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Incredible System Change

By Sara Venn

“Systems change” is a shift in the way that a community makes decisions about policies, programs, and the allocation of its resources — and, ultimately, in the way it delivers services to its citizens.

We often here the phrase ‘system change” but what does it means and how is Incredible Edible a great way of creating that change in your community?

System change is a way of looking at the root causes of social problems, which are often deeply seated in cause and then effect and assumed unchangeable. The change comes from disrupting the causes in a way that sends the community, or individual, immediately in a different direction, supporting solutions rather than assuming an effect. If we look at food banks as an example, whilst they support people through dreadful crisis, system change addresses why those crises happen in the first place and puts into place support mechanisms that cover the work of the food banks. But it also supports people to empower themselves out of the crisis, be that through education, skill sharing, community support or many other things and this work is being done by many organisations across the UK, and needs to be supported by policy and legislation to ensure people are supported out of poverty, rather than just given an emergency package. The age old phrase “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ comes to mind when talking about system change!

What is Incredible Edible to do with this? Let’s look at edible landscaping as an example. Most towns and cities use what we think of as amenity planting and stick with a very limited plant palette that is made up of evergreen shrubs, trees that were traditionally planted to mitigate against pollution but now are understood to create other pollutants, and little else. In private development there may be a different palette but rarely is it edible or supportive of nature in the town or city. More and more we see landscaping plants used in the front areas of new houses in developments and often it’s written into the agreement with new residents that they mustn’t change these plants or add their own. However, in the light of biodiversity breakdown, system change is needed, and we need to call on local authorities and developers to change the way they engage with horticulture in their areas. Bur what might this look like and where should the system change come in?

If planning policy required developers to show how the development they were working on mitigated for biodiversity breakdown, for example, plans would need to include areas set aside for nature. Maintenance plans would be required to look at good use of the land to support everyone from the lowest rung of the food chain up to human beings. If the changed policy also supported community engagement and involvement, spaces for food growing, community spaces and areas for children to be outside in nature would need to be included in order for planning permission to be passed. If the architecture was required to support wildlife then bird boxes, bee and bug boxes could be a requirement. If new retail developments were required to support nature and local food networks, local businesses could flourish with support of lower business rates if they supported local food growers etc. But most importantly if this change was at the level where it couldn’t be ignored or avoided, legislation would support nature and so would everyone affected by that legislation, through law. In turn, it would be harder and harder for large corporation to hog the retail environment and give space for local to become our norm, revive our high streets and our local economies, keeping local money in that area, and creating opportunity for local investment. Whilst this might sound akin to a pipe dream, these things are beginning to happen across the country, led by brave pioneers who see not just a need for change, but the possibilities for communities through this change. Pop Brixton, Wapping Wharf in Bristol and other spaces where developers have supported local are thriving and whilst often they are accused of gentrification, they bring investment, local jobs and support for local networks of production to the spaces they create, and offer a vision of a possibility of what a different future could look like with just a small change in policy.

The concept and ethos of Incredible Edible supports full system change. Empowered and connected communities, leading their own change, are already creating change but by making sure this change is legislated for, local power, through co-production techniques, could be handed to communities and supported by local authorities in a truly bottom up way, ensuring food, growing, and people are at the core of that change. That would be a truly Incredible world.