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Economies of Community

Economies of Community

Photo by Douglas Gayeton

Economies of Community

Location: Latrun, Israel

Featuring: Benzi Ronen, Chuberg Organic Farm 

An industrialized food system is highly centralized and benefits from ECONOMIES OF SCALE. Local food systems benefit from ECONOMIES OF COMMUNITY.

Three principles of EOC:
1.    Transparent equal access to information
2.    Democratized equal voice and ability to take action
3.    Frictionless simple transactions and feedback

A sustainable, democratized food system is decentralized and benefits from a network of farms, highly local distribution channels and motivated consumers.

Benzi develops web-based software to empower local food systems.

How can software enable the scaling of a decentralized food system so it feeds more households with locally sourced food? The internet helps local food producers and consumers find each other more easily, software-enhanced systems further leverage this power of the internet by allowing consumers to join scalable, location-specific networks of farms and food producers. Targeted knowledge sharing has transformed the purchasing of food into an intimate conversation between consumers and food producers, it strengthens local economies and results in more secure local food systems.

Economies of Community with Benzi Ronen

Economies of Community with Benzi Ronen

Benzi Ronen is the founder of Farmigo – the simplest way to get the best farmer’s market food (year-round) and turn it into great meals your family will love. Farmigo is connecting people at their workplaces, apartment complexes, community centers, homes and schools -- directly to multiple local farms and is providing food preparation guidance built around each family's needs. The Farmigo team is dedicated to accelerating the adoption of an alternative food system by delivering locally grown food to households across the country.

Douglas Gayeton: Can you give us your name and tell us a little bit about your company?

Benzi Ronen: My name is Benzi Ronen, the founder of Farmigo, and we’re connecting consumers directly with the growers of their food – the farmers. We’re doing that by enabling consumers to buy their food directly from local farms in their area and get the produce within 48 hours of harvest.

Douglas: What were the major problems that you wanted to solve when you started Farmigo, and what were the solutions you achieved?

Benzi: As a population we’re getting sicker with things like obesity and diabetes. It is important to ask how we can get our population healthier. We also have to ensure that the way we are growing our food is done in a sustainable way for the planet, since the population is increasing and we are killing the planet in the process.

Our food system has scaled immensely. We’ve figured out how to grow food in mass quantities to feed the population, but we’ve done that by learning through the Industrial Revolution—to create assembly lines and “economies of scale”—which means we need to have huge mega farms and huge mass transportation and distribution system that act as hub and spokes. This is incredibly efficient when you look at it from a business perspective, but when you factor in the health of the individuals and the planet itself it’s really not that economical.

Our solution focuses on how we decentralize our food system. Instead of having hub and spokes and mega farms, you can actually create a very efficient local food system using the Internet.

Douglas: You have often spoken about “economies of community.” What are economies of community and why should we care about them?

Benzi: Economies of community means empowering local food systems. On one hand, it’s about empowering the farms to be their own entrepreneurs and their own self-sufficient business units with sustainable growing methods. It’s about creating local distribution channels so that instead of flying, shipping and driving produce across the country or across the planet, we can do it locally. It’s about motivating people to vote with their wallets and actually want to buy fresher, healthier food directly from their local farms and to become part of the solution.

Douglas: How do you define your work in terms of “collaborative consumption?”

Benzi: If we look at collaborative consumption as a form of a shared economy, the farmers are the first ones in the food system to be part of collaborative consumption because they are the ones sharing their harvest.

The next phase is community organizers that are creating hubs to pull people in, source from the farm and distribute it within their hubs. That’s already happening, it’s just not necessarily formalized.

Then there is the consumer who, today, is mainly eating the food — but I think we can start to flip it around. Consumers start to become players themselves, whether it’s helping their family eat healthier or giving guidance to them and to their friends. They can become their own mini-hub points and can help distribute it to households in the area. We’re going to start to see much more dependencies between people — in a good way — that removes our reliance on these centralized systems, like the supermarket, in order to source our food.

Douglas: How can your approach take into account the things that simply must come from afar whether it’s coffee, fish or other foodstuffs that you will never have in your local community?

Benzi: You can still build a local food system that is made up of a lot of nodes. Some of the nodes might be vegetable farmers, some of them might be fruit farmers and some might be specialists in pasteurized chicken eggs. Some nodes might be things that you can’t get locally, and instead you have small local providers that are very good at sourcing some of those things from other places. Every local food system is going to change dramatically from one to the other. You’re going to have a lot of different flavors.

Definition of Collaborative Consumption

Definition of Collaborative Consumption

We’re seeing an economy that’s now a sharing economy. Everybody is becoming not just a consumer but also an active participant. It’s collaborative consumption. Instead of going to a hotel, you can rent somebody’s house. We’re going to see the same thing happen with our food system. You can be both a consumer and an active participant in helping sell local food to your neighbors. That will enable the movement to scale.

Definition of Economies of Community (E.O.C.)

Definition of Economies of Community (E.O.C.)

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 and self-sufficient companies that know it is good business to develop sustainable growing methods.