LIFE can feel a bit overwhelming these days. Food prices are soaring, supermarket shelves are often empty, wildlife is disappearing at a dangerous rate, and we see the evidence of climate change around us, with wildfires, droughts, and violent spring storms.

Meanwhile, the farmers we rely on to provide our food are being hit with a series of whammies. Growing conditions are more unpredictable. Finding skilled labour is difficult, expensive, or impossible, leading to crops rotting in fields. Fuel, feed and fertiliser costs are spiralling higher.

The supermarkets, determined to keep their grip on shareholder profits, are squeezing what they pay producers. Many farmers are giving up, resulting in food shortages and prices rises. The recent lack of eggs was predicted last August.

I am a strong advocate for clear provenance. I believe every one of Scotland’s people should be able to enjoy the terrific produce our farmers deliver and I really care about our natural world. So, when Bioregioning Tayside asked if I would help them explore ways to support sustainability and get local food on to local plates, my answer was an immediate yes.

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A bioregion is an area defined by its natural features rather than lines people draw on maps. Dr Pete Iannetta, an agroecologist with the James Hutton Institute and part of the Bioregioning Tayside working group, explains more: “Using a bioregioning approach helps us develop a management plan for social, economic and ecological sustainability.

“We know the current food system is not protecting the world, our natural environment, the people who use it, or the farmers who provide the food. A bioregion approach pulls these things together.”

Things became even more interesting when Bioregioning Tayside suggested we use something called “Social Tipping Point” methodology, a remarkably simple and positive idea from the enthusiastic Dr Avit Bhowmik, of Sweden’s Karlstad University.

Bhowmik says: “I believe the problem of climate change has to be solved by bottom-up community-scale efforts. Social tipping points through intervening at the climate action sweet spot can generate diverse community-scale climate action projects.

“Tayside is the first bioregion to which I brought the concept of social tipping points and they saw the value of adopting this in their transformation process.

“Tayside is also unique in the sense that it’s the first bioregion aiming to become the ‘climate action sweet spot’ by consolidating and scaling up diverse community efforts to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

AND so it was that almost 100 people with a widely diverse range of perspectives, professions, and experiences ended up in Dundee’s Discovery Point at the end of March (eating the best macaroni cheese pies I’ve ever tasted, cooked fresh by Nicoll’s Rosebank Bakery).

They discussed “Feeding Tayside Through the Climate Crisis” with leading food and drink professionals; community growers; farmers; food banks; Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon; teachers; students; RSABI (the mental wellbeing charity for agricultural workers); environmentalists; procurement specialists and more, all working together to come up with a meaningful way ahead.

“The day was electric!” said Clare Cooper, co-initiator of Bioregioning Tayside. “The energy in the room was astonishing. Everyone was up for the challenge. There was a real sense of urgency, impetus, and goodwill. Those with differing views were chatting to find ways to move forward together, to drive the urgent action we need to survive climate change and biodiversity collapse.”

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Many issues were identified on the day, among them a lack of local infrastructure and processing; a dearth of markets selling fresh local produce in the heart of communities; and the potential to feed our schoolchildren freshly cooked, tasty, local produce grown using regenerative methods.

While councils in Tayside have not yet signed up to the Food For Life Served Here scheme, Dr Kevin Frediani, curator of the University of Dundee Botanic Garden, sees this as an significant opportunity.

“Procurement has huge potential to provide our food producers with a stable financial basis to develop a more sustainable model while feeding our children the best we have to offer. A just transition is crucial. We need to re-assess the value of good food to our communities, the impact that has on the NHS, for example. Working with a bioregional approach helps us understand the link between our social system and the ecosystem.

Work now is being done to bring together the diverse ideas and views from the day, to embed a commitment to local food and drink across Tayside, for people, producers, and planet, taking the first steps towards creating the social tipping point needed for positive change.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign