start Up has now worked with 23 early-stage social enterprises, providing business mentoring, practical workshops, direct funding, and access to investment. Program alumni include Tigermylk, whose innovative milk alternative product is made from tiger nuts grown close to their home city of Bristol and is packaged in reusable bottles. Another is Kina Mama, a catering company that delivers food to isolated new mothers in West London (you can find more information on participants in the program’s 2019 Impact Report).

In early 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting food supply chains across the planet, it was time to double down on the Feeding the City mission.

Photo: Kina Mama

A translocal collaboration is born

This year saw the launch of Feeding the City Accelerate in the UK, which aims to support more established small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) working in the realm of sustainable food to scale. Among those selected for the first program is Sutton Community Farm, whose agro-ecological and organic farm in South London provides both restaurants and individuals with healthy, fresh vegetable boxes with a low carbon footprint.

But Feeding the City is now expanding not just within the UK, but on mainland Europe too. Impact Hub Berlin announced the first Feeding the City teams to be selected in Germany earlier this month. One of them is SuperCoop, a member-owned supermarket cooperative in Berlin, whose business model ensures the protection of both producers and the planet. The benefits of a more localized supply chain and workforce have been brought to the forefront in recent months, with industrial food production facilities coming under fire for driving the spread of the pandemic through poor working conditions.

Collaboration is a key value of the Impact Hub network, and building Feeding the City as a translocal program has relied upon the shared social and environmental mission and vision of the London and Berlin teams. Trust between the partners is vital, as is the courage and agility that was needed to pivot the programs’ delivery to the digital realm in this time of restricted mobility.

Photo: SuperCoop

Networks for change

While COVID-19 has exposed many of the fragilities in the food system (and in our cities more widely), it has also shown the resilience of community-focused and sustainable food and beverage businesses. These businesses, which do not rely on opaque supply chains, just-in-time models, or poor labor practices, are examples of what the food system should look like.

Our Impact Hub network is an overwhelmingly urban one, and the impact of the virus has given it a fresh impetus to support the local innovators reshaping the future of our cities. The social enterprises scaling with the help of programs like Feeding the City can help show us the path to an urbanizing world better equipped to feed itself in the face of the environmental, health, and societal challenges to come.

 

Feeding the City is run by Impact Hub King’s Cross and Impact Hub Berlin and is powered by Bank of America. Find out more about Feeding the City Start Up, Feeding the City Accelerate and Feeding the City Germany, or read more about what Impact Hub is doing to support social entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

This is a guest blog post written by Luke Davis, Communications Lead at Impact Hub Berlin.