I am always scouring for new books that may help our markets to advance their system change work. One major lesson I work to keep in my front mind is how best to assist market operators in prioritizing working as networks rather than “silos.”
I have written on this subject, some of which can be found by searching in this blog under “networks”; for now, this is a good example : https://darlenewolnik.com/2021/12/20/local-resiliency-shouldnt-be-the-goal/
In many of those posts, I consider the effect of climate chaos and civil unrest on the still-fragile, but always-energetic pop up farmers market sector, and suggest that the success rate of reducing organizer and producer burnout and increasing engagement is almost entirely dependent on thinking regionally, or as you will hear later, territorially.
The idea of regionalism may seem already knit into the community food movement, but I see plenty of examples of food leaders misinterpreting true regionalism. One example is how few urban farmers market managers and volunteers visit their rural and exurban vendor farms regularly. Or, how few community food leaders speak up for regional planning issues which directly impact their farmers and other producers. And I talk to plenty of rural farmers market operators who bypass the replicable operational lessons that their urban sistren and brethren market operators have to share, or mistakenly feel they don’t need to focus on justice work.
And long before 2022, all organizers were struggling with the rapidly unfolding and difficult work of assessing and mitigating disruptions, either because they thought only hyper-locally or, didn’t define their region as expansively as it needs. For example, in 2005 when the federal levees broke after Hurricane Katrina ravaged LA and MS, my organization Market Umbrella struggled to find enough partners to rebuild our region – but not because we had not thought regionally previously, but because the region we HAD developed was entirely in the same situation. In other words, we had established a bioregion for our farmers markets (even going as far as defining our allowable vendor range as anywhere in the “American Alligator region” which spanned multiple states as the climate and agricultural products were shared with New Orleans) but in terms of truly creating organizational and community resilience, we would have benefited from deeper relationships north and west – and not just south and east – and in other sectors such as housing and transportation. (We also struggled because few other entities were able to work regionally which is part of what disaster exacerbates and why you have to have that approach before the bad day comes.) So I now know only so well that political, cultural, and even historic trade regions are as vital for food organizers to know for their own work. And while ensuring that racial justice is front and center in our work, simply ignoring those outside of our “blue” or “red” area will not serve our shared goals very well.
In terms of offering a global framework, the FAO report titled “Mapping of territorial markets; methodology and guidelines for participatory data collection” was recently recommended to me. The report essentially defines what the US calls “local” or “producer-only” markets (of course, neither of which are entirely precise) as territorial markets. From the report:
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) defined these ‘embedded markets’ as ‘territorial markets’ (CFS, 2016a), characterized by the following criteria:
◗ They are directly linked to local, national and/or regional food systems (the vast majority of products, producers, retailers and consumers are from the given territory).
◗ They are more characterized than other markets by horizontal (i.e. non-hierarchical) relations among the various stakeholders.
◗ They are inclusive and diverse in terms of stakeholders and products.
◗ They have multiple economic, social, cultural and ecological functions within their respective territory, and are thus not limited to food supply.
◗They are the most remunerative for smallholder farmers (as compared to other kinds of market), as they offer the farmers greater bargaining power over prices.
◗ They contribute to structuring the territorial economy, creating wealth and redistributing it within the territory.
◗ They can be formal, informal or a hybrid of the two.
◗ They can be located at different levels within territories (local, national and cross-border).
What is especially instructive to me about this description is the work we have in front of us in the U.S. to ensure our farmer markets measure up to this and to other categorizations and our policy partners understand it too.
All of this chat about networks leads to a recommendation for a model encapsulated in a new book due out in October:
Kuni: A Japanese Vision and Practice for Urban-Rural Reconnection
In the book, Tsuyoshi Sekihara and Richard McCarthy take turns with descriptions and illustrations of what reimagining of the rural-urban relationship might look like and what results it could offer. Sekihara is the founder of the Kamiechigo Yamazato Fan Club, a community development organization focused on the holistic revival of Japan’s rural areas, while Richard was the founder and the longtime director of the U.S. based regional farmers market organization, Market Umbrella that I mentioned above.
“Kuni” is both a reimagining of the Japanese word for nation and an approach to reviving communities. It shows what happens when dedicated people band together and invest their hearts, minds, and souls back into a community, modeling a new way of living that actually works. A kuni can be created anywhere–even a hamlet on the verge of extinction–and embodies 7 key principles:
- Everyone is equal in a kuni
- Kuni is equipped with a regional management organization–a democratic organization that takes care of small public services
- Kuni is a link between residents and repeat visitors
- Life in a kuni is circular–consumption and production are in balance
- Kuni embraces the whole person
I’ll add a bit of Wendell Berry here with how he suggested communities should also think through the appropriate scale for human centered regionalism:
“We must not outdistance local knowledge and affection, or the capacities of local persons to pay attention to details, to the “minute particulars” only by which, William Blake thought, we can do good to one another.”
Much of what Kuni (and Berry) are lifting up, we are seeing in some extraordinary US farmers markets and food work, most often led by Black, persons of color, and indigenous leaders. No surprise to me that what white-led and designed organizations are trying to figure out in the current work to become active anti-racist allies, our sisters and brothers knew already.
Chiefly among that is to eschew linear, hierarchal, purely capitalistic roles and structures for those that value the entire human, have a democratic center, and prioritize balance and inclusion. Once a community embraces that, the sky is the limit in terms of impact and organizational health. That will be the reward for listening to leaders who came to this work with system change as their goal and to those who are leading us with care and intention: that the food community thrives by establishing regional connections, valuing human-centered innovation and the realization of our shared future.
PreOrder Kuni: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781623177317