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World-leading food project to 'abolish itself' due to success

An award-winning project set up with more than £800,000 of public money is to "abolish itself" according to its founder.

RETURN TO GRASSROOTS: Mike Small has announced the Fife Diet will cease to exist as a funded organisation, with power to be handed back to its members. Picture: Gordon Terris
RETURN TO GRASSROOTS: Mike Small has announced the Fife Diet will cease to exist as a funded organisation, with power to be handed back to its members. Picture: Gordon Terris

The Fife Diet, based in ­Burntisland, was set up in 2007 with the goal of persuading local people to help cut carbon emissions by eating more local food. It became known as one of Europe's largest food projects, with more than 3000 members.

Now founder Mike Small has announced the scheme is going to run without funding or staff from next year, when its current round of backing from the Scottish Government's Climate Challenge fund is exhausted.

The Climate Challenge Fund provides cash for community groups to run projects that reduce carbon emissions. It has funded the Fife Diet three times, with £144,060 in 2009, a further £211,708 in 2011 and a final £448,036 in March 2012, designed to allow it to double its membership to 6000 and engage new communities in the local food movement.

The project has also received funding from the Big Lottery's Awards for All scheme and the People's Postcode Lottery, and was named Scotland's best green campaign in 2012.

Mr Small said the scheme had over-delivered on all its targets, and added: "Our funders are very happy with us."

However, he said it had reached the limit of what communities could achieve on their own­ ­without a major restructuring of the UK's food industry and a check on the power of large ­agricultural interests.

News of the plans for the project was revealed to members on its website, along with a plea to debate what form it should take in the future.

"After 2015 Fife Diet will cease to exist as a funded, centrally staffed organisation. And we think that's no bad thing," the announcement said. "Grassroots movements with real resilience need to have a life of their own and not just be grant-dependent."

A Food For the Future event and AGM in Cupar next month will explore the way ahead, Mr Small said. He added: "We're using this opportunity at the Food for the Future event to really explore what the Fife Diet might look like without funding and without staff."

"If this is to have any lasting effect, we can't just keep relying on grants to carry on recreating ourselves. Members need to take charge of bits of the food system.

"As we deliberately disband ourselves in a sort of self-abolishment, what we want to do in this last year as a funded body is hand the power back to grassroots members."

Mr Small cited developments such as the announcement of the first "lab-grown" burger last year as indications the entire food system was in need of dramatic change. He claimed that unless industries such as milling, abattoirs, and the dairy industry can be decentralised, goals such as a more local food industry and reductions in food miles will be difficult to achieve.

The Fife Diet is currently run by a volunteer management committee and has a small team of part-time, paid staff. These workers may be transferred to other ongoing projects, Mr Small said.

One plan, to be announced at the AGM, is to establish a local food cooperative that will buy local food in bulk and distribute it at a very low mark-up, he said.

The Fife Diet also has ongoing orchard and apple projects and is seeking funding to continue with its Seed Truck, run in partnership with WWF Scotland, which will continue to take workshops and practical growing ideas around the country.

"We've done this for seven years and we are reaching the limits of what communities, customers and households can do," Mr Small said. "Later this year we will produce a massive report on the impact we have had. It will say to legislators, policy-makers and agricultural systems: 'If you want real change, here's what has to happen'."

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