Patrick Holden

Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom
Fellow Since 2016


This profile was prepared when Patrick Holden was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
The New Idea
Patrick Holden founded the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) to catalyse the transition towards a more sustainable global food system. Having been a leading pioneer of the organic food market in the UK 30 years ago, Patrick is now building a cross-industry coalition to design and introduce a broader, more inclusive approach to allow for sustainability in farming and food systems to become mainstream.

Patrick’s aim is to rebuild the food system in a way which allows everyone to become part of the solution. Through influencing individuals and organisations in leadership positions, evidence-based research and knowledge sharing, the SFT aims to develop consensus and cross-field metrics that incentivise everyone – from farmers to food retailers – to strive for incremental progress towards sustainability. The Sustainable Food Trust influences and convenes all stakeholders in the system, pointing out the economic, environmental and human cost of our current food system while moving away from moralised discourses that maintain the status quo and further entrench the polarity between the sustainability movement and mainstream food businesses.
As CEO of the Soil Association – the UK’s biggest organic food organisation – and a practicing farmer himself, Patrick was a key player in establishing the organic market in the UK. However, he realised how he was part of a polarised debate that left farmers as well as consumers with a limited choice between ‘good’ meaning sustainable or ‘bad’ meaning unsustainable production and consumption. To break down this barrier, Patrick builds on the principle of True-Cost-Accounting, showing how seemingly cheap food really comes at huge cost to the environment, animal welfare and public health and creates tools to incentivise more sustainable farming and consumption practices.

The SFT team works on three levels to bring about a transformation in the global food system: industry, consumer and policy. Patrick strategically influences influencers on all levels, making a business case for farmers to produce more sustainably; educating consumers and retailers to purchase quality goods; and promoting policy change through evidence-based research. In keeping with the mission to remain a small, strategic organisation, the SFT acts as a catalyser, educating, influencing and empowering other organisations to deliver changes themselves while focusing on topics that have potential to catalyse industrywide change.

Patrick has convened some of the most influential gatherings in the UK and the US over the last four years and managed to bring big industry players from across sectors (such as Whole Foods, Mars, YUM! Brands and Kaiser Permanente, Sainsburys, Nestle, Unilever), who had not previously talked to each other, to one table. He is working between and within organisations, promoting dialogue among stakeholders, but also working with intermediaries and food retailers to push for internal changes encouraging the use of sustainable produce. At the same time Patrick runs a farm which is pioneering new methods of sustainable food production, now the longest established dairy farm in Wales making cheese from the milk of 80 native breed Ayrshire cows, recycling nutrients, building soil fertility, practicing holistic grazing and working towards self sufficiency in animal feed, bedding and energy. Ultimately, Patrick aims for a mindset shift, promoting the fundamental importance of food to all human beings and arguing that sustainable food should be a right for all.
The Person

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