The LFE Model Revealed
Just what did I do in Croatia for two weeks? Well, besides eating a lot of great food, seeing some sights and interviewing a lot of people I produced the following model of our local food systems. My hope is that it will serve as a platform to springboard our culture into more sustainable and even regenerative food systems.
Defining sustainable agriculture
As a general rule sustainable agriculture is the practice of farming ecologically or organically. From there the definitions vary widely. Here are two:
“Must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.” [John Ikerd, as quoted by Richard Duesterhaus in “Sustainability’s Promise,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (Jan.-Feb. 1990) 45(1): p.4. NAL Call # 56.8 J822]
Rather than focusing only on the economic viability of the crops, sustainable agriculture also involves using nonrenewable resources effectively, growing nutritious foods and enhancing the quality of life of the farmers [source – Department of Agriculture – http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/agnic/susag.shtml
In examining different definitions of sustainable agriculture and food systems the following emerge as core concepts:
- Creating a healthy environment and communities,
- High outputs relative lower to inputs,
- Energy efficiency and low carbon impact,
- No waste,
- Organic processes,
- Human scale (small to mid-size farms and aimed largely to regional markets),
- Healthy for the land and for people,
- Integrated into communities,
- Supportive of a decent livelihood for farmers and rural villages, and
- Fair and just in the distribution of costs and benefits.
The process of creating this ‘healthy’ and transforming to ‘sustainable farming’ starts with a conscious change. To begin to distinguish how to access this conscious change we can look to nature for clues. There is a worldwide movement called “permaculture,” and with it’s ethic of ‘Care for the Earth, Care for Life and Share the Surplus’ it draws on these natural systems to help inform the design of more sustainable human systems.
One example of this overlay of nature on human systems can be looked at through the nitrogen cycle, nature’s way of breaking down waste. Permaculture looks at the nitrogen cycle and all the different ways that nature breaks down waste then replicates the processes by creating and integrating ways of composting, worm composting, sheet mulching and soil building. Each of these methods is designed to break down biological waste into its usable constituents so they can be directed elsewhere for use – generally as fertilizer.
Permaculture informs this process of building a sustainable system through extended observation at a very basic level. Steps in this process generally include:
- Design – in small incremental steps
- Implement design steps
- Redesign, adapt and implement
- Then start again
As a general survey here is a list of methods of growing food that lead to sustainable farming. This is in no way an exhaustive list, just one to set the stage for what sustainable farming might be. They include:
- Minimize the use of toxins
- Farm organically
- Allow fields to sit fallow
- Increase and nurture biodiversity
- Incorporate alternative energy
- Increase crop, wildlife and microbial diversity
- Crop rotation
- Use IPM – Integrated pest management
- Attract beneficial insects
- Managed grazing
- Conserve Water/Make best use of water resources
- Growing to sell locally
- Concentrate on building healthy soil
- Grow to increase the nutritional value of food
- Treat animals ethically and minimize suffering
Defining a Sustainable Food System
What is a sustainable food system? As a place to start let’s use the SAREP definition of sustainable food system (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, from the Agricultural Sustainability Website at UC Davis: http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/sfs/def).
“A sustainable community food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a place. Farmers, consumers and communities partner to create a more locally based, self-reliant food economy. One of the most important aspects of a sustainable community food system is that they increase resident participation to achieve the following goals:
- A stable base of family farms that use sustainable production practices and emphasizes local inputs;
- Marketing and processing practices that create more direct links between farmers and consumers;
- Improved access by all community members to an adequate, affordable, nutritious diet;
- Food and agriculture-related businesses that create jobs and recirculate financial capital within the community;
- Improved living and working conditions for farm and food system labor;
- Creation of food and agriculture policies that promote local or sustainable food production, processing and consumption, and
- Adoption of dietary behaviors that reflect concern about individual, environmental and community health.”
Defining a Food Economy
Loosely speaking the food economy consists of the “farm to table” process of:
- Growing Soil & Food
- Collection and Distribution
This food economy system is usually understood by the general public as a straight line starting with the producer and ending with the consumer. A sustainable food system in contrast is one in which the cycle of food “waste” is not disposed of but used as a resource to grow the next generation of food crops. In fact a key piece to making any process sustainable it to view the waste as an asset and use it as such.
Defining a Local Food Economy
Generally we all eat, multiple times per day, which means that we are all participating in the food economy every day. When viewed the food system from the macro level it is pervasive, touching virtually every aspect of our lives with the entire process being embedded in a larger set of economic relations. Think of it this way: without food our entire system stops. Given this we encourage communities to develop strategies for creating a prosperous and sustainable local food system.
A local food system or economy encompasses all of the parts needed to create and perpetuate: growing, harvesting, collecting, distributing, preparing, eating, composting, and recycling farm and food waste. Below is a conceptual model called the LFE Model or Local Food Economy Model for framing out a local food system that Miguel Jardine and I have been working on.
Our model seeks to build the infrastructure and processes required to facilitate the movement of food from farm to table and back again while supporting and feeding the population in a defined area. This process is inclusive of: whole systems thinking; community engagement & inclusion; transparency & traceability; community empowerment & development; and community preparation.
The LFE is:
- Based on a regenerative natural system and not the human-constructed unsustainable system that is currently in place.
- A method to increase consumer access to a healthier, fresh and more nutritious foods.
- A method to keep food, jobs, and kunas in the local economy
- A collaborative process, especially in the beginning stages of transitioning from a competitive individualistic profit-dominated economy to a collaborative, community-centered economy.
- Designed to create a scalable and sustainable economic model for growing, harvesting and distributing locally grown organic products including; vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, beverages, botanical and medicinal products.
- A decentralized/open sourced model. It becomes an asset of the local community and cannot be owned or controlled by any one entity. In fact, the more players in the market the stronger the entire system becomes. This distributed model replicates the web of nature, with more connections in place the stronger the system becomes.
- A model of cooperation that includes some to many people contributing in each of the seven areas outline below.
- A process that grows healthy food and creates jobs.
- Inclusive of each of the seven parts as without one area the entire system doesn’t work.
- Builds resilience and preserves the diversity of a locally adapted and heritage-based food system. It treats food not solely as a commodity to be sold but as a tool for increasing the security, health and prosperity of the entire community.
- Reduces the use of fossil fuels for transportation and the carbon footprint of the food system.
- Leads to greater food security, local self-determination, and food sovereignty. http://www.foodsovereignty.org
- A self-reinforcing process where communities will realize continued economic, social, environmental and cultural development by reinvesting in the local food system to support local farm jobs, families, environmental quality, and cultural heritage.
These are seven components to a Local Food Economy.
- Education. This includes offering farmers new crops, new markets, and new ways to farm, as well as teaching the community about their roles in creating a sustainable LFE. Many types of educational programs can be implemented, such as practical training for farmers, school programs, field trips for students, cooking & gardening classes, and college degree programs.
- Farming Methods. A key piece of the LFE is distinguishing the different kinds of sustainable farming methods that work for each particular area. Possibilities include: organic farming, greenhouse culture, hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, aquaculture and wild crafting & harvesting.
- Harvesting and Distribution. It is often said that only half of farming is growing food, the other half is harvesting, cleaning, processing, packaging, marketing & distribution. Having the local infrastructure to move the food from farm to plate is essential to building this model.
- Local Seeds. Without seeds there is no food. Building a strong seed saving system is imperative to building a resilient local food system. This accomplishes two objectives: It builds a strong bank of seeds to support growing local food, and second as seeds are grown and saved over multiple seasons they adapt to the climate and growing conditions of the area, adapting them to be more resilient to climate change. A perfect example of this is Podravka’s heritage seed preservation program.
- Create Farmers. Without farmers there is no food. Creating a strong support system for recruiting new farmers, making farm production profitable, and building sustainable farming skills supports the LFE. Typically student organizations, business and professional organizations, government agencies, social clubs, and family heritage, are instrumental in encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.
- Culture. Food is much more then a market commodity or sustenance; it reflects the history and defines cultural values of an area, builds social bonds and brings together the community. This category is inclusive of: Celebrating food through food festivals & events; food art in restaurants, muralists, musicians; food banks & programs for the underserved; specialty foods, wine & beer; physical & mental health; policy & governance; and the written word.
- Value Added Products are the icing on the cake, literally. This is the process of taking all the things that are being grown and making them into more valuable products that reflect local food and culture. This often takes time, money, creativity, and collaboration with others. It is an ideal opportunity for those who don’t farm to become a part of the food economy. Ideas for this include turning: kale into kale chips; fruit into jam or baby food; and peppers, eggplant, garlic, vinegar and salt into Ajvar.
The Local Food Economy Economic and Job Impact
The reach of the local food infrastructure is vast, literally touching every aspect of our lives. In each one of these areas there are jobs created and money changing hands. This bottom up model is one that can quickly create significant change by creating many new jobs. These are examples that we have seen in Koprivnica that build and feed this model:
- The Beekeeper
- Employs himself
- Purchases bee supplies for hives and bee health
- Harvests honey, wax, bee pollen and propolis
- Purchases jars and labels
- Sells to end consumers and to Podrovkra
- Podrovka repackages and sells to end consumers and resells to restaurants and coffee houses in packets.
- The New Farmer Family
- Employs family – two people
- Purchases infrastructure items such as a 35,000 kuna soil tiller
- Purchases seeds and plant starts
- Purchases growing supplies and fertilizers
- Grows food and sells at the daily farmers market
- The Longtime Farmer Family
- Employs family – 6 people
- Purchases infrastructure, equipment, greenhouses, watering systems
- Purchases seeds and plant starts
- Grows for the daily market
- The Chef Family – A husband and wife
- Purchases locally grown food at the farmers market from farmers
- Creates and sells a value added product by preparing and delivering meals
- Purchases jars, produce and supplies to make Ajvar
- Creates and sells Ajvar as a value added product
- The Small Orchardist
- Grows 20 metric tons
- Employees family of four people for picking, packing, deliver
- Purchased trees and orchard infrastructure including tree stakes, tilling and harvesting equipment
- Purchases boxes and other packaging materials
- Sells product wholesale to grocery store chain and farmers market
- The Large Orchardist
- Grows 40 metric tones
- Purchased trees and orchard infrastructure including tree stakes, hail cover, vehicles, harvesting equipment
- Purchases marketing infrastructure including shirts, vehicle wrap
- Purchases boxes and other packaging materials
- Employs people for picking, packing, deliver
- Employees include accountants, graphic and web designers, office staff
- Sells product wholesale to Jara.com.hr
- Jara processes and packages apples into juice
- The Home Gardener
- Purchases plant starters
- Harvests food for use at educational center
For the urban dweller participating in the local food economy begins here:
- Level 1 – Buy and support local.
- Support the local Koprivnica farmers market and buy from a local farmer.
- Level 2 – Farm, grow your own food, attend a community event, join a community garden, jump in and participate. See list of farmers and producers above.
- Level 3 – Organize your own event
- Udruga Kopriva is hosting a permaculture workshop on June 25 featuring Greg Peterson
- Level 4 – Start your own organization