Working for ‘Five a Day’

Risk and resilience in the food system, a multi-sited ethnography of the labour that feeds one city

Too often, workers are forgotten in agricultural modernisation and in UK government research into agri-food systems. Despite media attention on robotisation, the horticultural sector remains dependent on manual labour. While urban/rural divides are thoroughly and routinely explored in the Global South, in the UK these discussions often focus on politics rather than socio-economic and labour challenges. This project will explore and illustrate horticultural work.

The research will consider risks shouldered differentially by workers in the food system supplying fruit and vegetables to the city of Bristol. It will illustrate human insecurity for the purposes of addressing the connected questions of food security. Fruit is already reported to be left on the trees due to a current ‘shortage’ of seasonal workers. This prompts questions of socio-economic value: why are workers paid so little that this work is not done? I will look at how risk in the food system becomes risk for individuals.

The project will also consider how food insecurity intersects with migration and mobility. Many seasonal workers are EU citizens, yet this is likely to change. This project will research how the composition of workers transforms as the UK-EU relationship changes. The current Seasonal Workers Pilot programme may be expanded and this could change working relationships as workers from outside the EU would not have the same rights. Likewise, the current ‘shortfall’ of seasonal workers is also leading to a trend for certain groups of British workers (e.g. those under-18 entitled to lower wages) to work on farms.

Visit the project for further details.


Dr Lydia Medland, PI and researcher, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Prof Bridget Anderson, Mentor, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies.


The project is funded by the British Academy and will run from Sep 2020 – Aug 2023.

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Bordering, control, justice