If you read the From 0 to 35 in Mississippi post here last fall, you know that the good food revolution in my neighboring state has been lacking a few important items to help build their capacity such as USDA processing facilities. The news of one opening in MS is very, very welcome as without it, producers are severely limited to what, where and how much they can sell. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new level of infrastructure for direct marketing family farms across the Magnolia State.
Mary Berry of The Berry Center:
The urban excitement around local food is not matched by farmers in the countryside. This is a serious debit and an economic one. We have several problems, not the least being that the demand for local food going up in cities has met the rural culture coming down. The economic lives of the people who grow our food and do the work of getting it to our tables must no longer be ignored. I think we know this now. We need more farmers. They need to know how to farm well and to be able to afford to farm well. And, they need to be able to have land to farm on. Land that is not so debt-encumbered that they are instantly in an emergency…
…If what has happened to our farmers and to our country’s rural landscapes is the result of decisions made in places of power far removed from the places harmed, then different decisions can be made.
An earlier blog post of mine links to one of my fav opinion pieces from Mary Berry that everyone in food systems should check out.
And also makes me think of a post I had written about refraining from jumping to new “solutions” in food system work and the need for balance in food organizing.
Gar Alperovitz is a historian, political economist, activist, and writer. He has written many books, including The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, and, more recently, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution. He grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, and has contributed to numerous efforts at economic reconstruction, including in Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio. All of which he discussed with n+1.
n+1: What is the Cleveland Model?
GA: The idea is to set up an institution, not a corporation, but something else, within a geographic community. And then on that structure you build worker-owned and multi-stakeholder firms that cannot be sold off, which is critical. This means that any growth that happens is distributed more equally because everybody collectively and individually owns a piece of the asset whose value is appreciating, whose revenue is growing.
Then you’ve got these anchor institutions I was talking about earlier: hospitals and universities—Case Western, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals. Medicare, Medicaid, education efforts—lots of public money in the area: Those three Cleveland institutions alone purchase $3 billion in goods and services a year. That’s leaving aside salaries and construction—just what they buy. And, until now, none of it from that area. So the model directs some of that purchasing power to the multi-stakeholder firms and co-ops.
Now, these are not your traditional small-scale co-ops. The model draws heavily on the experience of the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque Country of Spain, the world’s most successful large-scale cooperative effort, which now employs around eighty thousand workers in more than 250 high-tech, industrial, service, construction, financial, and other largely cooperatively owned businesses.
In Cleveland now, there are three such firms. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry [ECL] is the flagship, and it capitalizes on the expanding demand for laundry services from the health-care sector, which is huge, something like 18 percent of the national GDP and growing. After a six-month initial “probationary” period, employees begin to buy into the co-op through payroll deductions of fifty cents an hour over three years (for a total of $3,000). Employee-owners build an equity stake in the business over time—a potentially substantial amount of money in a tough neighborhood. Also, it’s totally green, with the smallest carbon footprint of any industrial-scale laundry in northeast Ohio. Most industrial-scale laundries use four to five gallons of water per pound of laundry; ECL uses eight-tenths of a gallon to do the same job.
The second employee-owned enterprise is Evergreen Energy Solutions, which does large-scale solar panel installations on the roofs of the city’s largest nonprofit health, education, and municipal buildings—again, those anchor institutions I was talking about.
The third enterprise is Green City Growers, which operates a year-round hydroponic food production greenhouse in the midst of the Glendale neighborhood in east Cleveland. The 230,000-square-foot greenhouse—larger than the average Walmart superstore—will be producing more than three million heads of fresh lettuce and nearly half a million pounds of (highly profitable) basil and other herbs a year.
I had the great pleasure to become acquainted in 2012 with this innovative program that is closely linked to the North Carolina farmers markets and individual farmers to get food flowing to more people- but this model made sure that it was NOT at the expense of farmers businesses. Their Donation Stations allows customers to buy an extra share to donate to those in need and also allowed farmers credit for any donations that they made. Their wholesale work to get more agencies to buy regional food is also extremely important.
Scrolling down through the list of FMPP successful proposals shows the ingenious and unique approaches that farmers markets and farmer advocates are employing across the U.S. to further community food systems.
Congratulations to everyone.
list of 2014 FMPP awardees
I am honored to be a member of this roundtable, and to be a new contributor to The Nature of Cities site. This topic is a bit difficult for me as I believe in cities and in their need to expand every type of good health and wealth creation – which certainly includes agriculture – but I worry about the obsession with what is called urban agriculture. In my city, talking about the corner garden or the delivery system for food into “food swamps” often takes every bit of the conversation and efforts of many urban food organizations, and so as a result, I find that few of them understand the challenges and successes of farming and harvesting past the city limits.
I believe that farmers markets missions are often about connecting the rural and the urban, and that was certainly true in the founding markets of our city, the Crescent City Farmers Markets. And so the fact that my city has not seen a large increase in the number of markets or in farmer/vendors bringing goods in tells me that this gap is growing, rather than shrinking. Rather, the city advocates for food have focused almost entirely on “demand” solutions that do not spend any time on linking new urban growers with the experienced rural farmer, or in curating any new or ongoing conversations about price, seasonality and sustainability.
And having said all of that, I also see innovation happening in many areas of urban food and believe that those activists can positively influence rural growers delaying a push to resilient, sustainable agriculture. My only question is, who will start the conversation?
The Nature of Cities Roundtable