Sustainable Food Summit – Vision of a Future Food System

*This blog was republished in part on Food+Tech Connect as ‘How Technology will decentralise the global food system’, Fair Food Network and Sustaination’s “3rd Industrial Revolution”.

 

How do we create a food system which is sustainable in the face of growing population pressures, changing weather patterns, declining natural resources, and a sharp decline in soil health?

A summit to co-create the future of the food system in Australia, and indeed around the world

This is one of the questions we held, when we recently headed to the shores of Australia to attend the National Sustainable Food Summit in Sydney, to hang out with some of the visionaries who are engaged in the dialogue of how the future of Australia’s food system will play out.

 

The summit was re-convened after last year’s successful meeting which brought people from around the country to listen to key note speakers, and engage in workshop sessions to talk about & co-create the future.

 

Several of the attendees were live tweeting the event on the hashtag #FoodSummit & #SFS12, and a Storify was being built as the event progressed: you can check it out here.

 

Asides from the fascinating conversations, great connections & pretty tasty conference food, there was a fair few insights into where the food system would be moving over the course of the next 20 years or so, and it’s our recollection of these insights we want to try and capture for you:

  • The food system, much like other industries around the world, is one of the next major industries that will become decentralised thanks to the web, peer-to-peer trading, and as a response to 30 years of legacy which has served financial interest more than the people & planet it relies upon.
  • A flexible, resilient & sustainable food system is already emerging, and with software & other food tech as a catalyst, is going to emerge even more rapidly. It will form a meshed web reaching around the world, of localised food systems within a bigger global food system.
  • The food system of the future will be complex – made up of traditional agriculture, urban agriculture, small-scale farms, bio-domes, vertical growing spaces, hydroponics, backyard gardening, community gardening, and more.
  • Organic Farming can feed 10 billion people, and small-scale sustainable agriculture is the way it will happen. Several recent reports, including one from the UN Special Rapporteur have identified this, and there is a growing focus on ecological / biological farming methods.
  • We will have to shift from the 99% industrialized food system we currently have globally, as resource pressures (peak oil & the likes) will mean current techniques will continue to push the cost of food up.  The transition may not be easy for all concerned, those with vested interests in keeping the status quo are likely to resist, but they will be swept away if they do not change (see changes in Music Industry!).
  • Huge advancements can be made as we shift to a decentralized food system, especially in the area of food & resource waste, which accounts for the main reason for current artificially high prices.  In 2010 we produced enough food to feed c.12 billion people, we just wasted a large portion of it.
  • Remove the ‘squeeze’ caused by the Food Distribution ‘profit centre’, and we will ease the financial, environmental & social strain currently put on food production & consumption.
  • Local & Regional food economies will be rejuvenated with a new set of values based on more than profit, beginning with the foundations that People & Planet should be at the centre of the food system, with Money/Profit playing the role of social exchange lubricant rather than sole economic measurement.
  • The emergence of vege box schemes, CSA’s, co-ops, buying groups & food hubs are all proving the future path of the food system right now. Software is a major lever of change to catalyse these forms of enterprise.
  • More farmers will be needed and more small-scale distributors.
  • The future food system will have a much greater transparency & traceability from Farm to Fork, enabled by food tech.

There were of course many many more, but these are some of the strongest trends that we heard at the conference.

 

The early keynote by Jeremy Rifkin was one of the talks which set a lot of the context for the conference, and whilst it’s fairly lengthy – there’s some great insights into economic trends which are worth a watch.

Take a look at more of the notes, podcasts, videos & other Food Summit resources collated by the 3 Pillars Network.

 

The summit felt like a positive reinforcement for a project we’ve already committed to, a great learning experience to push the boundaries of our knowledge, and a great opportunity to share space with so many other who had a similar vision of a decentralised food system.  We’re really excited by some of the projects which are happening around Australia, and indeed around the world as we speak – one of the blogs which we follow regularly is Food+Tech Connect which showcases some of the most exciting Food Tech projects in the States (and a few like us, outside). Make sure you read the ‘Hacking The Food System’ articles.

 

We recently spoke at the Changemakers Convention in Christchurch, New Zealand, where people from around the country outlined their passions, visions & actions in their chosen area of interest.  We spoke about “Food Security & Resilience in an Uncertain Future”, which led us to deliver a ‘state of the nation’ of how our food system currently teeters, some examples of food system fragility (largely taken from our blog about disasters & resilience), and the bright future that is emerging with technology enabling new ways for our food system to thrive.

 

For now, it’s back to work on supporting our fantastic beta customers, and spreading the word to more local food distributors who might make use of our system – please feel free to share with your networks if you might know someone who would like to change the food system for the better!

Mapping a peer-to-peer food system of the future

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 & Friendly Food Champion showcase: The Dirt Doctor

Announcing our fourth Friendly Food Champion partnership!

Biological Farming Advocates The Dirt DoctorThe Dirt Doctor may not be known worldwide, but they have the knowledge that should be.

You can read more about our visit to The Dirt Doctor, and our first hand recognition of the remarkable achievements of Jim, through his ‘biological farming’ techniques.

We’re excited to say that we’ll be helping spread the word of Jim’s organic farming methods which yield greater than chemical farming, as well as finding ways to support the workshops, resources & tool designs which Jim & his team work hard on.

We’re already talking about our shared vision of working in developing nations, for a rich, diverse, prosperous, local food system where local crops can thrive in healthy soils.

So, for a better world of bountiful harvests, not at the expense of the earth, check out The Dirt Doctor. Want to feed a family of four from 10m of earth & half an hour work each week? Check out The Dirt Doctor’s Urban Eden program!

Local Food made possible by high yield agiculture without chemicals