Food, Poverty & Farming

“People need access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. But if you have no income, that’s impossible, so there’s a little bit more work to do.

Denise Bentley, First Love Foundation

Denise Betley, CEO of the charity First Love Foundation speaking in a podcast for the Oxford Farming Conference has described the organisation’s inspiring approach to tackle hunger and poverty. The podcast also examines the wider societal and policy factors, and the role of the farming sector in overcoming these challenges and building resilience.

The First Love Foundation is based in Tower Hamlets London. The Covid-19 pandemic saw a dramatic 320% increase in the number of people seeking help from the organisation.

Denise said:

“Although we can respond by giving access to food, to deliver a truly effective service, we need to rip the plaster off and understand what the underlying problems leading to food poverty are.

“With this holistic model, we focus our efforts on the deep-rooted issues that have led an individual to crisis, with the goal of cementing permanent change.

“Without personally experiencing poverty, it is hard for an outsider to understand the relentless battle. My course has therefore always been to introduce those in positions of power to those going through difficult times, to put themselves in their shoes and then do something about it.

“Using this case study method, those who have the power to influence change often re-purpose resources, assets and influence from within their own organisations to not only solve the problem with the person that they have met, but at a wider societal and systemic level too”. 

During the podcast, Sarah also draws on her experience working with the low-waged and un-waged, to highlight the importance of First Love Foundation’s work:

“One thing that really struck me is that if you’re struggling with one thing, you’re struggling with everything. That’s why we need to adopt more joined-up thinking in terms of food, nutrition, society and sustainability.

“People need access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. But if you have no income, that’s impossible, so there’s a little bit more work to do.”

Commenting on the UK Government’s National Food Strategy, Denise said:

“If the scope of the strategy is to fix the food system using a farm to fork approach, the people I am dealing with do not even have a seat at the table.”

In the OFC podcast Denise Betley also explained that we need to recognise the pivotal role that farmers and the wider industry has to play in solving food poverty and inequality. Her vision is that all members of society, in crisis or not, have the means of accessing good, affordable food.

Scotland’s Approach

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation which aims to end the need for Foodbanks : National Plan to End the Need for Foodbanks

The Scottish Government has also announced a National Test programme to support sustainable and regenerative agriculture. The Programme will support and encourage farmers and crofters to learn about how their work impacts on climate and nature, including offering financial support to carry out carbon audits and nutrient management plans. This will establish a clear baseline and options for action for all who participate.

Speaking recently to Scotland’s National Farmers Union, the Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said:

“The key to change, to succeeding in doing so, is by working together, listening and learning along the way. You have played such a key role in our past and you are vital to our future. We will not successfully address the twin crises of climate change and nature without you.

“We are embarking on a journey of transformation. There will be challenges on the way, there are risks, and there will be tough decisions to be made by us all, but there are also huge opportunities if we want to make them and take them.

“We can be global leaders in sustainable agriculture – we can set the global benchmark for what regenerative agriculture actually means.  

“We will produce more of our food more sustainably, we will deliver climate mitigation and adaptation, we will restore nature and protect and enhance biodiversity, and our success will mean we get to pass to future generations, a land, a climate and a country that works for their benefit and for the benefit of the whole planet.”

The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan Update, published in December 2020, commits the agriculture sector to reducing its emissions by 31% from current levels by 2032.

The consultation Agricultural Transition in Scotland: first steps towards our national policy is open until 17 November 2021.

To listen to the podcast, visit or any major podcast platform.

The 2022 Oxford Farming Conference will take place from 5 to 7 January 2022, and will include a session with Henry Dimbleby. Tickets are now on sale at but will be limited so booking early is recommended.

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