Food as a commons: Setting an innovative research and impact agenda for the future of food in the UK

Thinking of food as a 'commons' in the transition to more bottom-up food systems.

The challenge

The industrial food system is associated with severe social and environmental consequences. In the UK, people and associations are engaging in bottom up attempts to transform the food system by urban gardening, community supported agriculture schemes, cooperatives, food distributions, and other alternative food systems. This project brings together practical and theoretical approaches to food as a commons to reflect on the opportunities and main obstacles of this transition, identify the milestones and think of the role of different stakeholders (policy makers, communities, academia, enterprises). There has been a significant increase in the attention paid to the flaws and incoherence of the industrial food system. Hunger, environmental degradation, malnutrition, exploitation of workers, excessive use of water and pesticides, loss of biodiversity and climate change. In response, the use of technology, precision farming, big data, tracking and other forms of material and digital innovation have been presented by many as the way forward.

What we're doing

This project is looking in a different direction, that of commons as old/new forms of social innovation that can be used to build a long-term and resilient alternative to the mainstream food system. Commons is a multi-disciplinary notion increasingly utilized by economists, lawyers, geographers, urban planners and social movements, along with organizations like the World Bank and the FAO. However, the multiplication of uses led to the multiplication of interpretations and applications.

We are holding a two-day workshop to bring together academics and non-academics who are actively engaged in the study and practice of the link between the commons and the food system. 

How it helps

Our workshop will help to create a research and impact agenda on the role that the commons (both in their theory and their practice) can play in constructing a socially and environmentally sustainable food system.


Lead researcher profile

Dr Tomaso Ferrando, Lecturer in Law

Partner organisations

  • Coventry University
  • University of Louvain


  • Cabot Institute for the Environment Innovation Fund to the value of £3,810
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