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.”

20 thoughts on “Just food now: taking personal responsibility

  1. I just put new window boxes out on my fire escape! It is a great location for the herbs that I am growing and my landlord was surprisingly supportive. Next is trying to convince him to allow me to grow a roof-top garden… but do you have any resources that I can use to convince him that it is an energy-saver?

  2. I don't specifically. I have a garden, and buy most produce from farmstands. I do buy at stores for convenience.

    Grain, protein (beans for me), oils are all imported. Corn is the only potential grain source in the region. Dairy the only potential protein source for me. Everything else is imported, and from far away.

    I do participate in a couple regular "dinner clubs", so we eat real food together. One is oriented around playing music and one of the group is a local corn and vegie farmer. We get the world's best sweet corn twice a month.

  3. A great theme John.

    I make part of my "living" evaluating value chains. I'd like to meet sometime and share some of my observations.

  4. Know any school teachers, home-school parents? Encourage them to participate in a workshop or learning conference with "Ma. Agriculture in the Classroom". http://www.aginclassroom.org/ If you don't live in MA., find out what your state "Agriculture in the Classroom" organization is doing. For the long term, it will be our kids that will carry our efforts forward.

  5. Know any school teachers, home-school parents? Encourage them to participate in a workshop or learning conference with "Ma. Agriculture in the Classroom". http://www.aginclassroom.org/ If you don't live in MA., find out what your state "Agriculture in the Classroom" organization is doing. For the long term, it will be our kids that will carry our efforts forward.

  6. Know any school teachers, home-school parents? Encourage them to participate in a workshop or learning conference with "Ma. Agriculture in the Classroom". http://www.aginclassroom.org/ If you don't live in MA., find out what your state "Agriculture in the Classroom" organization is doing. For the long term, it will be our kids that will carry our efforts forward.

  7. Know any school teachers, home-school parents? Encourage them to participate in a workshop or learning conference with "Ma. Agriculture in the Classroom". http://www.aginclassroom.org/ If you don't live in MA., find out what your state "Agriculture in the Classroom" organization is doing. For the long term, it will be our kids that will carry our efforts forward.

  8. For the last two years I have planted a variety of herbs, peppers and tomatoes along with my flowers in my tiny patio garden. I shop at a farmers market and keep the 'ready to eat' veggies in ziplock 9 cup tubs in the refrigerator. This encourages my family to grab healthy instead of junk foods.

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