Commissioned by Public Health at Leicestershire County Council, the programme has worked closely across the local food system for the past decade to implement change incrementally, meaning that the food culture in Leicestershire today is self-sustaining and more joined up than ever.
“The greatest change has been creating space for food and food culture within schools,” reflects Raksha Mistry, Local Programme Manager in Leicestershire. “That looks like children who are growing food, eating healthier, lots more cooking, cooking with what they’re growing, experiencing real farms out in the open and giving them that outdoor exposure.”
The impact doesn’t stop there, however. A big part of Food for Life’s work in Leicestershire has been connecting different parts of the food system to create lasting change. A milestone was Leicestershire County Council’s catering service, Leicestershire Traded Services, achieving their Food for Life Served Here Gold Certification which demonstrated that they served freshly prepared, healthy and sustainable meals to over 35,000 pupils each day. “The criteria around local food in particular propelled conversations between different teams within the council and how they could support local people to grow local food,” explains Raksha, pointing to benefits like fresher food, lower carbon impact and knowing exactly where your food has come from.
These connections are an important part of the county’s food culture. Schools regularly work with local producers to get hands-on experience in growing and producing food, going on to enjoy and cook with it. Food grown in school gardens is also having an impact on the local community, whether that’s through veg boxes given to older residents or as part of a school-run farmers market or fayre where local farmers are also present.
All this has built the foundations for Leicestershire’s recently achieved Sustainable Food Places Silver Award, which sees them become part of a network of food partnerships across the country. Alongside Food for Life introducing a universal approach to food in all Leicestershire schools, the work of Good Food Leicestershire, a partnership working towards a sustainable food system, collaboration across council departments and the publishing of the Leicestershire Food Plan all demonstrate the county’s innovation and embedding of a joined-up food culture.
These links mean that not only are the county’s pupils enjoying a good food culture, but farmers, suppliers, producers and local food leaders are linked up to drive innovation and best practice on healthy and sustainable food for all. Leicestershire now enjoys community pantries and kitchens which help to reduce food waste, refill shops, farmers markets and many other initiatives, as well as prominence given to the issues of food waste and food poverty.
As Raksha explains: “The programme empowers people; we are just facilitators, supporting budding food champions. You get to see people develop their passion around food whether that’s through cooking, food education around wider issues like soil and transport or really empowering the next generation to make conscious food choices. Seeing that change happen leaves that indelible mark – it gives you goosebumps – and you think that was a job well done, as it were.”
Find out more about Food for Life's work in Leicestershire here