Faces of the Future highlights dynamic young people in farming. This week, David Cousins talks to Emma Hockridge.


Appearances can be deceptive. If you didn’t know better, you might assume that Emma Hockridge lived in an arty part of London, had a degree in media studies, was a zero-tolerance vegetarian and bought all her food from the local branch of Tesco Metro. All in all, about as divorced from farming as it’s possible to be.

But you’d be wrong on almost all counts. She does live in London but that’s where the job is. Most of her food comes from farmers markets, she’s done courses in geography and horticulture and she does eat meat. Oh, and her family have a 260ha (650-acre) beef, sheep and arable farm near Crediton in Devon.

At college she studied geography, followed by a one-year stint with HSBC bank – a useful education on the workings of business, she says. Then there was a four-month voluntary job training farmers in the Peruvian rainforest (yes, really) and an MA in sustainable land use that involved everything from doing pea trials with Unilever to growing veg for a box scheme in Wales, plus a stint at the Elm Farm organic research centre. As if that weren’t varied enough, she even had a six-month spell at the Rural Payments Agency working in the milk quota department.

For the last three years, though, she has settled down to a job that she is plainly passionate about as a Sustain project manager. Sustain lobbies government on behalf of more than 100 organisations that range from the NFU, through the WI and Family Farm Association and out to single-interest groups like the Butterfly Conservation Group and the UK E.Coli Support Group.

Its aim is a clear one, promoting good quality, affordable, sustainable local food that hasn’t travelled halfway round the globe and which helps maintain – economically, socially and health-wise – local communities. So supermarkets aren’t exactly her favourite organisations, though she acknowledges the need for them.

“They’re not all bad – we work with them on some things,” she concedes, but she’s doubtful about the benefits they bring to communities.

“A New Economics Foundation study showed that £10 spent on a vegetable box brought £25 of trade to the local community. But £10 spent at the supermarket brings just £14 to the local community, partly because most of the profit goes back to a central headquarters.”

She’s a great champion of the small-to-medium sized family farm too, partly because she believes they are the best way of ensuring that profits circulate within the local community but also because she sees them as the ideal vehicle for protecting the countryside. But she would also like to see farmers having more links with the public and being more in tune with food trends.

If all that sounds a shade romantic, she’s quick to point out that Sustain is pretty hard-headed about its local food role. In particular it works to ensure that schools, care homes and hospitals use food that’s simple, not highly processed and which links consumers to the land.

To that end it’s pushing for a food hub that can supply London with food grown in the surrounding counties. Sustain also ran the Hospital Food Project in 2004 which aimed to boost the proportion of local and or organic food being consumed by four London hospitals from 1-2% to 10%. The scheme was extended last year to 20 hospitals, five schools and five care homes in the south east of England, so you can see that things are moving.

As well as running other practical projects, for example to engage restaurants and ethnic food businesses with the sustainable food agenda, Sustain is also campaigning hard to improve the quality of school food and pushing for compulsory cooking lessons and a ban on junk food advertising.

The campaign may not have been able to muster the massive publicity machine of Jamie Oliver, but Emma reckons the lobbying for government policy changes is paying off. It’s certainly a target well worth striving for.


Emma Hockridge (27)


* Degree in geography, MA in sustainable land use


* HSBC bank

* Unilever/Elm Farm/RPA

* Now project manager at Sustain


* To promote good-quality, affordable local food

* To get farmers to have more links with the public

* To ensure schools, hospitals and care homes boost the amount of local food they use.