"Strawberries from Israel on the shelves of Wexford supermarkets during their annual strawberry week. Is this sustainable?” asked Michael Kelly of Grow It Yourself (GIY) at this week’s conference on Green Foundation Ireland’s food seminar in Dublin.
He told the audience that he himself “had a road to Damascus moment” about his relationship with food some years ago when he realised some garlic he was buying came all the way from China.
This inspired him to start rowing his own food and the Grow it Yourself organisation started from there. Grow it Yourself has now grown to 50,000 people and over 800 groups around Ireland.
“We support that network by running awareness and support programmes” Kelly explained.
We believe the food chain currently impacts on people’s health…Seven billion people on the planet, of which two billion are starving or malnourished or starving and the other end one billion overweight or obese.”
“For the first time ever diet-related disease has over taking infectious disease”.
In his speech to the packed house, he also stressed that “consumer tastes and health concerns are at tipping point”.
Supermarkets are full of processed foods and people are looking for change, he said. In response to this challenge there is “two ways we can go”. Either continue to produce highly processed food or to look to GIY’s principles for a different answer, he said matter of factly.
“100 per cent self-sufficiency is not achievable or desirable for most people but going some of the way would be hugely beneficial for people's understanding of food and how it is produced," he added.
Also speaking at the Green Foundation Ireland conference was Gillian Westbrook of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association.
She expressed her disappointed that "the organic sector in Ireland is viewed as elitist or alternative”. This is not the case, she said. In her speech she spoke about the common theme spoken about by most people in the food industry which is sustainability.
“We’ve been talking about sustainability for a long time. But we haven’t listened or don’t want to listen to what is sustainability in food production."
Gillian went on to outline some of the beneficial aspects of organic production noting: “To make one tonne of artificial fertiliser it takes 508 cubic meters of fresh water it, emits seven tonnes of carbon dioxide and it used a tonne of oil or gas.
“Organic systems typically use 26 per cent less energy to produce the same about of food as conventional.” On reform of the Common Agricultural Policy she told the audience there was a now a fantastic opportunity to change agriculture for the better."