Although the demand for locally grown food has increased over the past 20 years, most people still shop at the major food chains. I suspect this is because we live busy lives and supermarkets provide a full range of products year round, are convenient with good parking, and are open every day. Not everyone is willing to join a CSA or stop at the local farmers market. But given the continued pressure of global climate change, peak oil, and economic stress, I think we need to get really serious about building a vibrant local food system – NOW!
We need to build a Food Commons, a national network of local and regional food production, processing and distribution options to complement and partially replace the current corporate food system, which is showing signs of being in serious trouble. According to the authors of the Food Commons proposal, “…the antidote to the unsustainable path we are on is a 21st-century re-envisioning and re-creation of the local and regional food systems that pre-dated the current global industrial food system.”
The Food Commons Proposal
The proposed national Food Commons would consist of three intersecting components:
- Food Commons Trusts to own farm land and food system infrastructure in perpetual trust for the benefit of all citizens.
- Food Commons Banks to provide financial services to food system enterprises, producers and consumers.
- Food Commons Hubs to aggregate and distribute local and regional food, create and coordinate regional markets, and provide services to communities and local food enterprises.
If you are interested in the details and proposal, see; “The Food Commons: Building a National Network of Localized Food Systems.” The remainder of this post will give some examples showing that we are already moving in this direction.
The Food Commons Trust
I’m pleased to be a board member of the North Amherst Community Farm, which is an example of a Food Commons Trust. NACF is a community group that was organized in 2006 to save one of the last working farms in North Amherst, Massachusetts. Private donations, town and state funds were acquired to protect this farm from development. It is now leased to an organic vegetable and livestock farm, Simple Gifts Farm, which provides food to the community through a successful CSA and local farmers markets. You are invited and encouraged to help us support this project.
The Food Commons Bank
We have an example of this sort of financial institution emerging in our region called the Common Good Bank. This is a bank created to serve the common good. According to their mission statement, by “common good” they mean:
“First and foremost, the well-being of each and every individual person, including adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education, community, satisfying work, rest, and self-determination, empowering those in need.
“Second, peace and justice — a spirit of cooperation and community between all people, with compassionate sharing of the world’s resources.
“Third, a healthy, sustainable planet, with clean air, clean water, clean earth and a healthy and diverse population of animals and plants.”
The first ever Common Good Festival will be held in Amherst, MA on July 10, 2011 to raise awareness of Common Good Finance, a nonprofit organization working to bring economic democracy to communities in Western Massachusetts.
Other examples are being developed, but one way you can help support better financing for the local food system is to write to the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) asking them to direct FCS banks to be more responsive to the credit needs of small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers producing for local and regional food markets. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a web page to help those willing to write a letter.
The Food Commons Hub
I am not aware of any local food hub as envisioned by the Food Common proposal, but there is interest in developing such a project in our region. The Feed Northampton Study produced by the Conway School of Landscape Design proposed neighborhood based “food hub” facilities to provide; commonly-owned packaging, cooling, processing, waste management and education for farms in the area. The report includes a proposal to redevelop a local fairgrounds as a food hub.
What can you do?
The global food system will always favor large, financially efficient businesses which exploit people, undermine democracy and erode community, and degrade the land in order to maximize profits. If we want to build a vibrant and sustainable food system, we need public investments in a local production, processing and distribution infrastructure (similar to the investment in the national highway system).
At the same time, we need to integrate the drive for economic growth with a concern for the environment and a commitment to social justice. Unless we are willing to pass regulations and tax laws mandating more sustainable practices in the global marketplace (which is unlikely), this will require a major public investment in infrastructure that will help us relocalize our food system and move in a more sustainable direction.
In addition to creating a Food Commons project in your own area or supporting the Food Commons project with a donation, there are lots of local government, college, and non-profit organizations working on local food projects you can help. If you want to take personal action in your own backyard, you can begin by growing your own food. To see more of my own projects and activities, please go to Just Food Now or join my Facebook Group Just Food Now in Western Massachusetts. But please do join us……