Food Commons

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A Food commons consists of a self-selected group of people who pool resources, activities in cooperatively managed ways, based around production, distribution of food. [1]

See also: Food as Common and Community


Jose Luis Vivero Pol:

"Purchasing power cannot be the barrier that deters poor people to get access to such an essential resource for human bodies. A Universal Food Coverage should be established as part of the social welfare state."


From Jonathan Rowe:

"Nowhere is the reclamation of the commons more in evidence than in regard to food. Food is where the human economy began. It once served as a locus of community — in the growing, selling, cooking and eating — but today that dimension is largely gone. Most of us have no idea where our food even comes from, beyond the supermarket. We scarf down Egg McMuffins in the enclosure of our cars. One result has been the social equivalent of empty calories — a hunger that no amount of eating seems to fill. Farmers’ markets have been one answer to both improve our diets and enrich our experience of community. The growth in markets has been remarkable — from 1,755 in the U.S. in 1994 to 4,385 last year. (By comparison, Whole Foods now has about 270 outlets in the U.S. and England.) Farmers Markets are not just – or even mainly — about organic food. They are about local food, and the opportunity to deal face to face with the people who produce it. They also are about the festive sociability of the market itself.

People go to partake of the bustle and good spirits, something that doesn’t much happen at Safeway or even Whole Foods. “See you at the farmers’ market on Saturday” is a common leave-taking in my town. Community gardens have grown in a similar manner, and for some of the same reasons. There now are some 18,000 of them in the U.S. alone, according to the American Community Gardening Association. These gardens replicate in urban settings some of the social dynamics of the traditional rural commons; neighbors share tools and help one another when the need arises. Perhaps no institution better embodies more the revival spontaneous sociability associated with the commons than the local coffee shop. Not that long ago, coffeehouses in the U.S. were associated with college towns, bohemia, and dark angry poetry. Today they are everywhere — from some 585 in the U.S. in 1989, the number grew to more than 20,000 today. It might seem that most of them are Starbucks. But according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, independent shops still outnumber that ubiquitous chain.

For all its corporate prefab quality, moreover, even Starbucks provides a space in which to meet people, or simply sit in the anonymous company of others. In suburban malls, it is the closest thing to a commons to be found. Starbucks knows that it is selling not just caffeine but also a sociable “third place” between the private spheres of home and work. Even when people look busy working on computers they are open to serendipitous encounters, and are partaking of the flow of life.

You could write the history of human inquiry and freedom from the standpoint of coffee shops. Stock markets and scientific societies began in them, as did Lloyds of London, the insurance exchange. Richard Steele ran the Tatler, the first modern newspaper, out of London’s Grecian coffee house, and used it as his postal address. The American and French Revolutions were fomented by men who, as one writer put it, saw the prospect of change “in the depths of their black drink.”

Jurgen Habermas and others have argued that coffee shops are where civil society itself began. Whether one goes that far or not, they clearly played a role; and the revival of coffee house culture today—and the larger urge for a commons-based society of which it is part – suggests opportunities for social change. Sociability and action are connected. You are more likely to join with others in a cause if you are familiar with them first. The farmer-populists started out at Grange picnics, the civil rights movement in Southern churches." (

The Food Commons Project


1. Jim Cochran and Larry Yee et al.:

“The Food Commons serves as a model for actualizing the food "revolution" in communities everywhere by creating the physical, financial and organizational infrastructure necessary for thriving regional food systems.

It is innovatively bold in scope and potential. Once built, it is a whole system, fully integrated and connected.

In recent years the demand for local food has increased significantly, driven largely by issues of better health, food security, access and sovereignty and the overwhelming need to rejuvenate local economies. Yet the infrastructure and its systematic integration do not exist to bring "good food" from field to table in sufficient quantity efficiently or effectively. Furthermore, old paradigm thinking persists and dominates. The ideas presented in our concept build upon the work of a diverse group of experienced actors working at multiple scales in the arenas of food and agriculture, sustainability and equity, and economic development, as well as alternative financial and ownership structures. We have borrowed parts of successful business models from a wide range of enterprises – many in the food world, but some from other sectors – and reassembled them into a new economic structure that offers hope and promise for the future.”

Food Commons Coordinating Committee:

Jim Cochran and Larry Yee (Co-founders), Karen Schmidt, John Katovich, Kathryn Johnson, Tyler Norris, Fred Kirschenmann, Renee Guilbault, Shally Shankar.” (

2. Site presentation:

"The Food Commons model will leverage, support and enhance existing and emerging regional food system initiatives to offer the American public a wide range of benefits that are not widely distributed in our current food system.

The Food Commons model is a networked system of physical, financial and organizational infrastructure that allows new local and regional markets to operate efficiently, and small to mid-sized food enterprises to compete and thrive according to principles of sustainability, fairness, and public accountability.'


Alex Rollin:

Many have made a case for top soil, the living breathing crust of the Earth, to be considered a natural resource worthy of preservation, respect, and continued nourishment for the sake of all of the planet's sentient beings. The Food Commons is a way of looking at all of the systems, objects, processes, and patterns that are involved in the feeding of the physical form that sentient beings rely upon.

When looking at a Commons we are often drawn towards monolithic objects like "The Amazon," "The Ocean," or similar concepts that, while they do have a physical location, are often so far beyond our ability to "manage" that the very attempt is enough to turn one off form the idea of a "Commons-based" anything.

So, enough with the quotes. The Food Commons can and does include monolithic entities like "Earth's Top Soil" but it also includes many much more meaningful (for some) and approachable things like home gardens, food market cooperatives, seed banks, hybridization procedures, and a host of other smaller scale opportunities.

From the brief examples it is easy to see that the Food Commons is by no means limited to plants or dirt. In fact, each of the Commons in the [Five Commons Approach] can be viewed from at least 3 different vantage points of Mind, Life, and Matter. In combination and complexity thousands more perspectives are possible. Here are a few of the questions demonstrating these perspectives, and informing the decision to place various solutions in Food Commons collection on the P2P Foundation wiki.

To begin with the more tangible, the Food Commons with a focus on Matter:

  • What things do we need from food on a daily basis?
  • What systems does food production rely on in order to provide us with what we need daily?
  • How does food scale? Is it an individual pursuit, collective, both, and how?
  • How is the physical production, distribution, consumption, and recycling of food potentially peer-to-peer?
  • What tools and situations can people create and use to grow food together effectively without intermediaries or hierarchy?

How does food relate to life?

  • How does our relationship with food production, distribution, consumption effect and influence our cultural activities?
  • How is food an integral part of our day to day affairs up to, including, and beyond simple sustenance?
  • What do we know, individually, about how food sustains our organism and builds the foundation of our higher activities?

How does food make, support, and connect to our mind?

  • Can we enjoy the thoughts and emotions we have come to expect without food?
  • Can the pursuits of peace, justice, fairness, or profit be considered without sustenance?

The point is not so much to break the Commons apart into these various areas but to insure that our look at each of the Commons is more complete by looking deeply into each area and then building on the interdependencies and relationships. An approach to a food cooperative that includes appreciation for the value of the intersubjective interaction in the marketplace and offers a gentle nudge to higher faculties like aesthetics and ethics is a example of using an approach that draws on all three areas.

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