One Planet Food is trying to imagine an alternative to the powerful but dysfunctional privatised food production, processing and distribution system

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Hi Pete - thanks for kicking off this conversation - i'll post the text from the document as it might then make it easier for folk to reply -
best
Nick

Food futures

The problem: our food system disconnects most of us from our local bioregion, generates health inequalities here and environmental damage across the world, treats animals as insentient commodities, devalues the growers, makers and servers of food, generates excessive grenhouse gas emissions, and concentrates power in a handful of global companies.

A better food system would redress these harms while also generating higher levels of social capital from the fundamental human activity of growing, sourcing, preparing and sharing food.

Awareness of these issues has grown in recent years, with the recent food price spike sharpening inequalities and putting food security and food sovereignty back on the agenda. At the same time, Scotland’s ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction cannot be achieved without mitigating the impact of our food production, processing and distribution system and rethinking land use policy.

However, valiant efforts to change the food system have to date operated at a marginal scale, leaving the dominant systems for production, processing, wholesaling and retailing to continue operating within the global commodity paradigm. It could be argued that farmers’ markets, farm shops, box schemes etc tend to inoculate the system against change, directing the energy of would-be change agents into small-scale lifestyle efforts rather than into political challenges to business as usual.

Scotland’s new planning framework for 2012-2032 is based largely around four city-regions and there are good arguments for including food in the planning framework. Each city-region has the capacity to produce most of its own food, but there is not a coherent regional food system in place.

One Planet Food is starting to explore with others the scope for at least modelling regional food systems where we grow more of what we eat and we eat more of what we grow. This means looking not just at land areas but also at processing, storage and distribution.

(As an example: Falkland Farm has 60 tonnes of oats for sale. We are getting them made into porage oats at Kelso: then shipped to Green City in Glasgow for packaging; then shipped back to Fife for distribution through independent retailers, farm shops etc. The crucial details are factors such as how much storage space Green City can provide: what size of bags they can pack by machine etc. This should work: but to make our wheat into wholemeal bread flour is even more complicated, and then we would need to find people who could bake with it).

Such models can then be explored for their implications not just for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases: but also for their effect on public health, employment, farm incomes, biodiversity etc. The price of oil and the price of money as well as exchange rates and global commodity prices will be key variables in determining economic feasibility, but cultural acceptability is at least as interesting to explore.

The current food system is predominantly privatised, with producers valuing at least the illusion of independence, consumers apparently blessed with the world’s larder open 24 hours a day, and a small group of huge companies managing every stage in between.

During WW2, the food system was socialised, with food supply organised by the state.

One of the issues which One Planet Food is seeking to explore is how far the food system can be communitised, with organised networks of consumers and producers engaged in sharing risks and reducing uncertainty. For such a system to work, both producers and consumers would have to cede some autonomy, with consumers committing at least a proportion of their food budget in advance (a sustainable food mortgage) and producers working together to deliver food on a contractual basis.

We are trying to imagine a scale at which a significant range of staple foods can be provided econmically to a significant proportion of the population through a voluntary commitment rather than through either the state or the market – while retaining a sense that consumers and producers are still in touch with each other (even if mostly through Foodbook than through farm visits..)

Two questions to start the discussion..

Is it culturally feasible that consumers would join collaborative arrangements for food sourcing in significant numbers?

Is there any current research which does this modelling for a city-region and compares carbon footprint etc to business as usual?
A very interesting look at food distribution and I will be interested to know how it works.

The question of cultural feasibility of consumers joining in collaborative arrangement set me thinking, although I presume you were thinking of a Scottish context, I feel in the context of here in Latvia the answer is probably no. Encouraging people to save towards future food maybe one option but to have them share the risks when funds are very short is probably not fair. Whether there are a few wealthier residents who could take a greater share of the burden is perhaps possible but I suspect there are not many of them around at the moment as businesses are faltering badly. I know that in Colorado, where I lived for a couple of years, there were farm shares available but again they tended to be too large for the poorest to benefit and was really a middle class option. So unless you can think of ways that would include the poorer sections of society then it will only be possible if people have sufficient funds in order to take a share of the risk.
Hi Pete

On the question of current research, one avenue to look at might be that Rob Hopkins gave a presentation during the recent Tipperary Ceiluradh flagging up some recent work Transition Network has done on 'foodprints' - they've mapped the food needs of the towns across Devon and used GIS approach ... might be worth checking out.

On the culture question, I think your question might benefit from some more development. It seems to me that you might be asking here for examples of whether such culture changes have ever come about- or been catalysed - and if so, why and how? Another way we could pitch the question is to ask some of our fieryspirits colleagues for how we might propose to make it culturally feasible - this could unlock a slightly different conversation?

Best
Nick
Dear Joanna
The co-operative movement in this country served (and still serves) less affluent citizens - the same with clubs where people save for Christmas, and credit unions- so I am not sure it is a question of income level. People expect to have regular arrangements (often paid in advance) for insurance, mortgage, even utility bills but food - although a regular budget heading - is not treated this way.
I am not sure if in rural Latvia they even save for the other things such as insurance and mortgage. Savings took such a hammering in the fall of communism that I am not really sure how reticent they would be to save. Something to find out, obviously
For me the question 'Is it culturally feasible that consumers would join collaborative arrangements for food sourcing in significant numbers?' is the wrong one. I think the answer to that is undoubtedly yes.

But many of the local food producers see themselves as part of a niche market through which they can charge a premium. Take the Mey Selections brand who, although they have some innovation around their climate change (in February 2008 Mey Selections became the first Scottish SME (Small Medium Enterprise) to become involved with the Carbon Trust's product carbon footprinting and labelling initiative) they are offering luxury goods at a price beyond most people.

So the crucial question for me isn't will consumers take part in a collaborative exercise but will producers avoid the obvious temptation of creating lucrative markets for themselves and instead provide little-processed seasonal produce at a low mark-up? This I have my doubts about as the drive is always for a) growth and b) entrepreneurialism (whether of the 'social' or 'anti-social' variety.

In Thurles in October members of the Cloughjordan Farm project presented a different picture, or providing the farmer with a starting salary (£20k) and working out from there what the costs cascading down would be for a box scheme and CSA model, now looking highly positive.

Perhaps with this approach, and a combination of the Growing Communities of micro-farming for a city neighbourhood we can begin to make the shift before moving towards the organicopos style model of large-scale urban allotments.
Hi

I also spent time talking to Pat at Tipperary and was hugely impressed with what the community there were achieving. They are not coming from a typical background I would say as it is a built community (a group of people have worked together for over 10 years investing in creating CloughJordan Eco-Village and I am sure this style of self-sufficiency in food was built into their plan from the start- http://www.thevillage.ie/) So Pat has been set up as the community farmer with strong support from the people of CloughJordan using the land that they have leased together.

So that raises the question – can this be replicated? Also can this be replicated in partnership with existing farmers?

Mike - in your Fife Diet work have you come across any producers that would be interested in working this way? It seems that you have a big part of the picture with an already collaborative group of consumers in Fife. Is the response you write about something that you always come up against?

In my experience (tenant farmers in Perthshire) there is a growing amount of farmers who are reaching the stage where they just do not know where to turn. They are becoming too small to compete at the industrial scale, so too small to keep farming the way they have always known. The advice is to diversify (to add value) to your income so the temptation would be to opt for the niche market and keep going for growth. So how do you get farmers around to thinking that this way of production could be a possibility? It is not something that the college advisors from SAC would point you too, definitely not something the NFU would contemplate. Are there training courses to learn about the CSA model in Britain or Ireland?

I would think that this model does offer farmers a different approach and the guarantee of a £20k salary would be quite attractive for the scale of farmers I know (especially after the year they have had.) It is a huge mindset change for everybody – for the consumers to invest upfront in their food and for the producers to reach out and work collaboratively and in partnership.

Something that quite heartened me this week was a quote that went something like this (I can’t find the source now but will keep looking!)
‘Agriculture used to be the heart of rural communities- now we need to think about communities being at the heart of agriculture.’

Geoff has also just given me a book to read called ‘Sharing the Harvest- A Guide to Community-Supported Agriculture’ by Henderson and Van En - so I’m off to increase my knowledge!
Hi Kirsty, Pats work at the Village is inspiring, I love the communities/agriculture quote, thanks! In answer to your question, no, it is not always a problem that producers want to create an upmarket niche, many are struggling and trying to innnovate and find ways forward. But few, in my experience would go with Pats baseline salary. The Cloughjordan situation is unique.

The work we are doing to bring together many different groups under one local food umbrella may offer the way to train and share on CSAs, I'll post more information on the plans as they develop but we are aiming to have a national gathering in Stirling on 27/28 February, all welcome!

Mike
This is a rather late addition to the discussions around alternative food systems. I attended the 4th Symposium of the Urgenci network in Kobe, Japan in February (see www.urgenci.net), including visits to a couple of Teikei farms - Teikei being the earliest example of community/producer partnerships (CSA in UK/US/Australia). There's quite a lot of useful information on this website on this model in different countries. You can see some of what is developing in England on the Soil Association website (http://www.soilassociation.org/Takeaction/Getinvolvedlocally/Commun...). Japan also has a strong co-operative movement enabling consumers to purchase local food (amongst other things). Teikei started in the 1970s because of some extreme examples of industrial and agricultural pollution - in these circumstances consumers and farmers alike were willing to act differently because they experienced the effects of industrial farming first hand. Interestingly Teikei is now experiencing some difficulties as the younger generation are not so willing to engage in a system that demands more effort than purchasing from a supermarket. Maybe the problem we face in trying to facilitate change is that many of the negative impacts of the current food system are concealed - or at least can be ignored (another case of 'inconvenient truth'?). CSA can take many forms and I think any attempt at change needs to take account of local circumstances/assets. In some areas there may well be people willing and able to invest in advance, but where I live (NE) this is going to be a step too far for most at the moment. One of the groups that is emerging from my action research on CSAs is finding its own way after some difficult struggles (www.weardalecsa.org). Finding ways of scaling up from small individual projects is another challenge. I'm currently writing a proposal to develop a Local Food Strategy for Co Durham as one way to try and tackle this - if I can get the funding!
I am interested in knowing more about how you can involve people for whom investing in harvest shares is a step too far. I now live in rural Latvia and this issue about CSA's has been one that I have struggled with. I am not even sure that selling locally will be the answer as many families have access to their own allotments in the rural areas but there is the opportunity to be able to take fresh fruit and veg and meat into the capital city Riga around 60km away.
Hi Joanna
I met someone from Latvia at the conference who has started a CSA. Would you like me to ask her if I can pass on her contact details to you?
Oh yes please that would be fantastic. You will have to tell her that unfortunately my Latvian is minimal and therefore we would need to converse in English. Latvian is something that I am still working on

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