Bristol's hunger for good

Bristol leads the UK in solving food waste, and its surrounding farms are ripe with local, organic produce. What fuels the city's appetite for everything green?

Photo: UK Gleaning Network

Right now, Bristolians are quietly delivering a food waste revolution. This year, just 46 local volunteers saved six tonnes, or 75,000 portions of apples from landfill. 

They did it over three days, as part of a process called gleaning. 

“Bristol gleaning involves taking volunteers to farms, harvesting food that would have otherwise gone to waste,” explains Martin Bowman, UK Gleaning Coordinator.

Nationally, the Gleaning Network UK has given back over one million portions of fruit and veg since 2012, to homeless hostels and charities.

“Food is wasted for a variety of reasons,” says Martin. 

“Fruit are too big or small for the supermarkets’ strict cosmetic standards, but perfectly nutritious to eat. We need to change consumer and retailer perceptions, making sure this food is welcome in our kitchens.”

Bristol has two gleaning coordinators, to encourage people to help with the healthy, outdoors work.

“To hear about gleaning days coming up in and around Bristol, locals should sign up to our gleaning list and join us in the fields for an idyllic day out!” says Martin. 

It’s not just about those of us who eat the food. Local farmers may have food waste to spare, and they can invite gleaners to save their unharvested produce. 

“Please get in touch with [email protected],” Martin continues.

“Last year, 11 tonnes of pumpkins were saved from a farm near Southampton, in part by Bristol gleaners, and some was redistributed via FareShare South West (FSW).”

Charities like FSW work with the most vulnerable in Bristol’s community. They are key to gleaning’s success; after harvesting, they get the otherwise wasted food to those who really need it. 

The Best Before Project, Matthew Tree Project, Rubies in the Rubble and Snact are others carrying out this priceless work. 

Bristol hub's apple glean on 9 November 2014 on a farm in Warwickshire
Photo: UK Gleaning Network

“One of our Bristol gleaning coordinators also runs a branch of the Real Junk Food Project,” Martin continues, describing the newly launched Skipchen.

Based in Stokes Croft, along with many of Bristol’s green businesses, Skipchen offers tasty meals using waste food from supermarkets. 

Bristol has an advantage; a well established set of community interest companies (CIC’s) to help communication. These are particularly good at linking together businesses, people and charities, to help food go further.

Called a ‘community food waste cafe’, Skipchen serves the leftovers on a pay-as-you-feel basis. But Bristol isn’t just about reusing old food.

“As for buying local organic food, how about starting with a visit to the Wednesday Farmers’ market on Corn Street, or ordering a veg box from the Community Farm, or Leigh Court Farm?” suggests Jane Stevenson from the Bristol Food Network (BFN).

BFN connects Bristolians, community projects, organisations and companies, sharing a vision to transform Bristol into the top sustainable food city.

“You could become a member of Sims Hill Shared Harvest for a weekly share of their Bristol-grown veg, or you could do a bit of late-night shopping at the Better Food Company stores in St Werburghs and on Whiteladies Road,” Jane explains. 

Bristol, according to Friends of the Earth, was the UK’s first city to offer food waste collections to all residents back in 2006. Soon, with ongoing work, there will be hardly any wasted food to find.

Why not volunteer with FareShare South West or the Bristol Gleaning Network and help tackle food waste in your area.

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Get involved with FareShare South West