Category Archives: Right to Food

Supporting staff and students tackle the cost of living on campus

Becoming a Right To Food University means working to ensure that we protect our students from food insecurity and that access to nutritional, affordable and sustainable food is paramount across our food services. 

Ahead of our one year anniversary (26th February) and as part of National Student Money Week, we celebrate what we have achieved against this mission and look forward to some exciting projects that will do even more.  

Cost of living meals 

A number of initiatives are underway already – most notably the £3 meal deal on campus. Starting as a hot meal, served in our Rutherford Dining Hall with a choice of salad or vegetables, but moving on to include a grab-and-go deal in outlets across campus has proven to be extremely popular. We have now sold over 60,000 meals since November 2022.   

With such a diverse range of affordable food options, students at the University of Kent can easily access nutritious and delicious meals without breaking the bank. The £3 Cost of Living Meal scheme has been widely praised by students, who appreciate the university’s efforts to support them during challenging times. Recent graduate Kieran Webb said: “Now that I’ve graduated, one of the biggest things I’ve missed was a £3 cooked meal. I felt too proud to ask for help when it came to eating and my budget, so this helped make sure I was well fed at times when I was really struggling. Glad to see it’s still going and is clearly getting used plenty by current students.” 

In addition to this exciting meal deal expansion, the catering team have reduced hot food price on average by 20%. Through reducing food waste, collaborating closely with our primary food supplier, simplifying operations, and managing food expenses effectively, prices across campus have been significantly reduced. 

Giving Week generosity 

Alongside the £3 meal deal and reduced prices across our catering outlets, the University’s Giving Week raised £18,000 to provide meals for students facing hardship. This money will help provide meals and other financial support for students who need it the most thanks to a collaborative approach between the university’s student support and wellbeing services and Kent Union. 

Zaid Mahmood, Students’ Union President at Kent says: ‘Kent Giving Week 2023 raised money that would directly help in tackling food insecurity on campus. Being a Right to Food University, this is a critical mission for us as an institution because no student should go hungry and be disadvantaged in their university career. These giving week meals will ensure that the most disadvantaged and impacted students are supported during their time at The University of Kent and are set up to thrive in their academics. We want to thank every single person that donated to support this cause, the impact of this initiative will change the lives of so many students!’ 

To offer wider support, the university will also be offering a free hot breakfast, open to all students, on Monday 26 February at the Gulbenkian café. Find out more and register now: https://www.kent.ac.uk/whats-on/event/65541/one-year-of-right-to-food-free-breakfast-celebration  

Gleaning 

Our student led gleaning project, ran in partnership with Produced in Kent, has also given students the chance to access free fresh produce. Our student volunteers go to local farms to pick surplus food and veg that would otherwise go to waste. As well as redistributing it to those in the wider local community who need it, the volunteers also get to take home some of the produce for themself.  

Find out more about the project and sign up to become a volunteer now.  

Kent secures national funding to accelerate civic impact in the region

The University of Kent has been announced as one of just 12 UK HEI’s to secure funding from The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) and Sheffield Hallam University’s (SHU) National Civic Impact Accelerator (NCIA) Action Learning Programme (ALP).

The ALP is designed to help transform the work of those involved, while also generating learning for others working across the country in place-based networks. Through the new initiative, Kent will benefit from a share of the £3.7 million of funding and will work with the other universities to address challenges in developing civic engagement and co-creating innovative solutions.

For Kent, the funding means a boost for its Right to Food initiative – a partnership with the Food Foundation that will promote food justice, tackle food poverty and transform the food system so that it operates to advance human health and an environmentally sustainable society.

Philip Pothen, Director of Engagement at the University of Kent says: ‘We’re delighted to be selected to be part of this important and prestigious programme. Our Right to Food initiative will be the centrepiece of our involvement and particularly its commitment to take our learning out to the wider sector to inform critical discussions about how we deliver a food system that is fair, affordable, healthy and sustainable for everyone. Through our involvement in this programme, we also want to learn from other universities about their approach to civic mission and to accelerate our development as a civic university so that we can better serve and support our local and regional communities.’

The partnerships will join a dynamic action learning programme over the next 18 months, working on a range of challenges, including: how to measure the impact of civic partnerships; how to develop equitable partnerships which realise mutual benefit; how to find meaningful ways to involve communities and citizens in decision making, and how to work with communities to address the climate agenda.

Together, the projects will help answer the question: how do universities need to change to be ‘truly civic’ in their work? As experienced change makers in the HE sector, the NCCPE bring a track record of supporting this kind of transformation, helping universities to embed engagement in organisational strategy, and providing tools and resources to accelerate institutional change.

Sophie Duncan, co-director of the NCCPE reflected: We are delighted to lead the Action Learning Programme as part of the NCIA project. There is significant expertise within civic university partnerships, but also a range of specific challenges impeding progress. An action learning approach will enable innovation and generate insight into how to tackle these challenges and put new ways of working into practice. The programme sits at the heart of the NCIA programme, ensuring we can draw on the evidence base, and share learning and insights with others.’

The 12 partnerships include:

  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • City University London
  • Edge Hill University
  • Lancaster University
  • Universities for Nottingham; University of Nottingham & Nottingham Trent University
  • Staffordshire University
  • University of the Arts London
  • University of Bath
  • University of Kent
  • Universities Partnership: Working together for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland; University of Leicester, De Montfort University & Loughborough University
  • University of York
  • Teesside University

 

World Food Day 2023: Becoming a Right to Food University

With World Food Day taking place on October 16, we take a look at the progress made by Kent’s Right to Food initiative over the last nine months – and look ahead to what we will be working on going forward.

World Food Day promotes awareness of hunger and action for the future of food, people, and the planet. This sits at the core of the Right to Food – our commitment to a world where no one goes hungry, where we develop sustainable food sources for all, and where nutrition is accessible to everyone, wherever they are and whatever their means.

Working with the Food Foundation, we have four missions which we believe will deliver a step change in our approach to delivering equality of access to healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

Over the past nine months we have made some great strides in all areas, and have started laying the foundations for more exciting plans for the future.

Mission 1: PUTTING THE RIGHT TO FOOD ON THE WORLD STAGE

We have secured a place on the National Civic Impact Accelerator (NCIA) Action Learning Programme (ALP) to help put the Right to Food on the world stage.  Through the new initiative, representatives Kent will attend action learning workshops alongside other universities – sharing the Right to Food and developing a blueprint for it for other institutions.

Kent will also benefit by learning from other institutions about their approach to civic mission and to accelerate our development as a civic university so that we can better serve and support our local and regional communities. Representatives from Kent recently attended an event in Birmingham where they, along with other institutions from the scheme, discussed what it means to be a civic university and how we can work with and share best practice with other institutions to help achieve this.

NCIA event in Birmingham

What next? Work on our blueprint for other universities is ongoing – which includes talking to a number of other institutions to get their valuable feedback on this. We continue to lobby for a visit from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and look forward to hosting the TUCO winter conference in December – putting the work of our catering team and the Right To Food initiative at the forefront of the sector.

Mission 2: TRANFORMING FOOD SYSTEMS THROUGH TEACHING AND RESEARCH

The University has started to embed learning on food systems across the curriculum, with the launch of a Right to Food themed module in the M Arch. Food Futures sees students tackle the huge challenge of feeding the urban global population. Drawing on the University’s Right to Food Initiative, students will consider the impacts that food poverty has, and reflect on how good design can engender positive movement in food provision and culture.

Our researchers are working with local farmers to tackle food waste and improve the food system. From capitalising on the health benefits of cherries by creating new products from the waste to using black soldier flies to achieve a circular farming system and seeking to create a Net Zero Egg, our scientists are at the forefront of innovation.

We have also launched The Right to Food seminar series, inviting academics from a wide range of disciplines to address the question ‘What is a Right to Food University’.

Drs Jen Tullet and Marina Ezcura

What next? We are working with Dominic Watters and the ‘Food is care’ campaign to look at how the Right to Food can be embedded in other courses across social work and social policy. We have also launched The Right to Food seminar series, inviting academics from a wide range of disciplines to address the question ‘What is a Right to Food University’.  

Mission 3: TACKLING FOOD INSECURITY IN THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY, WHILE PROMOTING A HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD COMMUNITY AT KENT

To support our students and staff on campus, we launched the £3 meal deal on campus. This hot meal, served in our Rutherford Dining Hall, includes a choice of salad or vegetables and has proven to be extremely popular, and important. We have sold over 44,000 meals since November 2022.  This term, approximately 60% of the Cost of Living meal sales have been vegetarian or plant-based.

This £3 meal deal has been extended to our Grab and go sandwich meal deal offer – which is now available in more campus outlets.  In addition to this exciting meal deal expansion, the catering team have reduced hot food price on average by 20%. Through reducing food waste, collaborating closely with our primary food supplier, simplifying operations, and managing food expenses effectively, prices across campus have been significantly reduced.

These price cuts mean that in Mungo’s burgers haven’t been this low since 2012 and the average price of a hot meal at Gulbenkian Café has decreased from n 2011 was approx. £7.42; today, in 2023, it’s £3.95. The average salad price on menus is £1.38 cheaper this year compared to last academic year (Sept 2022, £6.13, Sep 2023 – £4.75). Smashed avacado on toast is also £1.50 cheaper at Gulbenkian Café (Sep 2022 – £5.50, Sep 2023 – £4.00).

What next? We’re benchmarking our menus and sales against The Sustainable Food Plan so that we can set future targets to improve food on campus and exploring how the kitchen and dining space at Origins could be used to provide a social space for students and external organisations to eat affordable food, whilst learning about the food system. We are also creating a River of Vegetation – the development of land dedicated to biodiversity and food across the campus connecting the Kent Oasis Garden and the Jubilee Orchard – which has already got it’s first donation.   

Mission 4: ADDRESSING FOOD INEQUALITY IN OUR REGION

Kent has hosted a number of conferences on the Right to Food, including the Kent Food summit 2023– which saw over 100 key stakeholders come together to hear all about the newly established Kent Food Partnership, a cross-sector partnership between local government, education, public health, industry and community initiatives to help shape the future role of local, sustainable, healthy food in Kent.

This Friday, Kent will host and chair the Canterbury Society’s Annual Civic Lecture – Poverty, Policy and the Right to Food.

Earlier this year, Kent hosted the annual Eastern Arc conference. This year its conference was focussed on ‘food in a time of crisis’, building on the University of Kent’s Right to Food initiative and bringing together a range of stakeholders to tackle our increasingly dysfunctional food system.

Dr Philip Pothen, Director of Engagement at Kent, said: ‘The conference showed us that there is a wealth of expertise, as well as desire, to bring about change and tackle this current food crisis. While we are excited about becoming the first Right to Food university, it’s vital that we share this vision and support other institutions in their own journey to champion this mission. The conference gave us a chance to kick-start a collaborative approach with our Eastern Arc partners, which will pave the way for a number of partnerships to help realise the Right to Food nationally.’

Dr Rob Barker and Phil Ward at the Eastern Arc conference

The Kent Gleaning Collective has also gotten underway. A joint project between The University of Kent, Produced in Kent and Kent Union, the first volunteer students have started going to farms to collect left-over food from fields since September. This produce, which would have otherwise have gone to waste, will given to students and donated to charity.

What next? We look forward to taking our Gleaning project forward, working with the student union and wider community groups to extend the reach of our gleaned produce.

Kent research set to play pivotal role in bringing robot technology to UK orchards

Kent research is set to play a pivotal role in a groundbreaking new project which could revolutionise fruit production in the UK.

Professor of Agri-Environmental Economics, Iain Fraser, is joining a world-class consortium of partners to deliver the £4.5 million Precision Orchard Management for the Environment (POME) project. Led by agronomist Rob Saunders from H.L. Hutchinsons, the team will develop a commercially viable system which can precisely target orchard inputs to specific trees, or parts of a tree.

Funded by Innovate UK and DEFRA, the project will see Professor Iain Fraser collaborate with other academics, engineers, agri-tech startups, software developers, equipment suppliers, NIAB horticultural experts and farmers to implement technology which will improve the sustainability and efficiency of one of Kent’s leading industries.

Specifically, Iain will evaluate the difference between existing technology and new technology, which includes robots, drones and innovative chemical spraying systems. As well as calculating any improvements in efficiency, he will examine the likelihood that farmers will adopt the new technology and consider how the environmental benefits relate to UK environmental policy post EU-exit. By combining all three, he will be able to provide the project consortium with an informed assessment of whether the new spray technology is commercially viable.

Commenting on the impact the project will have on the farming community, Mr Saunders said, ‘The system we are building will cater for different sizes of farm business and with optional services depending on the farm’s need. The industry has changed a lot in recent years and will continue to do so as technology advances, and we believe systems like this will become commonplace.’

Iain has developed his understanding of orchard management, crop production and yields through his involvement in a series of projects, including the development of better crop yield forecasts to help farmers and supermarkets ensure there is sufficient produce available to meet demand. This project comes off the back of the Interreg-funded project Beespoke which examined the ‘pollinator deficit’ and how the support of wild pollinators by appropriate management can support both crop production and biodiversity.

Kent research to support seaweed project in Zanzibar

University researchers are helping county Kent-based seaweed technology business Nutri-San develop new techniques to transform seaweed extracts into a plant-based thickening agent for use in the food and pharmaceutical industries. As part of this project, Nutri-san is opening a new carrageenan factory on Pemba Island, Zanzibar.

During a signing ceremony of the Joint Venture Framework agreement between Zanzibar’s state-owned seaweed company, ZASCO, and Nutri-San on 22 November, Kent’s Dr Rob Barker gave a short presentation on carrageenan extraction techniques to an audience of over 100 Zanzibarian Ministers and Government officials, as well as media outlets.   

Nutri-San produces animal feed supplements from a blend of sustainable seaweeds and has been working with Alessia Buscaino, Professor of Fungal Biology at the University’s School of Biosciences, and the team at the Kent Biotech Hub for several years. An Algae UK/Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council-funded initiative enabled the team to conduct research on Nutri-San’s seaweed blends.  This initial research led to the team exploring alternative uses for by-products from Nutri-San’s production process, including the development of horticultural and agricultural bio-stimulants – something which Growing Kent & Medway have been keen to support.  They have since developed a highly productive relationship and are excited that their collaboration is being broadened to include Dr Barker and his team.  Together they will continue to work to drive innovation which impacts positively on people, animals and the planet. 

The new factory will be one of only a small number of facilities globally that is capable of producing high quality carrageenan from red seaweeds. Nutri-San has been supporting the seaweed harvesting community on Zanzibar for a number of years and the company’s diversification into carrageenan production will enable many more jobs to be created including key scientific and technical roles. 

Professor Buscaino said: ‘The partnership between the University and Nutri-San has been made possible by the Growing Kent & Medway consortium and it demonstrates how academia and business can work synergistically to great effect, for the immense benefit of both institutions. Our involvement with the commercial operation of Nutri-San in Zanzibar is exciting and we are also excited to announce that Dr Michelle Marin Chau, Nutri-San co-founder, has become an honorary member of staff at Kent. Her unique insights and experienced leadership will be an invaluable asset to us as we work together towards creating positive change.’ 

San Chau, Nutri-San-CEO, added: ‘We have been very fortunate to have developed a relationship with the University of Kent through our research collaborations with Professor Alessia Buscaino and her team, both in the School of Biosciences and at Growing Kent and Medway, which now spans several years.  Recently, this relationship has been extended to encompass more members of the Kent team.  Going forward together our partnership will have benefits for the community not only in Kent but also globally and we are hugely excited about this.’