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Economies of Community

Since the end of World War II, we’ve witnessed the consolidation of nearly every aspect of our food system. Across the country, the vital local infrastructures that once supported and fed communities, that took decades to build, have been dismantled. Towns have watched their slaughterhouses, supermarkets, butchers, dairies, and bakeries simply disappear. The question is how do we usher in a period of reform? To usher in a period of reform you need a counter movement, a social movement powerful enough to force us to institute reforms. -- Douglas Gayeton

Local food systems hold some of the most important assets of a community. In this edition of Food List, we explore how to strengthen local food systems by building economies of community.

Food systems are intricate and interconnected. It’s important understand how your local food system operates. From there, the principles of economies of community can be applied to help connect people to each other and their food.

Empowering through building economies of community can mean many different things. It can be observed when farms are self-sufficient businesses with local distribution channels. It can be seen at the weekly farmers markets, as communities get to know their farmers. Economies of community can be recognized in the ideas of cooperative work and collaborative consumption. These are all strategies in building a new food economy.

How do you support your local economy and connect with your community?

This week's terms

Economies of Scale

The decreased cost per unit that arises with increased production.

Economies of Community

If industrial agriculture uses economies of scale to maximize efficiency — focusing on single crops and reducing input costs to a minimum — then communities can leverage their greatest assets — proximity, familiarity, and private ownership — to compete with the global food system. They can create economies of community. The more you decentralize and empower individuals, the better off everyone is. You cut warehousing and retail distribution costs by creating a direct relationship between farmer and consumer. Then you embolden these farmers to become entrepreneurs, self-sufficient companies that know it is good business to develop sustainable growing methods.

Local Food Systems

"A local food system is not so much about how far a particular piece of food travels from producer to consumer. It is more about a community having control over the who pays for the hidden costs of our food. These costs can include the environmental impact of the production and distribution of the food as well as the health care costs associated with eating low quality food. It also includes recognizing that workers from one end of the food chain to the other are the poorest paid employees in society and the corporations that benefit from these low wages often pass along the gap between actual wages and living wages to the government in the form of ‘welfare’. A local food system creates the platform for a community to collectively and transparently decide what their ‘food priorities’ are and who should bear the burden of any inequity." - Edwin Marty

Connected Markets

When producers and consumers can envision each other – even across great distances – a product (like salmon) transforms from a commodity into a carefully guarded, precious resource

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