On The Road – Vignettes from China & Mongolia

Sam Rye, our Community Connector, writes from the road…

 

As you may know, currently I’m roving in Europe and will be heading for North America in October, and I’m looking forward to meeting interesting local producers and distributors along the way, looking at hubs of local food, and running some workshops.

 

However, I’ve always been intrigued by the land between where I was born (England), and where I now live (New Zealand).  It’s a huge swathe of the world’s crust which I have, too often, flown over – so I figured it was time to see what was in between.  I decided to travel overland with my lovely wife, back to England, via China, Mongolia, Russia and Austria.

 

I wasn’t surprised by China’s seemingly decentralised food system – a network of small grocers and entrepreneurial producers and distributors.  It stems (I was reading in National Geographic) from the fact that the last 40 years saw drastic and radical changes after the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61. Combined with a huge uptake of chemical fertilisers, reduced control by the ruling party and advancements in technology – China now has a food waste problem.

 

Here’s a couple of vignettes from my travels…

 

_DSC1095 _DSC1103

_DSC1161 _DSC1389

 

 

From the Steppe of Mongolia

 

I may not’ve been so surprised by China’s food system – a complex web of producers and distributors in the many cities, but I sure was surprised when I got to Mongolia.

 

Apparently much of Mongolia (population 2.8 million) is not suitable for agriculture. It seems strange as you roll through the huge wide open grassland areas, where nomadic people still graze cattle, yaks, goats & sheep.  However there’s an extreme climate, long winter, and low rainfall. Apparently there’s only around 100 days of the growing season.

 

Much of Mongolia’s fresh food is imported from China, but I saw potatoes and wheat being grown on the Steppe, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers / capsicums being grown in hot houses.  It seems to be a country curiously poised with little to no food security, and a huge amount of land.  Perhaps some huge opportunities for sustainable urban agriculture in the capital – Ulaanbatar?

 

Here’s a few pictures from my travels in Mongolia…

 

_DSC1682 _DSC1690 _DSC1695 _DSC1841 _DSC1992 _DSC2026 _DSC2082

 

 

See you on the other side with some pictures from Russia & Austria, before blogging from the UK & France.

 

Sam

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

Local & Friendly Food Champion Showcase: The 30 Project

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

The 30 Project is a think + do tank for changing the food systemWe are big fans of the work the 30 Project have done already, and inspired by their vision to ‘be a think + do tank for changing the food system‘.

The 30 Project addresses the food distribution problem - 1 billion people are hungry, 1 billion are overweightThey aim to tackle the food distribution problem – 1 billion obese, 1 billion starving.  Through initiatives such as the FEED Project and now ChangeDinner, the 30 Project aims to “bring together key organizations and activists working around the world on addressing hunger, obesity, and agriculture issues to talk about their visions for the food system and the next 30-years. Many of the best anti-hunger and anti-obesity organizations have been so focused on their important work that they have not been able to work together on common challenges. The 30 Project is gathering the best people together to work towards creating a truly healthy and sustainable global food system.”

If you haven’t already seen Ellen Gustafson, the founder of 30 Project, speaking at TEDxEAST – here’s her 10 minutes of passion & purpose:

You can support 30 Project directly here, Follow @the30Project on Twitter, or dive into some of the Change Dinner videos like this one:

#ChangeDinner today!

The Change Dinner campaign from 30 ProjectThe 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.

 

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.

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