How can we sequester global carbon emissions on a large scale? How can we help stop rainforest destruction? How do we reduce food waste? How do we feed more people? How do we increase the populace’s health? How do we make organic food cheaper than processed GMO foods? How do we transition chemically fertilized, mono-cropped farmland to permaculture farms on a large scale?
We can tackle all these problems by changing the basic infrastructure of our food system. And such large systemic changes is possible these days because our new informational systems allow our societies to reorganize en masse . See for example how Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, or how Lyft and Uber disrupted the taxi industry.
Imagine a collectively owned and run app. ( A platform coop practicing open cooperativism)
A. Connects Individual and Communities food buyers with organic permacultural farms.
Consumers can find farmers on this app. It allows for various forms of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), from people ordering preset boxes delivered at regular intervals, to people having the ability to vary their order.
Right now Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is usually cheaper than organic food. If CSA’s scale to much larger numbers organic food grown in permacultural ways can become cheaper than mainstream processed food.
This is because CSA’s cuts out a lot of the middlemen. It cuts out the unnecessary costs of chemical fertilizers, GMO fees, global food transport, mass refrigeration, packaging, branding, marketing, supermarket infrastructure and multinational corporation executive salaries.
The key here is to get a lot more people signed up to this than is currently happening. Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber spent profusely on marketing. In the case of this food app it can leverage the power of the environmental and social justice movements. We have seen these movements activate millions of people. Tapping into this similar energy, the food app can sign up a lot of people. If say smaller cities sign up 50,000 people and larger cities sign up a million people, that becomes a significant amount of the food system that are using this new food network.
B. Connects Neighborhood Cooks with people who want a Community Meal.
The organic farms can deliver food to households who are interested in cooking for their neighborhood. Neighbors can find out about these community meals through the app.
Community meals build community. And community can share knowledge and tools, provide friends to do activities with, help each other with babysitting and elder care, tend to each other when people get sick, help when there are financial difficulties etc. It creates a neighborhood commons – which is an economic system that used to function more efficiently until the forces of globalization destroyed much of it. Its a place for people to make friends, get help, share tools, help with babysitting and eldercare, help each other when sick etc… As a neighborhood commons extends its reach it can also help people who are having trouble affording food.
The farms can offer food at a cheaper price to households which will cook community meals for the neighborhood as a way to incentivize community meals. And the farms as a result will get more food being bought. It is in a way a viral community way of marketing the food.
If a farm sells to 5000 customers who will cook community meals, they are helping grow communities in 5000 neighborhoods in a city. If we see this happening all across the world, it’s a significant step to regrowing our neighborhood commons.
A neighborhood commons also shifts the locus of societal life back to the neighborhood. People will no longer need to drive as far to get services and community needs met. This can lead to a significant decrease in the worldwide usage of oil.
C. Connect Backyard Gardens and Urban Hydroponics with people cooking Community Meals
Backyard and frontyard gardens can grow a decent amount of food once people understand how. This food can be funneled to be cooked for neighborhood community meals. A hyperlocal food cycle that builds neighborhood resilience and connects the neighborhood closer with the food.
The app can integrate with projects like the Food Not Lawns network. The app can give metrics of how much a neighborhood is feeding itself through yard gardens, and metrics is a good tool to use when inspiring a movement of neighborhood growing.
D. Buy future food as a form of investment. The money you put up for it is used to fund either i. transition of a farm to regenerative permacultural practices ii. buying farmland to put into a community land trust.
i. Transitioning a farm from monocropping, chemical fertilizer, tilling methods to regenerative permaculture methods can take 2 years before the permaculture method begins to yield more than the monocropping methods. So farms need support during this transition. People can do this by buying ‘shares’ in the form of food. So you could put down $1000, then in 2 years you could begin to start receiving a larger value in food (say $2000) when the permaculture transition kicks in. (In addition to the ability of the people to raise money to help transition and buy farms, the government can also invest in this.)
The transition to permaculture methods on a large scale can help significantly with climate change. Healthy soil is a way of sequestering the carbon in the atmosphere. Current forms of agriculture destroy the health of the soil. Regenerative agriculture brings this ability back. The worlds soil, if healthy, can sequester the amount of carbon the transportation industry puts into the air. Thats huge!! And significantly undersold in the environmental movement (although it was good to see some candidates begin to bring this up in the democratic presidential debates and climate town hall).
ii. People can also put down money to buy the organic farms collectively. And in a similar way, if you put down $1000 to help buy the farm, you can get back a few years that value in food plus a large amount extra. Currently as agricultural price volatility affects farmers, they lose their land to multinational corporations. We can reverse this trend and buy back land for community land trusts.
Multinational corporate farming can also degrade the land, which means after they farm it, they leave it and move onto other lands. This land can be bought back and regenerated so it can grow food plentifully. Black Sheep in Costa Rica has been doing this, buying back land that pine companies and timber companies have destroyed and using permacultural methods to regenerate it.
Non-profits and local governments can also help with investment funds. Even health insurance companies might decide its worthwhile to invest, because if there is a mass transition to locally delivered grown organic food the health of the populace would significantly increase.
E. Create farmwork and other services commons.
People can sign up to volunteer to work on the farm. They can also sign up to help with various other businesses in the local area like yoga centers and community centers. Others can put services they will offer – massage, editing, dogwalking, a room in their house etc, without monetary prices. People who are volunteering or offering services can then also use each others services or get free organic food. It allows people to get food and services outside the monetary system, something which is especially useful for poorer people. A food and services commons creates economic diversity. Just as biodiversity is good for the environment, economic diversity is good for the city.
This is what I call a Connective Commons. It creates a communal connective tissue between all these services and businesses to create a collective intelligence. The volunteers can shift from area to area when needed. So say the farm needs more hands on deck temporarily because of some climate induced problem, volunteers can shift to go work on the farm that week . Permaculture Design Courses can funnel graduates to work on these farms and help grow neighborhood gardens in people’s yards and get room and board in the form of the community meals in return. The farm becomes a part of the local people, as opposed to a more separate corporate entity.
The commons is a powerful economic force because it provides a way for information about peoples needs to flow. Capitalism’s information flow can skew towards putting more import on rich people’s needs The commons helps to balance the informational ecosystem.
The worlds wealth is currently becoming more unequally distributed. The reason for this is described in Thomas Piketty’s worldwide bestseller. The profit rate on capital investments like in land and stocks is greater than the increase in GDP, or in his words r>g. So the rich get richer faster than the increase in economy. The way to deal with this is to transfer our wealth to the commons… This neighborhood commons is a big step towards this.
Why is the relocalization of our food systems important?
Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement brings up a useful analogy that of two watchmakers. One makes a watch which is organized into modular parts, and one who doest. When the person whose watch is ordered into modular parts breaks down, they can take out that part, find whats wrong with it, and then get the watch going again. The persons watch who isnt modular, cannot do the same thing, the whole watch is wrong, so its harder to diagnose what is going wrong.
The problem is that our neighborhoods and our cities have lost some of their autonomy. They no longer function
as fully self-organizing systems as they are overly dependent on multinational corporations for their functions. The multinational corporations don’t have enough capability for fully dealing with all the complexities of a neighborhood or a city, and in fact have been in part responsible for the destroying of our communities.
Heres how food globalization can lead to rainforest destruction. Currently 1 in 6 people depends on food imported from other countries. The connection of the food economies leads to global volatility. As an example China, which loves eating pork, recently experienced the swine flu, and its pig population was decimated. So suddenly it bought 3 millions tonnes less soybeans from Brazil, which is a significant loss for Brazil, because a large percentage of Brazilian export income comes from the soy industry. So there ensues financial pressure on the whole economic system in Brazil, which leads to all kinds of pressurized behavioral responses, with farmers probably the burning down rainforests to grow pigs for China, and cattle for general profit, to make up for the loss of soy income.
When food supply and prices become volatile, farmers are often hurt, and may sometimes lose their farms. Populace in poorer countries especially may go hungry. One reason for this volatility is because our food systems have become dependent on oil. It used to be our food system was fueled only by the sun. Now our globalized food system is not so much. For example the USA’s agricultural sector uses up 17% of the nation’s total oil consumption . A fifth of that is used to produce chemical fertilizer. Oil is also used for transport, processing, packaging, marketing, food preparation, and storage. The Brookings Institute, one of the most well known think tanks in Washington DC, writes “Food price volatility starts with the characteristics of food markets… Today we have..supply shocks.. due to the higher costs of inputs (fertilizer, pesticides and transport over long distances) linked to oil prices…. So what can be done? First and foremost, break the link between food prices and oil prices”. It is somewhat astonishing to see a DC think tank come to a permaculturist-like conclusion “the answer must be to change the food system to adapt to the new economics of energy. That probably means more localized and more diversified production and consumption, less use of fertilizer and less wastage (20 % of all food gets spoiled in storage and transport today). Ironically, the organic, slow-food, go-local cooperative movement may find that market forces are their new friend.”
The worlds global food system is at the mercy of all sorts of local phenomena. Oil prices and swine flu are two of the many things that can set up farming panic all over the world. Its due to this problem of non-modularity of the food systems in the world. Mass relocalization of our food systems will help with this problem.
We have seen the environmental movement lead to a recycling consciousness and an ongoing transition to electric cars. Next up we can have a local organic permacultural food movement. And just as the Airbnb and Uber movement happened through the signing up lots and lots of users, so this environmental food movement can happen through a concerted mass push to sign up lots and lots of users.