Gearing up for 2012

Cue fireworks, bubbles, slapping of backs, smiles & shouts of ‘cheers’.

It’s that time again, as the hours tick onward to midnight here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, our minds turn to what beckons for us in 2012.  Frankly, the Bucky Box team is excited, and whilst we’re taking a break today & tomorrow – we’re itching to get back to our work as soon as possible.

So, here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year from Aotearoa –  Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou ki a koutou katoa

We’ll catch you on the flip side, where local food will continue to hail the return to mainstream organic farming for a people & planet friendly food system.  We can’t wait.

Disasters, Reflections & Resilience

Reflecting back on 2011, you don’t get very far without thinking of the various disasters that seem to have been hitting us in waves this year.

Image courtesy of CPL Janine Fabre (http://bit.ly/rKXKnf)

Whether it was the devastation wrought by the ‘biblical’ floods in Australia, the horrific earthquakes in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Turkey & Japan, the nuclear disaster that resulted, the ferocious storms which rolled into the US, volcano ash disrupting world travel, famines threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands, epic floods in Asia, or the man made disasters like the Rena Oil Spill.  It’s been a year with a lot of hurt around the world.

Even look just here in NZ, things seem to have been somewhat topsy turvy – the fall out from the Christchurch Earthquake is still ongoing (including a total rebuild of the central business district which is the heart of the city), there are still volunteers on the beaches cleaning up the oil spill, and we’re still wondering how there was snow falling in central Wellington.

One thing we’ve learned is that all of these events seem to affect our food system.  When the snow fell, we found the shelves were bare.  When the earthquake hit, we found supermarkets took weeks to get back up & running.  When the floods hit QLD, we heard stories of people isolated with no food.

Image courtesy of hugovk http://bit.ly/uULdCa

What we learnt, is that our current food system is remarkably fragile.  We learnt that in an emergency, we can’t rely on supermarkets for our food as they have complicated supply chains. What we learnt is that people looked inward to their communities for help and support.

Disasters and times of extreme stress show us the true state of our resilience, and all over the world, we were found lacking.

The strongest calls we’ve had for our software, here in NZ, are from those who have seen and experienced these events first hand.  The calls have come from community groups have formed as the dust settles in Christchurch, they’ve come from entrepreneurs who managed to get food direct from farms to customers when the snow blocked roads, and they’ve come from people involved in the transition movement who see our food system is built on a fuel source which will soon run out.

So, would you like some specifics?

Queensland Floods, Australia – food chains were trucking food around the country to aggregate supply and demand, but massively failed the population whilst leaving people hungry, pushing up food costs and polluting the atmosphere.  Part of this was due to agreements with big farms who are willing to engage in monocropping & mass production, whilst the smaller farms in the region are forced to sell direct to customers.  Thankfully, the awesome Food Connect were on hand, to source food from the local farmers, pay them a fair rate, package the food up, and get it out to their customers. Despite the ‘biblical’ floods. Hear Rob Pekin from Food Connect talking about their flood experience here.

Photo courtesy of Cliff Hanger http://bit.ly/ve5wx0

In New Zealand, when we had our intense snowfalls, farmers had smaller harvests which supermarkets & wholesalers wouldn’t take as they didn’t meet the ‘bulk purchase’ orders.  So whilst we were starved of greens in Wellington’s bigger supermarkets, one crafty team at Organic Boxes were able to take those smaller yields, and deliver them to the population through their vege box scheme.  I even heard of one of their ‘delivery drivers’ paddling boxes to people’s doors… report unconfirmed, but awesome if it’s true!  Needless to say their customers were delighted & thankful…

Photo courtesy of geoftheref http://bit.ly/syzqdb

When the earthquake hit Christchurch, people knew things weren’t going to be normal for quite some time, however frustration grew as the food distributors struggled to maintain regular service from their disparate supply chains from around the country.  In fact there were reports of food rotting in fields as food was being trucked in from around the country. Some of NZ’s largest food distributors did come to the rescue, and we credit them for that, but it highlighted just how disconnected we have become from where our food comes from, and how local food systems should work.  Several community groups have sprung up in the aftermath to tackle food resiliency in their areas as they now see that it is their own communities that will provide the answers in the aftermath of any future shocks.

So what do we see as the problems here?

  • We are not connected closely to local growers
  • As a farm, if you’re not big, you’re not wanted (by large supermarkets)
  • The food system is currently reliant on oil
  • When economics is all that drives your business, you wont necessarily go the extra yard if it doesn’t make you short term gains

Interestingly OpenIDEO recently ran a challenge with the Queensland Government around the need for local food resiliency, and there were plenty of ideas that flowed out of it.  So many in fact, that the Queensland Government were overwhelmed by the volume & complexity of the solutions.  They’re still working on a couple of the solutions, but there is plenty of inspiration there for people around the world to keep working on these issues.  I would also suggest you take a look at Food+Tech Connect which has a special interest in the intersection of Food and Technology, and how it can fuel a better food system.

Some solutions:

  • We all need a regional food economy with a variety of local food distribution enterprises which support local growers, and link them to local consumers, without the need for massive profits & power imbalances in between..
  • Be a concious consumer – think about what you buy, and where it comes from. Food is not a commodity so much as a deeply personal resource which we buy with alarming regularity. Make a choice which supports other people in the community around you.
  • Decouple ourselves from oil-based food systems, and return to mainstream organic farming. And yes, Organic Farming can feed the world, despite what the oil companies tell us.
  • Grow at home! Start with herbs, perhaps branch out to tomatoes in pots, or even a raised bed. Here’s some great tips on growing at home & sustainable living.

Do you want to know more about local food? Here’s our jargon buster if you’re keen to learn more!

Awesome pic courtesy of gregw http://bit.ly/vpjUEn

Vegetable Box Schemes, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Food Hubs & Farmers Markets… cutting through the Local Food jargon

When you spend your time with local foodies, work on the local food movement, or simply live and breathe the community food systems, you inevitably end up talking the lingo.

A self-sustaining local food initiative in Paraguay

Check out communityfoodenterprise.org

We realised that a lot of people have never actually come across the local food movement, and as such have no idea what some of these terms actually mean, so we decided to give you a bit of a glossary of local food, to explain some of the food movement’s jargon.

 

So far we’ve come across a few different types of local food enterprises, and generally they’re very much characterised by passionate individuals or communities which extol the virtues of local-ness.

 

Why? Well, to those who think a lot about this stuff, local food means a few things:

  • Local – our current food system is highly energy intensive as we move our food around large distances to meet ‘any food, any time’ expectations that supermarkets have built up. If we re-connect out food producers & consumers, then we drastically reduce the costs, environmental impacts, and energy use of our food system.  We also support our local farmers, our local economies, and really – everyone that should win, wins…
  • Fresh – the less far the food has to travel, the less need for keeping things fresh artificially, post-harvest ripening, or expensive & energy hungry cold storage. Several studies show that as soon as food is harvested, nutrients decrease – so the further the fork is from the farm, the less goodness you get from your food.
  • Natural / Good – a lot, but not all, local food enterprises are very focused on Organic food production. That means no oil-based chemical fertilisers which destroy the soil, it means no chemicals sprayed onto your food to kill insects, and of course, it therefore means no chance of those nasty chemicals entering your body because of the food you eat and lingering around doing damage to you & your family. A lot of the smaller scale farming (by which we mean those who don’t see the need for miles on miles of mono-cropping) use sustainable/regenerative farming methods – ones which ensure the soil has nutrients for years to come, rather than stripping them of their health and relying on artificial, chemical fertilisers to grow things.
  • Fair – the burgeoning Community Supported Agriculture (more about that term later) model was founded on the basis of giving the farmers a fair go. That could be guaranteeing demand (buying a ‘share’ in the year’s harvest, whatever that may be), helping out around the farm, or even paying up front so the farm doesn’t carry all the risk.
  • Direct – if you know your farmer, and they know you, do you really have the need for a supermarket? Do you really agree with the incredible profits which supermarkets are making, year on year, whilst farmers are being squeezed, and us consumers are paying higher prices too? Many people have decided to go direct, get a better deal, and support their local farmer too.
  • Community – some, not all, enterprises are based very much in their communities. Whether it’s your friendly vege box delivery scheme dropping boxes at your door with personalised recipes, community supported agriculture schemes with their skills workshops, or food hubs which seek to connect the cities a little closer to the farms which produce their food, many of them seek to bring us that little step closer to where our food comes from, how it’s grown, who grew it and why it’s important to know that.

 

So, lets have a little look at these mysterious Local Food enterprises then.

 

Vegetable Box Delivery schemes

Fresh seasonal produce deliveryHave you ever had vegetables delivered to your door? Not by a supermarket, at supermarket rates, but by someone who’s gone to the trouble to get together a box of tasty seasonal vegetables, and deliver them to you direct. They come in many forms – the ‘mystery box’, the ‘à la carte’, and ‘the hybrid’;

  • Mystery – whatever the ‘in season produce’ is, perhaps taking into account your likes & dislikes, delivered to your door – pure & simple.
  • à la carte – you get the choice of what’s in your box a bit like an online grocery store; choose from whatever seasonal produce is available that week – if you really dislike several vegetables, then this might be your best bet.
  • Hybrid – some people do a bit of a mix of the two – the majority of the box is pre-defined like a Mystery box, but you can add extra items such as organic lamb, whole milk, and fair trade coffee. The best of both worlds? Beats going to the supermarket if you ask me!

 

One of the fundamental ideas about Vege Box Schemes, is that they make life easy. You get a beautiful box of vegetable delivered to your door, without stepping foot in the bright lights of the supermarket – you can support organics / local food, without making any real changes to your life, other than buying the bulk of your weekly food (presuming you eat fruit & vegetables….) direct from a local scheme.

 

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Beetroot, Carrots, Onions, Heirloom varieties at Farmers Market

Image borrowed from Crossing Borders (check out their CSA story): http://bit.ly/9WYkbt

In a nutshell, Community Supported Agriculture is about the community supporting farmers by paying for the season in advance to take the financial risk away from the farmer and help them budget. Here’s a blog from ‘Vegetables for Breakfast’ about the positives of joining a CSA.  But, every community seems to establish their CSA differently, but here some of the basic premises of the CSA model:

  • Pledge – the commitment by individuals / families to buy a share in the harvest of one or more farmers. This can have a couple of benefits; the farmer is guaranteed that they will have a buyer for their food, and the farmer knows their full-season budget so can plan accordingly. This cuts down on a lot of the ‘waste’ of the food system – no need for marketing, storage, loan repayments, reduced cost of delivery, etc!
  • Risk & Reward sharing – chew on this question – why is it ok for us to load all of the risk of a bad harvest onto the farmer? That’s a central thing the CSA model aims to address – by sharing the risks of the harvest failing, the community engaged with the farmer also stand the chance of sharing the bounty if the harvest is unexpectedly good – for no extra cost.
  • Community Involvement – many farmers yearn to have their customers understand some of their dilemmas. This system often gets the community directly involved in the farm – helping plant, harvest & maintain the crops. The community often learn skills, socialise, and enjoy the connection to environment whilst there. By having the community involved, they can also have an impact on the production methods used – hence why so many CSA’s support farms growing organics, biodynamics & even some using permaculture principles or biological agriculture principles. Often the community is also involved in the distribution – either dividing up the weekly shares and delivering to friends, or all swinging by a central location to pick up their own lot.

 

Community Supported Fisheries (CSF)

Flickr.com/thelexicon

Based on the same model as the above CSA’s, comes the Community Supported Fishery. The morals & ethics stay the same – support the food ‘producer’ and get food direct to the people.

 

CSF’s are springing up in North America, you can see some examples here:

 

Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA)

Here’s a new term for you, or perhaps not. But we’ve been reflecting on big buyers of food – be they cafe’s, restaurants, or even larger institutions like catering companies & food supply contractors.  If these enterprises jumped on board too, we would increase the demand for small scale agriculture massively.  Take the essentials of Community Supported Agriculture (pledge to buy harvest and risk & reward sharing) and apply it to restaurants supporting farmers – we’re in no doubt it’s already happening, but a movement could form pretty quickly around this idea.  Coalitions of willing cafes & restaurants engaging farmers for people & planet friendly food production – what a beautiful vision!

 

Food Hubs

See how local food hubs can nurture regional food systems

Check out the awesome localfoodhub.org!

Here’s on of the models we’re really enjoying watching emerging. Food Hubs.

 

A visual description of local food hubs & regional food enterprisesFood Hubs can take several forms, but they often embody the values of both CSA and Vegetable Box Schemes. Food Hubs such as Food Connect & CERES Fair Food in Australia, are modelling what a community based, fair, healthy, local, direct, sustainable food distribution service can be.

Food Hubs take the values of CSA’s – fair prices for farmers, guarantee them customers, support people & planet friendly food production methods (organic/near organic). They take the values of Vege Box schemes – easy, delivered to your door, accessible to city folk. Food Hubs mash the models together, enabling local food enterprises to take your support for planet & people friendly food to a whole new ethical & sustainable level.

 

We see Food Hubs as a key part in the puzzle when it comes to both urban and rural food distribution, whereby people can have as much or as little involvement in the farming side of things, and still get great quality produce at an affordable price.

 

Often food hubs see a key part of their job as educating their customers a little about where their food comes from – whether it’s flyers with info about the farms, stickers, or even full QR code food traceability.

 

You can find out more about Food Hubs at the National Good Food Network : Food Hub Center.

 

Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets are a rich part of the local food movement

Check out Farmers Markets NZ

When the farmers come to town, that’s when the magic happens! Farmers Markets are a delightful variety of colours, smells, tastes & textures where you can meet the farmers who produced the goods. Often the stall holders are the producers themselves – make sure you check out your local market!

 

So with all these choices, the question really only remains, which one works for you?

 

But then, there’s one more option beginning to emerge. It’s the Food Portal – a web service which connects farmers with consumers via the interwebs. Sadly these services seem to do little to bring farms & consumers closer together at the moment, but we’ll see how these develop – there’s definitely some things they could do to ensure people are still connected to their food, who produces it, how & why they use that process.

 

Food Portals

There’s various organisations popping up online & on mobile technology to take up the opportunity that new technology is enabling.  These organisations are providing mapping, connections & other resources which make local food possible, and are creating online marketplaces  where people can buy their food.  These organisations like Local Harvest, Sustaination, Real Time Farms, Locavore, and Local Harvest Australia are creating new markets for small scale farmers & urban agriculturists – exciting times.

 

All in all, there’s a remarkable amount of choice out there to get you moving towards people & planet friendly food.

There’s also some great organisations out there who are doing wonders in terms of education, advocacy & research into the local food movement. We decided early on, that we’re going to support these people – we love their work, and want to support it – though sometimes they don’t have a sustainable business model. So here’s where our Local Food Champions fund comes in : divert a percentage of our proceeds to these organisations to support their invaluable work – we call it closing the loop. Every little helps right?

Here’s our current partners:

Food Connect Foundation
Permaculture Research Institute
The Dirt Doctor
Soil & Health Association

 

So get out there, and enjoy your food & enjoy it local!

Find local food on your mobile

Check out LoveFre.sh – local food on your mobile!

Marching on!

Christmas is closing in.

Growing the greens for vege box deliveryIf you’re in the southern hemisphere like us, that means we’re coming into the bountiful summer season. It’s a beautiful sunny day today in Wellington, so we thought we’d better update you all on what we’ve been up to over the long winter.

We’ve been working hard; getting our heads around converting all the learnings, conversation, testing & experiences we’ve had with vege box schemes & food hubs.  Converting the real world problems and solutions of local food enterprise into a simple, powerful piece of software is quite tricky, but we’re feeling like we’re in a good space coming into December.

We want to get a solid base for people to work with, so it’s heads down all the way to the Christmas break for us.

Vege Box Software Founder at Community Supported FarmOn the other side of things, we’ve also been ensuring we’re still in touch with who we’re building this software for! We’ve been out to the CSA farm, talking with the fantastic Organics association in NZ, recently met the amazing Dirt Doctor, had some fascinating discussions with the effervescent Food Connect Foundation and wonderful Permaculture Institute. We’ve been out & about in Australia talking to amazing community food enterprises, community environment parks, and food rescue crews.  We’ve been involved in Urban Food discussions, shared our personal motivations, told you more about how we got involved, and watched the Occupy movement spread and reflected on it.

Recently one of our crew has been in Hong Kong, meeting some amazing & inspiring social entrepreneurs, and shared our vision with them.  They’re excited – more news on that soon!

We’ve watched, listened & got involved in #localfood & #foodtech discussions on Twitter, and enjoyed seeing the multitude of links, videos & conversations had through Facebook. We even had a fresh logo designed by the awesome Andrew Fyfe.

Oh and did we mention we won a Cleantech Award? Check the final video here:

So we look into December as a time of plenty. Plenty to build on, plenty to complete. But we’re ready and working as quick as we can to get people using Bucky Box in beta.

If you’re interested in hearing more, we’re starting up our beta list & newsletter – so sign up here!

Software built to catalyse the local food movement