Food Commons Project

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URL = http://thefoodcommons.org/

Descriptions

1. Their own site (2019):

"The Food Commons has developed an alternative path by re-envisioning a re-creation of the local and regional food systems that preceded the current global industrial food systems, updated to reflect 21st-century advances in information systems, communications, community-based organizational and economic models, the science and practice of sustainable agriculture and the changes in culture and demand. ... The Food Commons model will:

  • Make healthy and sustainably produced food accessible and perhaps more affordable to all.
  • Enable food enterprises within and across foodsheds to efficiently produce and exchange goods and services that meet high common standards.
  • Capture benefits of scale in infrastructure, asset management, financing, information systems, marketing, and learning, while preserving local identity, ownership, control, diversification and accountability.
  • Transparently and seek to equitably distribute common benefits along the value chain from farmers, ranchers, and fishers to distributors, processors, retailers, workers, consumers, and communities.
  • Harness underutilized foodshed assets and protect and steward those assets for current and future generations.
  • Foster and celebrate regional foodshed identities that generate widespread consumer awareness, participation and buy-in.
  • Create a wealth of new small businesses and jobs and build a skilled and respected 21st-century food system workforce."

(http://www.thefoodcommons.org/summary/)

2. John Thackara (2014):

"One priority is to shape our actions in such a way that they start to reconfigure these systems on a bioregional scale. In food, advanced prototypes are already being tested. The Food Commons, for example, launched in the US in 2009, is the the world’s first prototype for a designed regional food system. The Food Commons platform features the physical, financial and organisational elements of an infrastructure that’s designed to connect myriad small to mid-sized enterprises: farms; food processor; distributors, retailers. The platform helps these foodshed actors to collaborate by providing advanced communications tools, community-based economic models, and scientific knowledge about sustainable agriculture. For Professor Larry Lee, founder of The Food Commons, “the Food Commons represents a whole new cloth; it’s woven from threads of several successful organizations, business enterprises,and disciplines”." (http://www.doorsofperception.com/most-read/a-whole-new-cloth-politics-and-the-fashion-system/)


3. 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.” (http://thefoodcommons.org/)

Characteristics

John Thackara:

"A cornerstone of the Food Commons approach is farm conversion combined with common ownership, by a trust, of a local food system support infrastructure: distribution and retail centres, and support services. These assets are to be governed by stakeholders from the territory, and managed in collaboration with the local ecosystem of small enterprises.

Each Food Commons consists of three components:

  1. A Food Commons Trust: this nonprofit entity will acquire and steward foodshed assets such as land and physical infrastructure. Land and facilities will be leased to participating small farms and businesses at affordable rates; because these assets are held in perpetual trust, they will benefit everyone.
  2. A second component, a Food Commons Fund, is a community-owned financial entity that provides affordable capital and financial services to all parties in the regional food system. This will ease the cash flow problems that currently cripple so many small farmers.
  3. Each region will also contain a Food Commons Community Corporation. This locally-owned and cooperatively run business will connect connect myriad small enterprises: farms, food processors, distributors, retailers. Support services provided at each Hub will include administration, marketing, scientific knowledge about sustainable agriculture, technical assistance, and specialized vocational training."

(http://www.doorsofperception.com/infrastructure-design/food-as-a-commons/)

Status

"Fresno (Calif.) is the first working implementation of the Food Commons. It has the active support of Fresno’s business, academic and social justice communities. Two other prototype Food Commons are in development – in Atlanta, and in New Zealand." (http://www.doorsofperception.com/infrastructure-design/food-as-a-commons/)

Discussion

John Thackara:

"Consumer demand for locally-produced food is strong and growing, and millions of bottom-up food experiments are underway around the world which are parts of an alternative to the industrial system.

Fresno, as I learned, is no exception. There are plans for community-owned grocery stores. Community Supported Agriculture schemes such as The Farmer’s Daughter are making make headway, as are farmers markets. Community gardens and urban farming are beginning to take root. There are projects to connect schools with local farmers.

Top-down too, at a policy level, chinks of light are visible at the end of the BigAg tunnel. The US Department of Agriculture just announced a $78 million investment in local and regional food systems including food hubs, farmers markets, aggregation and processing facilities, distribution services, and other local food business enterprises. Entities eligible for support for the first time included cooperatives, non-profit organizations, Indian tribes, and individuals. $78 million is a tiny amount compared to the tens of billions that continue to be lavished on so-called “production agriculture”, including the expansion of export markets – but it’s a start.

In order to accelerate the regeneration of small-scale farming as the cornerstone of food production, a huge amount of experimentation and innovation is needed into such subjects as as crop variety, integrated pest management, soil and water conservation, and agroforestry, livestock management.

For Patrick Doherty, at the New America Foundation, the how is just as important – perhaps more – as the what of innovation. How best to grow crops and livestock on the same farms; how to make biodiversity the cornerstone of food production rather than an optional by-product; how to replace chemical fertilisers with natural ways to improve soil; how to help people save and freely exchange seeds.

New sources for investment are also needed so that, as far as possible, the financial needs of local farmers are met by local institutions. New kinds of land tenure supported by new laws are needed, as are new systems for the management of small pockets of land that were once neglected.

These research priorities need to be shaped by the needs of a region’s unique landscape - and how do you do that? To find out, novel platforms and skills are needed to enable dialogue, learning and collaboration among the diverse actors in a regional food system – and between systems in different parts of the world.

Knowing the list of ingredients, however, is not the same thing as making a cake. Although the myriad social and agricultural innovations now emerging are cheering, and exciting, something extra is needed if they are to move beyond the confines of farm or community level ingenuity to a transformations of agriculture systems as a whole.

This is where The Food Commons (FC) comes in. The FC marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food towards a whole system approach in which the interests of farm communities, the land, watersheds and biodiversity, are all considered.

The Food Commons FC is conceived as a kind of connective tissue that weaves connections between grass roots projects, on the one hand, and vital support services, on the other: legal, financial, communications and organisational. Its co-founder, Larry Yee, describes TFC as “a whole new cloth”.

A cornerstone of the Food Commons approach is farm conversion combined with common ownership, by a trust, of a local food system support infrastructure: distribution and retail centres, and support services. These assets are to be governed by stakeholders from the territory, and managed in collaboration with the local ecosystem of small enterprises" (http://www.doorsofperception.com/infrastructure-design/food-as-a-commons/)

More Information

  • Food Commons Fresno
  • 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.”