Putting The ‘Culture’ Back Into Agriculture

culture
Robert Pekin with Food Connect farmer Franco Cencig. Photo by Food Connect

An excerpt from Fair Food: Stories from a Movement Changing the World (edited by Nick Rose, UQP, 2015)

Food Connect works in the vein of the ‘small is beautiful’ philosophy or what others like to call ‘economies of community’ rather than the old model of ‘economies of scale’. What we’ve seen and experienced over the last 50 years or so is the slow death of small industries serving their regions.

Towns all over Australia have lost their local bakeries, abattoirs, creameries, butter factories, grain mills and greengrocers. Our culture is the poorer for it – everything has a ‘homogenised’ look, feel and taste to it. The implication is that we are also homogenising our brains.

[When I started Food Connect] I knew that distribution was where most of the inequities were in the food system, and localising a food system would address many of them. I figured if Food Connect could demonstrate the ‘how’, then we would have achieved a lot in terms of rebuilding the lost infrastructure – both physical and social – that once served our communities so well.

It’s no mean feat to survive in a marketplace dominated by cultural assumptions of ‘cheap food’ and ‘endless consumer choice’ all year round. Changing the culture around food has been hard work.

A substantial barrier to the expansion of the local food economy in this country is due to consumers conditioned to expect year-round availability and endless choice; for prices to remain ‘down, down, down’ for ‘glamour’ produce.

Through food being done fairly, I believe we have a great opportunity to provide a pathway for all of us to collaborate and realise our true potential.

We eat at least three times a day, every day of our lives. Nothing else is consumed, discussed, felt, smelt and touched as intimately as food. When seen through this lens we can see the exciting potential in good food, done with love.

ECONOMIES OF COMMUNITY

To democratise the food system, we need three things:

1. A network of ecological farms in our bioregion:

  • growers get paid fairly and invest more in their local community;
  • growers have more control and less dependence on the central market;
  • growers are acknowledged, form relationships with consumers and feel belonging and an integral part of their community

2. Highly local distribution channels:

  • many growers to many distributors builds resilience into the supply and demand of the system

3. Motivated consumers who:

  • value locally grown food;
  • maintain quality control through direct feedback to growers, thereby maintaining high standards of ecological practice and growing skills;
  • support small, locally owned distributors;
  • recruit others to join the movement.

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