Interest in local food has grown steadily in recent years, with people seeing not just its nutritional and taste benefits, but also its political role, alongside its ability to strengthen local economies. Increasingly, movements such as the Transition Network1 are seeing, in the light of climate change and resource depletion, that the role of local food is no longer an optional extra, but a key necessity in a resource-constrained future. In the wider context of economic localisation, economist David Fleming writes, “…localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative” (Fleming 2006). This paper explores the degree of relocalisation in the food sector that might be possible, through a drawing together of the concepts of ‘foodzones’ and ‘foodsheds’, as well as Simon Fairlie’s work on ‘Can Britain Feed Itself?’ It utilises GIS (Geographical Information Science) technology and a range of datasets to look at Totnes and District in Devon, England, to assess the degree to which the area could achieve a significant degree of self-reliance for food and other essentials. Totnes and District is chosen for this paper as it is home to Transition Town Totnes, the first such project in the UK, and this paper is part of a larger project into food relocalisation that they are undertaking.
The research and findings presented here are very much work-in-progress, and raise many areas for further research. Many of the key datasets that a thorough version of this work would need are not in the public domain and are prohibitively expensive to access, some of the data around land use is out of date, and many of the statistics have to be inferred from an overlapping of several sets. However, in spite of its limitations and imperfections, the findings of this paper are fascinating, with far-reaching implications for other settlements and for the UK as a whole. The conclusions identify the need for a rethink of how agriculture is practiced, as well as the urgent need for research into new models of food production. Also identified is the need for national version of this research, a larger project, but in the light of the fast moving issues of peak oil, climate change and the economic difficulties facing the UK, a profoundly urgent one.
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