Taryn Everdeen shares her experiences of our recent ‘Feeding Britain’ – our 1st online Green Career Masterclass. 

We’re a month into lockdown when I hop onto Zoom to join Catalyse Change’s 1st online Green Career MasterclassFeeding Britain.’ Having attended a few of their events before, I have high expectations of anything under the Catalyse Change banner–and I’m not disappointed. Faces join mine on the screen, some of them familiar–we met at the 2019 Catalyst Bootcamp–and others I don’t recognise. The organisation is based in Bristol, but they’ve certainly got a wide reach; I’m sitting in my living room in Norwich, Norfolk, all the way east; one of the attendees is calling in from France. We’re all here to learn about sustainability and our food system, discovering some of the opportunities available to us that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We launch into introductions, share our names and our favourite foods, and then we nominate another participant to do the same. This last bit is a great idea: saying someone else’s name, this small interaction, goes a long way in making me feel more connected with the others.

SO WHAT IS A GREEN CAREER?

Jenna Holliday gives us an overview of what ‘green jobs’ means, explaining that it’s not just work that benefits the environment, but it can also be beneficial for communities. Whether something is a ‘green job’ depends on the nature of the job, or the nature of the employer; a ‘green job’ could be a sustainability-focused role in an organisation not generally viewed as ‘sustainable’, or vice-versa. What she emphasises is that we should think about the things that drive us, the things that interest us, and follow that. What are we good at? Where are our skills?

THE NEED FOR A SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEM

The unsustainability of our current food production system is the next thing that’s addressed–this sector is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, with emissions coming from the construction and operation of heavy machinery, animal agriculture, and the reduction of the land’s ability to absorb CO2. On top of this, our food system is vulnerable, a fact now made abundantly clear by the pandemic–we operate on a global ‘just in time’ supply chain, dependent on foreign produce. Now, with travel restrictions potentially affecting imports, we are having to rely much more on home-grown supplies. But here, there’s another issue: European seasonal migrants are unable to travel as they usually would to pick our harvest, which has left farms short of 70,000 workers. This has resulted in a call-out for fit and healthy people to join Britain’s ‘land army’.

HOW DO ZOOM BREAKOUT ROOMS WORK?

At this point, Traci Lewis separates us into smaller groups, making use of Zoom’s ‘breakout room’ feature, giving us the opportunity to discuss what we’ve learned so far and share our thoughts with the other participants. I’m in a room with three other girls, and Helen Taylor (food technologist, turned environmentalist), who guides the conversation. Most of us are a little shocked about the seasonal migrants–it’s not something we were aware of–proof that we, the consumers often aren’t clued up on where our food comes from. In our breakout room, we raise the issue of exploitation–this type of work is hard, and there’s a question mark over the measures put in place to ensure that the people doing it are treated fairly. Now that the British public are taking to the fields, will that change? This is just one of a number of examples of the vital role that immigrants play in our society; previously largely ignored, but now brought to light thanks to COVID-19.

We continue to chat, and I really love this interaction, which makes the whole thing feel a lot more personal. We discuss the price of food–cheap food often comes at a cost (poor nutritional value, human/animal exploitation, environmental degradation)–so if we expect higher quality food, should we also expect to pay more for it? This raised the issue of accessibility; how do we make good food available for all? Then we’re summoned back to the main room, and each group feeds back their conversation.

Join the Land Army?

Living in a time of crisis means that, as a society, we have new needs, and new opportunities are cropping up. Remember those 70,000 workers that farms are looking for? But for me–and many Brits, if the numbers of seasonal migrant workers are anything to go by–seeking work in the food industry has never really been on the table. However, especially during these times, joining the ‘land army’ and helping out on farms could bring real benefits:
Gain experience and educate yourself on how our food system works.
Demonstrate resourcefulness by doing something to help the country (and build your CV) during a time of crisis.Boost your income.Suddenly, something I’d never thought much about before seemed pretty appealing–even though it is hard, hard work. A list of recruiting organisations is shared with us, the main ones being HOPS, Concordia, Fruitful.

WHATS IT REALLY LIKE THOUGH?

Next up is real-life farmer Ruth Hancock of Fresh & Green, a landowner from Devon, who gives us an insight into what relatively small-scale farming looks like. Unlike industrial farms, which are rarely very bio-diverse, Ruth grows around 50 crop varieties. This allows her to make use of the land all year round, and her business has been barely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. She discusses food waste–a lot of perfectly edible produce is thrown away before it even reaches the shelves as a result of (unnecessarily high) food grading standards. In Ruth’s case, while there is still some grading, it’s less strict, and there is no middle man, meaning that the farm’s income is higher, and the waste is far lower–anything that can’t be sold is put back into the soil.

This smaller-scale farming model is perhaps what we should be looking to when thinking about a post-COVID-19 world. How can we make our food systems more resilient? How can we become more self-sufficient?

JOB OPPORTUNITIES OFF THE LAND

Helen Taylor takes to the virtual stage, and shares her career journey with us. From working at McVitie’s, to becoming a brand ambassador for Ecotricity, to running the world’s first vegan, carbon-neutral football club. She’s certainly got a plethora of experiences under her belt, and is only too happy to share her wisdom with us–one of the main things I take away from her Q&A session is the importance of reaching out to organisations and asking, which is how she’s ended up landing some of her jobs. “Anything is possible,” she tells us, explaining how she learned to apply and transfer her skills, “I would never put any barriers in the way of what I wanted to do.”

She believes that communication is key. If you’re passionate about something, and can convey that, you can inspire people to join you. She encourages us to look for opportunities in the food industry–there are endless jobs to be found. She reminds us of things we’ve probably heard a lot before: follow your passion, don’t put yourself in a box–but she also says something that surprises me: don’t be afraid to go out into the ‘conventional’ world of work. It’s all a useful experience, she says.

FINDING YOUR OWN GREEN CAREER PATHWAY

We split into breakout rooms again, discuss, then reconvene, and Jenna closes up, thanking us for our time and participation. I exit the Zoom call feeling satisfied and inspired, my eyes opened to new possibilities. Hearing these women talk about their work and their career journeys in sustainability is fascinating to me–I’m yet to hear a story that’s exactly the same, but the main similarity is that there is no linear path. There are bends and diversions–and the occasional U-turn–and that’s all okay! It’s just a part of the process.

Liked the sound of this? Lucky for you, you can get involved in the next online Green Career masterclass from Catalyse Change–it’s on the 5th May, 2-3.30pm, and we’ll be finding out about Virtual CV building–tips & techniques for virtual work experience & organisations to approach. See you there! https://greencareermasterclasscvbuilding.eventbrite.co.uk