Local food: lets get serious – NOW!

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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……

Lets get serious about local food – NOW!

Just food now: taking personal responsibility

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In my last blog, I presented some ideas on how local government, colleges and community groups might help to strengthen the local food economy.   In this blog, I will share some ideas on how individuals can contribute directly to the long-term health of local food systems by changing our behavior.

But wait you say…..  how can individuals make a difference when government, corporations and university research and education all support industrial agriculture?

Well, lets begin with the assumption that investments in a local food economy make sense in the long term as we face increasing stress to the industrial food economy.   Then if we look at the systemic structure of large systems like corporations and government, we see that their behavior is governed by powerful mental models that discourage their leaders from acting on a long-term perspective.   Let ask…. “who among our leaders has a planning horizon that allows them to think in the long term?”   Afterall…..

  • those we elect to the U.S. Senate want to get elected every 6 years,
  • the President of the United States wants to get elected (or be succeeded by their own party) every four years,
  • those we elect to the House of Representatives want to get elected every 2 years,
  • most local officials run for election every 2 or 4 years, and
  • corporate leaders must show increased profits every quarter (3 months) to be successful!

Popular uprising in Egypt

Given our expectation for immediate results, how can any of these leaders take actions that will pay off in the long term and expect to remain in leadership?   WE have to begin to change the mental models governing western culture by changing our own behavior FIRST!

As I suggested in my last blog, if WE START A “LOCAL FOODS PARADE” (based on new mental models), these leaders will jump right up front and carry our flag!

Leadership of the local foods movement is in our hands!

While we need to continue to work with local government, businesses, colleges and community groups, we also need to take action as individuals to directly support local food and begin to shift mental models.  Here are a few things we might do now:

  1. If you live in an apartment, plant a few vegetables or herbs in window boxes or on the patio. And of course walk or bike to one of our farm stands or farmers markets to buy local food whenever possible.  Better yet, join a CSA!
  2. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, tear up that lawn and just grow food now!  And then teach your neighbors how to grow more food.  Can and freeze as much as possible, and share it with your neighbors.
  3. If you are in less populated part of town and maybe have a large yard (like some owners of “McMansions”), grow a large garden with fruit trees.   And don’t forget  hens, chickens and rabbits for meat, perhaps a milking goat, and bees!
  4. If you live on a farm, grow more food crops (for people).  Much of the farmland in New England is used to produce hay (some for cows, but much for riding horses).  Is this the best use of farm land?
  5. If you are responsible for a public building, grow food on the rooftop.  This not only produces food but makes heating and cooling the building less expensive.   Or look to re-configure parking lots and other open areas with raised beds such as the urban organiponicos in Cuba.

And no matter where you live, think about ways we can make food farming a more attractive lifestyle. Farmers (especially those who don’t own land) struggle with the economics of a food system that keeps prices artificially low through public subsidies and failing to pay for externalities. If we want more local food, we need to help these farms compete more effectively within the global food system.

We all need to begin by imagining possibilities and then getting to work in our backyards, neighborhoods, local government and educational institutions.  There are plenty of examples of ways in which you can get involved in creating a sustainable food system.

Individual Actions

1. Join the Slow Food movement, which “unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature.”

2. Buy Fair Trade food products which ensure that farmers receive a fair price for their labor.   And why not try out this cell phone app to determine which products are “healthy, ethical and green.

3. Support Bioregionalism which encourages us to get our food from an area defined loosely by natural boundaries and distinct cultural human communities.

4. Work for clear public commitment to a nutritious diet for all, fair wages and working conditions for farm labor, and a living wage for farm owners.  Share the idea of a local Food Commons with your neighbors.

5. And perhaps the most effective way to support local food is to begin to uncouple your diet from the global industrial food economy starting with avoiding all factory farmed animal products such as eggs, milk, meat, and cheese.   Try to increase the number of food products you buy from farmers you know!

What else?   What would you add to this list?

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For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now. And go here for more of my World.edu posts.  And for those of you who still wonder if one person can make a difference, please see an essay I wrote on this topic called “Saving the world – one clothespin at a time.”