Finding local food in Somerset just got easier

A new website which maps local growing hot spots in Somerset, aims to encourage wider access to sustainable food, free up more land and increase food security

Travel through any part of the UK and it won’t be long before you come across miles of lush, rolling, empty fields. In an age where optimising land to sustain our dietary needs is becoming increasingly important, it is worth considering whether this land is being used to its full potential.

In Somerset, a new regional website has been set up to ensure just that. The FoodMapper site has been created by the charity Somerset Community Food and software developers Geofutures. It’s being used to record and map all allotments and local food spaces in the area, such as community gardens and orchards, as well as listing spaces which have potential for growing food.

All sorts of food-related groups and activities are being charted too, from food cooperatives, farmers’ markets and gardening clubs to growing and plant swapping events.

Demand for land to grow food on currently exceeds supply in many parts of the country. Somerset is no exception, with more than 250 people on waiting lists for allotments in South Somerset alone.

The information gathered on the site will help identify where these people are and is likely to be used to support initiatives to encourage councils and landowners to make more land available.

“The ultimate aim is to use FoodMapper as a strategic planning tool,” says Linda Hull, who created the project. “Everything we need to set up innovative land partnerships, shorten supply chains, increase food production skills and reveal routes to market is possible with FoodMapper.”

The information picked up through the site offers a wealth of potential for those interested in health and sustainability too, from highlighting areas where affordable fresh food is scarce, to identifying sites where food waste might be available for community composting.

Those behind the site believe it will, importantly, help increase food security, and that by highlighting land that can be used for growing food, it could make it more difficult for that land to be bought up for other development in the future.

The public are encouraged to register and record their relevant activities and projects on FoodMapper, which helps even the smallest allotments in remote villages to gain recognition as an important element of food security and sustainability. The map is a patchwork of local knowledge from the ground up.

“FoodMapper will never be static,” says Linda, “We can already see the impact of grassroots efforts to strengthen food security and the growth of a local food culture in Somerset. And now, we effectively have a base map of what is going on around us and when we see the gaps we can take action to fill them in. That’s the beauty of FoodMapper.”

Mark Thurstain-Goodwin, the managing director of Geofutures, who developed the web-mapping platform for the project, adds: “FoodMapper plugs important gaps in the data needed to answer the question, ‘Can Somerset – or any other location – feed itself?’”

The wheels are already in motion to bring more local food to the area, thanks to FoodMapper, and Somerset Community Food has recently organised a conference called Growing Connections to link together those on waiting lists with landowners interested in leasing land.

With its potential to expand the map around the UK, could FoodMapper not only change the local Somerset landscape, but change the face of British landscapes for good?