Creating a Local Food System – Where do we Start?

« The Transition Network (TN) has developed a new and exciting process to help communities move from oil dependency to local resilience. There is a four-page introduction to the TN process at the end of this document. To me TN process is a breathe of fresh air because it focuses on positive visioning and developing positive relationships throughout the community. It’s creative and fun, it focuses on both the inner and outer transition we must embrace and it respects the rights of individuals. We may be able to use this process to help us get started in creating a local food system.

Over 300 communities around the world are Transition Towns – officially embraced the process. Over 1,000 communities are “mulling it over” – thinking about it, gathering support, etc..

I think three of the steps in the TN process offer opportunities for us to get started in creating a local food system. I think these steps will help us create excitement in the community to embrace the thought of creating a local food system. I’ve cut and pasted short descriptions of each of these three steps and followed each with some ideas of how we might get started from the ECSC Report, the Google spreadsheet we created, some ideas I found on the internet and some ideas of my own.

Take a look at what I’ve pulled together and bring your ideas and questions to our next meeting. »

This stage will identify your key allies, build crucial networks and prepare the community in general for the launch of your Transition initiative.

For an effective Energy Descent Action plan to evolve, its participants have to understand the potential effects of both Peak Oil and Climate Change – the former demanding a drive to increase community resilience, the later a reduction in carbon footprint.

Screenings of key movies (Inconvenient Truth, End of Suburbia, Crude Awakening, Power of Community) along with panels of “experts” to answer questions at the end of each, are very effective. (See Transition Initiatives Primer (1MB pdf) for the lowdown on all the movies – where to get them, trailers, what the licencing regulations are, doomster rating vs solution rating)

Talks by experts in their field of climate change, peak oil and community solutions can be very inspiring. Articles in local papers, interviews on local radio, presentations to existing groups, including schools, are also part of the toolkit to get people aware of the issues and ready to start thinking of solutions.

Develop visible practical manifestations of the project

It is essential that you avoid any sense that your project is just a talking shop where people sit around and draw up wish lists. Your project needs, from an early stage, to begin to create practical, high visibility manifestations in your community. These will significantly enhance people’s perceptions of the project and also their willingness to participate.

There’s a difficult balance to achieve here during these early stages. You need to demonstrate visible progress, without embarking on projects that will ultimately have no place on the Energy Descent Action Plan. In Transition Town Totnes, the Food group launched a project called ‘Totnes- the Nut Capital of Britain’ which aims to get as much infrastructure of edible nut bearing trees into the town as possible. With the help of the Mayor, we recently planted some trees in the centre of town, and made it a high profile event.

Coordinate a study to tell us how much land and what type land is needed to fulfill our caloric requirements.
Create a sustainable food system education program to make citizens aware of the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. If citizens know more about the food challenges ahead they will make changes and encourage community leaders to move in the direction of creating a sustainable food system.
Provide an estimate of the number and type of food processing facilities needed. This information would provide the business community with information about future business opportunities and they will become involved in the creation of a food system.
Develop a media campaign to encourage people to become master gardeners.

Facilitate the Great Reskilling
If we are to respond to peak oil and climate change by moving to a lower energy future and relocalising our communities, then we’ll need many of the skills that our grandparents took for granted. One of the most useful things a Transition Town project can do is to reverse the “great deskilling” of the last 40 years by offering training in a range of some of these skills.

Research among the older members of our communities is instructive – after all, they lived before the throwaway society took hold and they understand what a lower energy society might look like. Some examples of courses are: repairing, cooking, cycle maintenance, natural building, loft insulation, dyeing, herbal walks, gardening, basic home energy efficiency, making sour doughs, practical food growing (the list is endless).

Your Great Reskilling programme will give people a powerful realisation of their own ability to solve problems, to achieve practical results and to work cooperatively alongside other people. They’ll also appreciate that learning can truly be fun.

Facilitate The Great Reskilling

Today our community is loosing jobs and creating new jobs is important. I think we can capture the attention of many people in the community if we can show how creating a local food system can bring many jobs to our community.

How many jobs would be created if we moved to a sustainable food system? Typically a community that produces most of it’s own food employs 20% of its population in the food system. In Alachua County that would represent about 48,000 people employed in activities associated with producing, marketing and distributing food.

To give members of the community, business leaders and political leaders a feel for the job opportunities, our group could do some preliminary research to identify:
What skills are needed?
Who will do the re-training?
What’s a typical food system skill-set look like?
Would the skill set required here be different in another region?
What are the job titles, salaries, job descriptions and skills required?
How many jobs would likely be created?

Publishing this information could encourage members of the community to start thinking about investing in a food system, reskilling themselves, developing education programs and encouraging local leaders to support the food system and reskilling activities.

Answers to many food system questions reside in the memories of elders within our community and in the archives of libraries and other public institutions. We can pursue this information by:

Interviewing seniors who lived in a time where food production was a major industry in this area. Ask about the skills required to grow, distribute and market food in the past.
Researching historical records to find out which crops grew best in the past. With this information we can best design a food system to accommodate these crops.
Researching methods of training farmers and other food system employees.