This month we gather around the topic of food—a subject everyone loves. Food is the great convenor, the global common denominator, the alchemical substance that pulls parties into the kitchen, makes friends out of strangers, puts flesh on our bones and smiles on our faces.
But all is not well in food land, despite the colorful array of products on U.S. grocery store shelves. One third of Americans are overweight; diet-related diseases are skyrocketing; our food is being designed to addict, rather than nourish; bees are dying; biodiversity is being lost; and modern agriculture is based on massive inputs of petroleum—a finite resource.
Jenga is the founder of Backyard Gardeners Network in Lower 9th Ward, raw food entrepreneur and in this video, is talking about her excellent work in the lower 9th ward section of New Orleans. Jenga’s garden will be on my Slow Food tour May 18th. If you believe in community food systems at their most collective and grassroots level, you may want to check her work out more and support her efforts:
This is one of my favorite pieces about New Orleans, written by Jenga as a response to a unworthy story by NYT about lower 9:
Jenga’s response to NYT
From BALLE, one of my favorite local economy organizations:
And The Pioneers That are Leading the Way – Part 1
As we are preparing for our annual 2013 BALLE conference in June, I am reminded of one of the main reasons people are drawn to BALLE: to learn how to create a strong and vibrant local economy in their own communities. Knowing that not all of you will make it to Buffalo in June, and as I reviewed our incredible list of speakers and conference agenda, I was inspired to share this list of key ingredients in hopes that it will inspire you, even in some small way, towards action in your community.
Because there are SO many juicy things to share with you – and because we know your free reading time is precious – we’re breaking this down into two parts. And for those that will be joining us for #2013BALLE Conference in Buffalo, we’ve highlighted some of the incredible pioneers who will be speaking on these subjects at our upcoming conference.
Here are five ingredients of thriving local economies. (Hint: the next five might arrive on Monday for you…)
To grow, process and distribute healthy nutritious and affordable food:
We need to know the people that grow and make our food and to have systems in place to get fresh, affordable food into underserved areas. When we support a localized food system, we keep our dollars in the local economy and lessen our dependency on external food sources that can be damaging to both people and our environment.
James Johnson-Piett, Urbane Development: Vision speaker
Nikki Henderson, People’s Grocery: Vision speaker
Sarita Role Schaffer, Viva Farms: Rethinking Investment
To unleash the talents and creativity of the whole community:
We’re not okay unless we’re all okay. Job access, skills training, business ownership and cooperative models serve so many purposes. They build community wealth and keep money circulating locally; they empower people through personal ownership; and they harness the collective energy of the entire community and channel it towards a greater good.
Mark Brand, Save on Meats: Vision speaker
India Pierce Lee, Cleveland Foundation and the Evergreen Cooperatives: Vision speaker
Gar Alperovitz, The Democracy Collaborative: Community Ownership Revolution
To make things again:
We need to bring back local manufacturing and to be able to meet some of our needs locally. If we start using regional resources – local people, local businesses, local products – to meet our regional needs, we support all the people that contribute to our vibrant, local economy.
Kate Sofis, SFMade: Local is the New Global
Mike Pearson, Union Packaging: Vision speaker
Michael Peck, Mondragon: Local is the New Global
To use new technologies to connect people:
Central to a vibrant local economy is having strong relationships with each other, and new technologies are creating more opportunities to get connected. We can connect makers and growers with buyers and with each other. People can now share spare bedrooms, services and yard tools at the click of a button. Technology will never replace personal relationships, but it’s a wonderful way to get introduced.
Matt Stinchcomb, Etsy: Pardon the Disruption
Benzi Ronen, Farmigo: Pardon the Disruption
To foster an ethos of generosity:
At the center of everything, we need to create communities that want the best for each other. Developing personal relationships and establishing trust is one of the most important elements of a vibrant, local economy, and leading with generosity can be powerful way to start.
Otto Scharmer, Presencing Institute: Integrated Capital & Connections
Judy Wicks, Author, White Dog Café: Vision speaker & Entrepreneurs in Love
Nipun Mehta, Service Space: Vision speaker
In the words of our Executive Director, Michelle Long, “There is a new economy emerging – one that will gradually displace our destructive and failing economy with a system that supports the health, prosperity and happiness of all people, and that regenerates the vital ecosystem upon which our economy depends. The Annual BALLE Conference is the place where we stitch together the pioneering leaders, ideas and local economies. Together, remarkably creative entrepreneurs are building real prosperity from the ground up.”
– Jill Epner, BALLE
Register for their 2013 conference here:
I love maps. When I travel, I study maps online to have some sense of the geography underfoot, as much to understand who the people might be as not to get lost. It’s amazing how people appreciate that bit of homework when you go to their place.
I have maps of my city (New Orleans) and of my river (Mississippi) on the wall of my house and the Slow Food RAFT map (see below) on my business card.
I have books of maps authored by favorites such as geographical historian Rich Campanella and activist Rebecca Solnit, whose collaborative map book (“Infinite City”) of her home of San Francisco is a thought-provoking juxtaposition of right and wrong, culture and place.
When I came across the Kickstarter campaign for this Food Atlas, I jumped at the chance to support it. It arrived last week and I have read it while sipping my morning coffee (while reading about Strong Coffee traditions in the Middle East and “Bird Friendly” coffee origins), referred to it while writing about farmers markets (the one on SNAP and farmers markets) and studied the Texas Seafood Landings map after making flounder tacos just north of Lake Pontchartrain, home of most of the seafood catch for my bioregion. It’s a very new book and so won’t be found everywhere yet, but you can buy it from them now at
It is a wealth of maps on food production, distribution, security, exploration, identities and to pick out my favorites is to shortchange the breadth of this book.
It’s not just for activists, or “foodies” but for everyone and I think it could affect (and galvanize) people just as M. Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” did. I grow tired of long text articles about food (Yes, I do include myself in that finger pointing!) and would hope that this sort of map project could become a new way to educate and illuminate the small world that we live on.
I can’t wait for the editors to follow up on their promise to expand the reach of this series including to add more Asian and African food maps and to get this Atlas in hands everywhere. Its a bit heavy on maps of the West Coast and of the US, so much so that it occurs to me that having a set of food maps that show the lopsided view we have of ourselves in the US versus how others see us or experience us might be a good edition. In any case, hurrah.
An article about a mobile market starting up in Massachusetts is attached. After reading it (well even before reading it) I must confess I was just not sure about mobile markets as the method for adding healthy food to a community.
The purpose of the farmers market is to allow civic engagement to happen at such a regular interval that behavior change can also happen. Farmers can slowly build their business to meet their face to face customer needs, shoppers can watch others shop and compare notes and learn the seasonality of their region among other things and the neighbors get an amenity that encourages a more vibrant area. All of these things take time and sustained effort and even with the best of intentions may still fail but if it does all work, it can lead to a powerful change in a community. That is the promise of a farmers market, and it also allows everyone to be part of the decision making.
And may I add, the use of the term “market” in its title also troubles me as I think it implies a system that resembles a farmers market and yet we share almost no characteristics with mobile food initiatives.
And as someone who helps build and expand public markets, let me say this: I don’t believe that we have done enough with it yet. I think the type of market that we see in most cases is a “flagship” or “neighborhood niche” (some typology terms that are evolving in the market field) which may not fit the goals of some communities. I believe that there are many types of market types for communities that are organizing themselves. For example, there is a type of farmers market for food deserts (food security market type) that we have yet to fully understand or what the uses of those other types could be.
What worries me about people jumping completely to to the next bandwagon is that I wonder if the mobile market is actually a barrier to communities ever getting a full-fledged farmers market. Adding to that, I think farmers markets are part of a spectrum that can ultimately get communities other food retail options, including at times, full-scaled grocery stores. Can mobile markets lead to that? I’m just not sure.
However, I do see that mobile markets can offer some short termed food access answers and also gather some data about choices that a neighborhood wants. Also, that the mobile market can help some small farmers get prepared for farmers markets among other things.
I also appreciate the nimbleness of the mobile option. I did some research for a potential mobile market while working at MarketUmbrella in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and still believe that there is a use for it in disaster-struck communities. And having talked with the good people of Toronto FoodShare and others who are thinking about the mobile market role, I suggest that it might be a useful bridge to offer healthy prepared foods that could arrive in a neighborhood throughout dinner time and by using local fruits and vegetables in their simple recipes (meals under 4.00 for families and less than 15-20 minutes prep time perhaps?) still support local growers.
So I wonder if how communities deploy farmers markets and mobile markets separately and together could be analyzed using similar measurement (Oh I may find the time to do this myself soon!) and where there has been a successful model of a mobile market, that some in-depth research can be done of this option as an answer to food system needs.
By the way, this quote from the article struck me as a perfect example of the lack of awareness of what farmers markets do and how they do it:
“Traditional farmers’ markets, the pair argue, are often time- and labor-intensive, and have the downside of being stationary.”
Changing behavior takes time and a regular commitment and even though the idea of a moving truck sounds good as a way to get to more people, it also takes the chance away of establishing a haven that can become the start of a neighborhood getting long term amenities.
BUT I lay part of the blame on public market advocates: in order for food system organizers to know what farmers markets can do, we have to share data about what they do.
And find ways to encourage a full spectrum of answers that should well include mobile food.
Also, a link to the Greenpaper that I wrote while at MarketUmbrella:
“The hardest work in building FlashFood from theoretical to actual will likely be the networking itself, although the team has a strong head start on connecting with vendors. “We have been speaking a lot with organizations that already do work with restaurants to cover perishable food,” says Irwin, citing Food Donation Connection as an early partner. “But the difference between us and the organizations that are out there right now is that we account for late at night. Restaurants don’t always know how much they’re going to have left over, so we’re trying to fill this donation market of food that’s unexpected and needs to be transported really rapidly.” That means prepared dishes that can’t be frozen down for storage (unlike, say, leftover chicken breasts), or trays of food from weddings or conventions that were never served. FlashFood intends to find mouths for those leftovers within an hour.”
This is an encouraging evolution. Technology actually moving the dial to answer issues like late night restaurant leftovers and prepared foods.
How might markets support these entrepreneurs? What about mobile markets? Could this be one of the answers as to how mobile markets can be sustainable and still serve the most needy?
Interesting from the point of view of how farmers market have been working on full access to all citizens. If folks are discouraged from getting needed assistance, then the emergency food services will be overwhelmed and a potential road to better health intervention and access to community engagement is cut off for the most at risk population.
I wonder what the community food system could do to change this policy in Georgia?
From the Meals on Wheels Research Foundation report:
14.85% of seniors, or more than 1 in 7, face the threat of hunger. This translates into 8.3 million seniors. In contrast, in Ziliak, et al. (2008) we reported that as of 2005 1 in 9 seniors faced the threat of hunger.
Those living in states in the South and Southwest, those who are racial or ethnic minorities, those with lower incomes, and those who are younger (ages 60-69) are most likely to be threatened by hunger.
Out of those seniors who face the threat of hunger, the majority have incomes above the poverty line and are white.
From 2001 to 2010, the number of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger has increased by 78%. Since the onset of the recession in 2007 to 2010, the number of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger has increased by 34%.
Senior Hunger in America 2010: An Annual Report
Prepared for the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation, Inc.
May 3, 2012
Professor James P. Ziliak Professor Craig Gundersen University of Kentucky University of Illinois
Education is part of almost every market’s mission. Explain to your vendors and shoppers that when food assistance programs include regionally sourced food and farmers, it benefits everyone. HOWEVER, do remember those of you that are 50(c)3 organizations, you must not use your organization’s resources to lobby for legislation.
From the IRS website:
… may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.
For those of you NOT 501(c) 3 organizations, a letter writing campaign might be in order!
This is a Greenpaper that I wrote while I was with marketumbrella.org (with help from Leslee Goodman, technical writer and editor) on the phenomena of mobile markets. I have had loads of requests for it recently, so am posting it here. It is available on marketumbrella.org’s marketshare page, which remains an excellent site for markets to find resources, as does the FMC Resource Library. The mobile market idea is interesting, but I believe that it is a short term fix that benefits the industrial system of food, rather than extending the reach of the alternative system we are creating. Because, without adding dignity and sharing wealth, nothing will change.
Tuesday February 7 at 2 pm EST.
In this webinar, farmer and community and economic development specialist Anthony Flaccavento of Rural SCALE, Inc. will discuss his recent price comparisons between farmers markets and grocery stores in six states, and offer advice on how this data can be part of efforts to reinforce markets’ commitment to equity and affordability.