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!

Local Food Odyssey in Melbourne

On a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, I took a little time out of my much needed vacation to visit a few of the people and organisations who are doing great things for local and organic food in the area.

First stop was to CERES Environment Park, which has been home to an urban sustainability movement since the 1970’s, with a big component being organic food production.

The park is a monument to the various people in the community who have not only believed in the dream, but let sweat trickle down their brows doing the hard work needed to turn a landfill into a thriving hub for sustainability education, action & innovation at the heart of a rapidly sprawling city.

This is one project to keep an eye on; delving a little deeper into CERES’ plan for the coming years, I learnt that they are taking grass-roots Community programs to a new level to add to the amazing array of projects already on site, including; an animal farm, community gardens, café, training kitchen, Education program, community bicycle recycling & workshop, demonstration and research Facility for sustainable water projects, nursery specialising in permaculture/natives and bush foods, and The EcoHouse, showing sustainable living retrofit options.  To add to that CERES was opened in the year I was born.

Delivering local and organic food to MelbourneFrom CERES, I took a wander across to one of the spin off projects – CERES Fair Food to meet Chris, and another Melbourne local foodie – Kirsten of Eaterprises & VEIL.

CERES Fair Food began from the market garden concept within the main park, and was so successful that they decided they should kickstart a vegetable box delivery scheme to reach more people with good organic, local food from the region.  Only 18 months later, they’re doing roaring trade, operating as a social enterprise, and forging a path of ethical food distribution.

It was great to sit and chat with the people we are working hard to support; the people creating local food enterprises, proving that not only can vege box schemes work, but they can thrive and bring nutritious organic food to the masses whilst creating jobs, feeding the local economy, and giving farmers a fair go.  Check out CERES Fair Food’s video:

Designing and nurturing fair sustainable food systems in VictoriaKirsten from Eaterprises – an organisation promoting regenerative food systems – was also a delight to chat with. Her plans for designing & nurturing food systems which take an ecosystem approach; using resources more wisely, and collaborating instead of competing, was a breath of fresh air.  The potential in a city the size of Melbourne is huge, and we have faith that her extensive connections in the area will lead to a better, fairer food system emerging.  Keep up to date with their progress at @eaterprises!

A final visit of the Australian Odyssey was to a slightly different group – those that tackle hunger & poverty head on.  The friendly Marcus from FareShare was good enough to afford me some time to give me a tour and then sit down for a coffee for a yarn about FareShare’s model of food rescue, cooking & distribution.

FareShare Volunteer bakes food to tackle poverty & hungerFareShare runs entirely as a charity, and does an amazing job of attracting donations of fresh & preserved food, which lands at their base in Abbotsford, before getting whipped up into new tasty nutritious treats by an army of volunteers and a couple of paid staff in their commercial quality kitchen.  It was an eye opener to tour the facility and see what is involved in a decent size food rescue organisation, which at the time was a’buzz with Bunnings Warehouse volunteers creating savoury pies, big trays of chilli and quiches.  Marcus told me that FareShare have several trucks on the road constantly picking up and dropping off – around 345 tonnes of food had been rescued this year alone.

The food is redistributed out to a variety of food banks which in turn will get the food to the charities who work hard to get it to the people who need it the most – in all 335 charities have benefited from FareShare’s work this year, and well over 821’000 meals have been served to people who aren’t able to feed themselves or their families.

We are so thankful that people like FareShare exist.  Much of this food might go to waste, so we’re really appreciative of all the food rescue organisation who’ve popped up around the world.  Our local crew here in Wellington, Kaibosh, are also doing a fantastic job.

Social Enterprise & Innovation co-working space in MelbourneA little time spent in Hub Melbourne also gave me a chance to catch up with the ever interesting David Hood of Doing Something Good, and Will Donovan of Ideas for Melbourne fame (among other things).  It’s always good to drop into the Hub to see who is around, and Will pointed me in the direction of one or two other people doing good stuff in local food, after his involvement in the OpenIDEO Local Food initiative earlier in the year.

My visit was complete, and I left Melbourne with a warm glow, knowing that there are some awesome people working on some great projects.  Hopefully I’ll be bringing back some of that innovation, excitement and depth of experience & energy to New Zealand, and then spreading it out around the world as Bucky Box begins to reach new people and places.Melbourne, VIC, Australia by night

Disrupt & Support

I’ve spent a bit of time on Twitter lately, for my sins, and have been simply astounded at how many people are out there who’re working on a more planet & people friendly food system.

I’ve seen everything from hydroponics to beekeepers, urban designers to organic cosmetic boxes, bloggers & restaurant owners, environmental engineers to grass roots GMO activists.

It’s been really encouraging – we know we’re backing a swelling movement, and we’re here all guns blazing ourselves.

Our view is one of disruption of the status quo, and support of the individuals, communities & organisations who’re getting on with creating a better world.  We aim to disrupt the existing food distribution system – one which wields so much power – by directly supporting the farmers, community food enterprises & small scale food distributors with the tools to enable a local food movement.

Software is our team’s background (well except for mine which is environmental conservation & business..) so we were in a good position to create the web 2.0 tools for the people we know can create the kind of food system which will support people & planet more readily than the holders of the power in the industrialised food distribution, who are simply ‘working for their shareholders’.

Too much power in food distribution will cause a problemDisruption is important – it can create systemic change. Take what Napster did to the music industry for example; one simple innovation in digitising and sharing files has blown apart a system which is still re-sprouting in its wake – those that try to fight or cling on to the old paradigm will eventually be left behind. Those that embrace, innovate, and find new ways – will be rewarded with inheriting a new system.  We see disruption of the power balance of food distribution in the same way.

We realise of course that we are not going to do this on our own – in fact the ground work is already well underway – food hubs, vege box schemes, organic farmers, fair food bloggers, sustainability consultants, local food enterprise resources, education & future thinkers are already doing stirling work in this area.  That’s why we’re working with local & friendly food champions like Food Connect and the Soil & Health Association, who are doing great work in education, advocacy & research into what a sustainable food system looks like.

In the meantime, before our launch, we look forward to hearing from you about what your view of a better food system is, and how you’re working towards it.

Local & Friendly Food Champion showcase: Food Connect Foundation

We’re extremely pleased to announce the second in a stream of partnerships with local & friendly food champions!

Our good friends at Food Connect in Australia are known around the world for the fantastic work they’ve done on creating a sustainable, fair, organic approach to local food distribution.

The two schemes already running in Australia work on a mix of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Vege Box scheme to get the food from the rural producers to their ‘city cousins’ where towns people pick up their food.  We’re supporting the Foundation side of their work – “the Food Connect Foundation supports entrepreneurship that promotes soil fertility, appropriate scale organic farming and small food enterprises”.

If you haven’t already seen Rob Pekin, the founder of Food Connect, speaking at TEDxBrisbane – here’s his 18 minutes of heart & reason:

The back story: in the early stages here at Bucky Box we decided to forego any marketing budget, and instead work with the best of the local & friendly food champions around the world and give our customers the chance to nominate where these funds will go. We see that these are the individuals & organisations who are making significant headway in catalysing, educating & advocating for a fair, friendly, local food system. We support their work to the hilt.

A man and his local vegetables - Food Connect CSA ethical enterprise

Bucky Box goes to the Farm

Visiting CSA Farm for Bucky Box ResearchHere at Bucky Box, we sometimes need to remind ourselves why we’re getting involved in this project to build the tools for a better food system, so on Monday we decided to take a trip out to our local CSA, and spend some time with the farmers who’re getting their hands dirty to keep us fed, and look after the land.

We’re based in Wellington, New Zealand, so we took a trip about an hour and a half out of town to one of the premier growing regions close to us – the Wairarapa.

Luckily we have some good friends who run a CSA here in Wellington, so we took them along with us to meet Frank & Josje who made us really welcome at Wairarapa Eco Farm – a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm supporting the Wellington region.

Discussing ups and downs of Community Supported AgricultureWe had some quality conversations about the ups and downs of CSA’s, which are being felt all over the world as the movement spreads, but it was great to see the passion Josje had to make it work, and to involve people in the growing of food and education around sustainable organic practices.

We really see some huge benefits for CSA’s to be one of the many solutions to a more people & planet friendly food system – one which provides more resiliency, closer connections, and lower food miles.  There’s some great resources on CSA’s here if you’re interested (courtesy of Making Local Food Work in the UK).

A big thanks to Frank & Josje for spending some time with us which will help us to continue to build the best software possible for the local food movements around the world – for making us welcome at your beautiful farm, sharing stories and your passion for reconnecting our communities with the food we eat.

Check out Simply Good Food – the Wellington CSA site here (now also operating in Palmerston North!).

Take a glimpse at our full album of CSA Wellington photos here.

Growing the greens for vege box delivery