Foodshed Strategy is a project of Transition Centre (http://www.transitioncentre.org).
Bill Sharp © 6/24/2020
This paper addresses the question “What is a foodshed?” That involves a number of other important questions including:
What is the current food system?
Does the current system make sense?
Is it secure and sustainable?
Why should we want to change agriculture?
How can that be done? What are the barriers?
What are the environmental, economic and social benefits?
This paper also provides a strategy for developing a more robust local food system. The opportunity to create something new, to replace something less than desirable, often comes as a result of crisis. The Chinese word for crisis has been interpreted to contain the symbols for danger and opportunity. We are in the beginning of what is already the fourth worst global economic crisis on record. As we rebuild the economy there are opportunities for innovation. There is an opportunity to develop a resilient alternative. That starts with local food.
The unprecedent 2020 Crisis put our global economic system to the test. We don’t know how long it will take the pandemic to run its course. We are only beginning to get the feel of how deeply it will impact the global economy and, for that matter, the food system. There is a long list of contingencies that will have to be worked through.
People have worried about the instabilities of modern industrial society for a long time. There is an ancient apocalyptic myth symbolized by the four horsemen (war, famine, plague and death). I think there is a fifth horseman in our day: the inherent instability of highly complex and energy-driven systems. The larger the scale, the greater the energy needed just to maintain it. It is always out of equilibrium. Economic and political instability, environmental issues and other forces of nature increase complexity and the demand, the energy needed for, management. There is a point where complexity becomes chaos. At a global scale, problems can be extremely difficulty to solve. At a local level, while still complex, they become more manageable.
Statement of a Problem
Developing local foodsheds has been a popular idea for some time. Recent events related to the pandemic and economic downturn raise the bar on developing them. There are a number of factors we must consider resulting from the crisis that provide context for our way forward. They define resiliency. Pandemic lockdowns have changed lifestyles dramatically. There is a lot of talk about the “New Normal.” Let’s take a look at some of the leading trends:
The first of these, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic. Pandemics are not that rare if rarely this severe. We have to understand that this could happen again. We need to take steps to ensure that such events are more manageable in the future. Greater local resiliency is suggested. That starts with the food system.
Global supply chains were already challenged. Shutdowns and panic buying put our distribution networks of goods and services to the test. This gives us a chance to think about where we get the stuff we need and want. How can we reduce our dependencies on an extended supply chain?
Digital commerce skyrocketed. Digitalization of retail trade was already well underway and adversely impacting local brick and mortal businesses. With lockdowns, digital marketing became more robust and normalized. This will have a continuing impact on local retail, businesses and jobs. A shift to more local agriculture is a beginning in diversifying local economies.
Social distancing and social media have affected the office workspace. Again, a trend already underway but now become accelerated and widely acceptable. Major corporations have announced that they will continue distant work. This in part allows them to close expensive office space in cities. This trend too will have a structural impact.
Schools were also closed and safely reopening them is a severe challenge. Going to school is deeply embedded in our way of life but alternative schooling has become more acceptable. More parents working at home mean that more students can learn at home. We may expect new markets to open in distant learning.
The economic downturn affects government tax and fee revenues – the money that keeps things running. It is obvious that the national debt will soar. It is also clear that state and local governments face bankruptcy. And this is a census year. Shifts of populations for any of a variety of reason affect distribution of public funds.
Colleges and universities closed and successfully shifted to online education. Again, the trend was already well established but they too are brick and mortar institutions. Closures have been very hard on many and some will close. Others will struggle with the challenges of reopening, reduced enrollment and, now that it has been demonstrated as an effective alternative, a growing preference for online learning. In May 2020 the California State University system, the fourth largest in the country, announced it has cancelled classes for the fall semester at all 23 of its campuses. Those that plan plan to reopen must do so under demanding constraints and for a short semester in anticipation of a COVID resurgence.
Relatively little has been said about the communities that host students. College and university town economies are founded on housing, feeding, clothing, transporting and providing services to students. Athletic events and graduations bring in considerable revenue. Continued closures, even partial, would be harmful to these local economies. As with factory closures of the recent past, small college towns could become a new “rustbelt.”
There is a surge in social unrest, protest and confrontation with established institutions. There are issues that have remained unresolved for decades and a demand that changes be made. The demand for equity will shape the question of economic recovery. The US government that forms in 2021 will face unprecedented challenges.
Lockdowns changed personal habits. A lot of people, at least in more suburban settings, are saying that their lifestyle has become more relaxed. They enjoy more sunsets. They chat with their neighbors. Many children have adjusted to life at home. They’ve found new ways to learn, to play and to share time with their friends. A significant number of families who can may choose to continue a more home-centered life.
The 2020 Crisis represents a perfect storm – an immensely complex, indeed chaotic, event. It impacted everything we know. We are at a turning point and we have choices. Will it be a return to business as usual or is there something perhaps more desirable? I think we can accept the fact, that changes will be required.
As the pandemic runs its course, it is clear that local communities are going to have to take on more of the responsibility for shaping their future. We need to recover, adapt, and move to a higher level of planning our future for greater community resiliency.
Building sustainable, resilient, communities is not a new idea. It is a good idea. But it has not been an imperative. Now, as communities find they must adapt, they will find a great deal of information about alternatives. Transition Centre has developed a Resiliency Blueprint which outlines these alternatives. Foodshed is but one, albeit the foundation for achieving greater community resiliency. This paper outlines that program.
What is a Foodshed?
A foodshed is a geographic region from which a community draws its food and agricultural products. A study of food reaching Chicago in 1998 reported that it traveled an average of just over 1,500 miles. That distance had increased significant (from 1,200) in just 20 years. Another study about that time, for Ontario, came up with just over 2,800 miles. Tracking from sources in South America, banana’s travel an average of 4,600 miles. Bananas, harvested green (unripen) and mildly refrigerated, will last three to four weeks. They are shipped by sea. This is true of many fruits and vegetables. There is also considerable shipment by air freight for more perishable foods.
With some notable exceptions, before the age of steam, foodsheds were highly localized – typically a radius of only a handful of miles. There were few large cities. There were exceptions but the vast majority of the people living in the preindustrial age lived off the surrounding country.
Localized foodsheds can be identified with regional topographies and thus have geographic identities. My community, for example, is identified with the Appalachian valley and ridge bioregion that occupies a narrow wedge in south-central Pennsylvania. It is a highly distinctive region of wooded hills and fertile valleys. My community is more immediately identified with a small and distinctive watershed of some 400 square miles. It is a university town surrounded by a small “urban” built environment. We are in a large, fertile and well-watered valley some 60 miles long surrounded by low mountains. There are a large number of Amish farmers at one end of that valley. This valley could easily supply the bulk of our agricultural needs.
By comparison, the New York City foodshed can be largely defined by the Hudson River Valley – an area of abut 13,000 square miles. On a larger scale, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, of which we are a tiny branch, is 64,000 square miles but it encompasses a large number of prospective foodsheds.
There is a great deal of academic research on foodsheds across the country. Planners have also been busy doing their work. Both the science and art of foodshed planning are thus well advanced. The literature, however, is fragmented. Transition Centre is working to develop model foodshed strategies for a variety of environments.
The local food movement has been underway for some time. Nevertheless, on the average, less than one percent of food consumed is from local sources. Scaling up from 1%, however, is a daunting undertaking. The State of Vermont has been perhaps the most successful model of foodshed development having achieved 13% local food (see below).
The commercial food system is very well established. It is a complex market. It will take a robust level of business innovation to make local scaling possible. This requires major innovations in production and exacting attention to local markets. This document seeks to lay the foundation for that development. First let’s look at the current food system.
Agriculture, food and related industries, contributed $1.05 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, a 5.4-percent share. The output of America’s farms contributed $132.8 billions of this sum—about 1 percent of GDP. Other sectors related to and relying on agriculture – include forestry, fishing, and related activities; food, beverages, and tobacco products; textiles, apparel, leather products; food and beverage stores; and food service, eating and drinking places – made up the balance.
The US is able to produce its own foods and other agricultural products. In 2018 the US exported $144 billion in agricultural products and imported $121.5 billion. Exports are predominately soybeans, corn, tree nuts, beef, pork, wheat, prepared foods, cotton, dairy and fresh fruits. We import seafood, fruits and nuts, vegetables and red meats.
There are a lot of players in the food system who share the revenue. The farmer, the actual producer, receives about 6.7 cents of every dollar ($405 per capita) spent on food at the grocery store. Most farms in America are small. More than 95% of all farms in the U.S. are family owned and operated. Small farmers often have other jobs. Large farms are typically part of agribusiness. Agribusiness includes business that suppliy farm inputs, such as machinery, chemicals and seeds; which between them gets about as much of the food dollar as do farmers. The local grocery stores get another 13.6% and eating and drinking establishments 33.7%. The rest (45%) is the cost of doing business. That cost of doing business includes food services overhead where food is only about 30% of the cost of meals served.
· 11.6% Farm and Agribusiness
· 18.6% Food Processing
· 4.0% Packaging
· 10.3% Energy and Transportation
· 4.4% Finance and Insurance
· 3.8% Advertising, Legal and Accounting
· 3.8% Other
· 33.7% Food Services
· 13.6% Retail Trade
A great deal of agriculture production is not for food. In 2012, biofuels accounted for roughly 7.1 percent of total US transportation fuel consumption, or 13.8 billion gallons. Ethanol, accounting for 94 percent of all biofuel production, is made mostly from corn with 28.5% of corn crop used for ethanol in 2019/20 (down from average 38% as in 2018/19). Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils (chiefly soy oil) as well as animal fats, waste oils, and greases. About 30% of US soybean production is used for biodiesel (with another 47% exported). Of the crop cash receipts of $196.2 billion in 2018, corn and soybeans accounted for 43.9 percent of the total.
Feedstock for animal production represented 36% of agricultural production. It takes a lot of land and water and agricultural chemicals to make meats. The demand for meat is on the rise around the world.
In 2018, there were 22.0 million full- and part-time jobs in the agricultural and food sector—more than one-tenth of total U.S. employment. There were about 2.6 million jobs on farms, or 1.3 % of U.S. employment. There were 19.4 million other jobs in agriculture and food-related industries. Of this, food service, eating and drinking places accounted for the largest share with 12.8 million jobs and food/beverage stores supported 3.2 million jobs. The remaining agriculture-related industries together added another 3.4 million jobs.
In 2018, food represented 12.9-percent of the average American household's expenditures. That was third highest expenditure behind housing (32.8 percent) and transportation (15.9 percent). U.S. consumers spend the least amount on food compared to consumers in any other country.
In 2018, the average U.S. household food expenditure amounted to approximately $7,923 per household (2.5 persons, so this comes to $3,169/person). It was $6,602 in 2013. Food was 12.6% of the median household income ($63,030.00) in 2019 – or 8.8% of the average household income ($89,930.70). Overall these figures represent the income of people in the middle class. These numbers can be deceptive. Median income is that value exactly halfway between the lowest and highest while average is the total income divided by the total households. Middle-class Americans, about half the total, have incomes ranging generally from approximately $45,000 to $160,000.
US population was 328.2 million in 2018 and there is a wide disparity of incomes. These averages are particular skewed by poverty (11.8%) at one end of the curve and wealth at the other. The threshold for a US household to be in the top 1% in 2019, for example, was $475,116.00. The one percent owned 32.4% of the US net worth in 2019. For the top 10%, the threshold was $328.551. The top ten percent owned 69.4% of the US net worth in 2019.
Food expenditures, and the types of foods consumed, vary according to income with roughly half the US population in the lower range. Food insecurity in the US was close to 16% (2017) of the population. There are numerous food deserts in American cities and in much of rural America were the average distance between food markets is 25 miles. Of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in a survey of progress in thirty American cities, Goal 2, Zero Hunger, ranked last.
There is a lot of nutritionally related illness in the US. Quality foods can be difficult to obtain and too costly for the lower half of the US population. Much of our retail food is highly processed. There are excessive quantities of starches, fats and sweeteners in such products. The rising level of obesity and incidence of type 2 diabetes is largely attributed to poor food quality. Life expectancy in the US was already on the decline. A local food system provides healthier foods. It produces fresh and/or frozen food products.
A very high percentage, in the range of 30 – 40%, of food is wasted in the US. The majority of this waste is in the home. It goes down the garbage disposal or into the landfill.
The COVID – 19 pandemic resulted in empty store shelves. Supply chains were disrupted. Farmers were heavily impacted. Food processing facilities were closed. It is clear that our national and global food systems have vulnerabilities. Localized food systems would be more manageable and more secure.
Global Food System
Since the dawn of human civilization, food and economy have been virtually synonymous. Until modern times, communities were largely self-sufficient by necessity. There were some notable exceptions, such as Greece and Roman, that developed efficient cargo ships to move grains and other commodities around the Mediterranean Sea. The advent of steam power technology dramatically changed food distribution.
Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, agriculture has become an industry, increasingly global in extent and increasingly energy intensive. It has become highly centralized and controlled by a small group of major corporations. There are risks which include drought conditions around the world, conflict, political antagonisms and, particularly, resource scarcity. Shifting, erratic and extreme weather patterns have an impact on the global agricultural industry. A survey of multinational corporations placed water as the number one supply chain risk factor. Considerable farmland has been and continues to be lost as a result of erosion and urban development. The growing populations of those cities demanding food.
The highly mechanized food system upon which the world now depends is vast, unimaginably complex. Reliable production of adequate foods and agricultural products is dependent upon a large variety of factors of both natural and of human origin. It takes a computer to manage large farms. A great deal of science has gone into industrial agriculture. There is a lot of chemistry. Crops are genetically altered for maximum production. Out of thousands of strains of food crops, we have narrowed the range to a relatively few varieties of food and these largely monocultures. Energy, particularly petroleum, continues to drive food production. A massive network of global organizations has been set up to finance and support development.
Over the past century and a half, the global food system has been a more or less successful race against Malthus. Malthus predicted that population would outstrip food production. Then came the industrial revolution. Over the course of the twentieth century global population nearly quadrupled. At current rates there will be nearly ten billion people living in 2050. More than one-tenth of the world population is undernourished. Roughly one in eight people in the US are food insecure. And that was up to 2019. This is not a model that gives one confidence in the future.
The United Nations has set, and many organizations have adopted, a set of goals for sustainable development. These consists of providing a minimum of the basic needs for all people including food and health, reducing poverty and providing a variety of social services. Emerging economies are working hard to pursue higher standards of living. Achieving these goals will place additional demands on finite and non -renewable resources. Continued growth of population is the major stress factor. The 2020 Crisis as further stressed the economic system.
Not So Green Revolution
Agriculture is energy intensive. While not all of it is produced just by burning fossil fuels, US agricultural greenhouse emissions is 9% of total. The global share of greenhouse gas emission from agriculture is far higher. Over the course of the twentieth century and particularly during and following World War II, agriculture in the US has been increasingly mechanized – from horses to tractors to computer-driven harvesting, but also a lot of transportation, refrigeration and food processing involved.
Draft animals had to help produce more energy on the farm than needed to grow food and fiber. Farmers grew their own fodder and more for urban animals used for transportation. The model was of necessity sustainable. Now it takes an average of eight calories of energy to produce each calorie we consume. This is not sustainable. Eliminating draft animals opened more acreage to crop production but, as noted above, increasing shares of crops are going into biofuel production. As energy cost rise, so too do food cost. Fossil fuels will not last forever.
During the 1960s there was a movement to extend extensive mechanical agriculture to developing countries. This involved farm machinery, irrigation pumps, genetically modified seeds, and farm chemicals including fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. It was a humanitarian effort to address famine in much of the world. But it was driven by energy. The movement was ironically labeled the Green Revolution. It was more the color of oil. Petroleum is used to produce agricultural chemicals, packaging materials and other things.
Since the beginning of the “Green Revolution,’ world population has risen rapidly and with it the demand for food. The current rate of growth of agriculture demand is 1.5% per year. The massive agriculture industry has responded. Recently, McKinsey and Company, a $10 billion-dollar global consulting firm, published a prospectus on the potential of the agricultural industry; and yes, it is industrial agriculture.
McKinsey noted that the global food and agribusiness is a $5 trillion industry, represents ten percent of global consumer spending, 40% of employment and 30% of greenhouse emissions. They estimated a 70% increase in demand for crops for human consumption by 2050 and a 100% increase in crops for animal feed as the developing world adds protein to its diet. They also noted the increasing use of food crops for energy production.
The major restraints they found include: “40 percent of water demand in 2030 is unlikely to be unmet. Already, more than 20 percent of arable land is degraded.” In another study of multinational corporations a few years ago, water was listed as the number one risk factor in the global supply chain; followed by energy, other mineral resources and consequently agricultural products in general.
McKinsey acknowledged the effect of the depletion of natural resource and climate change. They also noted the diminishing returns in productivity gains – dropping by half, from 2% to 1% since the 1960s and 1970s. That one percent represents 150 kilocalories per day in reduced world food supply. The expected contingencies, they stated, will likely introduce volatility in both input and output prices on the order of what has been seen with oil and metals.
McKinsey sees these demands and constraints as an opportunity for financial investors. The focus is on technologies; thus, the need to “produce more with less.” They stated that from 2004 to 2013 global investments in agribusiness had grown threefold to more than $100 billion and that these investments have generated higher than average returns to shareholders. The growth of “more than 100 publicly traded food-and-agribusiness companies around the world increased an average of 17 percent annually between 2004 and 2013, compared with 13 percent for energy and 10 percent for information technology.” More than half of this growth is in emerging economies.
While financial optimistic in the short run, these data make it clear that the global food system is far from sustainable.
Transition Centre was established to promote development of resilient, which is to say more self-reliant, communities. We developed a preliminary model of a sustainable local economy in 2008.
Transition Centre was registered as a Pennsylvania non-profit organization in 2009. We have shifted our focus from sustainability, that is management of resources, to resiliency, or adaptive innovation. We have three primary themes: Resilient Communities, Foodshed Strategy and Leadership. Our program can be found on our web site at this link.
Local Economies and Food Systems
Our approach is highly localized. Local communities are places people call home. They are of a scale where we find a stronger sense of identity. It is a scale where we more clearly understand what is going on. And it is a scale where we have some control over the course of events. It is increasingly clear that scale and complexity are highly correlated. The greater the complexity the less adaptable and more fragile the system. Local is a scale were, with the proper tools, people can become more self-determining.
We have been seeing a shift towards localization over the past years. Individual municipalities have taken the lead in achieving sustainability goals. There is a considerable dependency on federal, state and foundation funding, but it is clear that there is not enough money to cover the contingencies. The success of national programs has been less than promising. It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all model.
The local food system is the foundation of a resilient community. Upon that foundation can be erected the infrastructure of a robust and resilient local economy. Food is but one of fifteen core modules in the Transition Centre Resilient Communities Blueprint. It is, however, the keystone to local sustainable development. It is also potentially highly achievable where there is land, water and human resources.
Fresh water, arable land, energy and other mineral resources are critical variables in the global food equation. A local food system puts the management of these resources into the hands of your community.
More robust local economies (and resilient communities) address the problem of economic instability. Local economies provide a model for achieving the objective of a more just and equitable world. It is a model that all communities around the world can follow – “raising all boats.” The values and practices of local, self-sufficient communities are virtually universal.
As noted, modern agriculture (along with just about everything else) is driven by energy. Energy is required for production, processing and distribution of food and agricultural products. There is an increasingly high correlation between energy cost and food cost. A local food system can reduce energy inputs and dependencies. Localized economies can produce more of their own energy.
There is a steady rise of food recalls due to both physical and biological contaminations. There were 3,000 food product recalls in the US in 2016. Nearly one in six Americans become sick from foodborne contaminates each year and about 3,000 die. A local food system provides more direct and immediate control of food quality. Accountability is close and immediate.
A local community is a peer-level association. All aspects of community life immediately affect all of its members. Problems are immediately apparent. In democratic societies, there is a powerful feedback loop to identify and correct problems and to do so participatively. A localized economy defines itself. It may have its own currency.
Local Food Market
As noted, until modern times, communities were largely self-sufficient in producing their needs. That was of necessity. How that changed is apparent in US history. With the railroad came a national market. The steamship produced a global economy. Interstate highways completed the network. Refrigeration and canning produced new products and created mass-market distribution networks. We have become dependent upon a vast system over which we have little control.
Over the last few decades the local food movement has grown. Consumers want fresher, better quality, more nutritious foods. The current local food market is a lifestyle niche. Local, organically grown, products are costlier. They require discretionary income. That market must be developed to make it more generally accessible.
Foodshed strategy is about increasing the volume of food produced and consumed locally. “Local” means that the food is grown within a set distance of markets. The larger the market, the larger the size of the foodshed. A community such as mine, under 200,000 people, can draw the majority of its local food from a radius of 25 miles or less. Philadelphia with a metropolitan population of six million, has defined a 100 miles radius. New York City, with twenty million, 150 miles. These radiuses overlap. While suggestive, they require more exacting definition.
A foodshed is defined by available farmland. Where there is good soil and adequate water, communities in the US can grow 95% of what currently appears in grocery stores. The remaining five percent represents optional but popular coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, and such. Strawberries and blueberries may replace citrus in northern climes.
In 2015 the USDA estimated that per capita spending on local food came to just under $27. They estimated the per capita food expenditure that year was $2,810. Local food expenditures were thus just under 1%. According to a Locavore survey, the amount spent on food varies considerably by state.
To expand its market share, local foods must successful compete with the larger food economy. This means providing a better product at a competitive cost. It will take a Silicon Valley scale initiative to make this work. I believe Vermont has prototyped this model, but that approach may not be appropriate for all communities.
Expanding foodsheds requires entrepreneurial motivation. As any ecosystem must, they are required to produce at least as much energy as they consume. That might be construed as “profit.”
Transition Centre Foodshed Strategy
The Transition Centre Foodshed Strategy advocates robust local food systems that provide significant social, economic and environmental benefits for participating communities.
Our strategy is ten percent in ten years. Ten percent provides a more achievable goal. There is also an economic incentive. Given the average American currently spends $3,100 and an established multiplier effect of some 30% in related spending, a ten percent local food strategy provides roughly $400,000 revenue per year per 1,000 people for food and related purchases. That income stays in the community. It can be invested to expand the community’s sustainable economy.
A local foodshed strategy will have to, and can, pay for itself in both tangible and intangible terms. As noted, there is simply not enough money to go around to fund sustainable development. It is thus a business/social/entrepreneurial model. But it is not “business” as usual. Each community is a micro economy that defines itself and not a scientific, global market, extrapolation. Ironically, this was the way a market economy was supposed to have worked.
Economy and ecology have the same root. “Eco” means home. By definition a foodshed strategy is holistic. It embraces the entire community as an ecosystem – people, built and natural environment – of which the foodshed is the foundation.
The list of benefits of a strong local food system are many:
· Reliable source of food
· Business and job development.
· Increase and retain local production revenues
· Healthier food
· Reduce food insecurity/poverty
· Stronger sense of community/place
· Preserve and enhance the environment
· Reduce energy input to produce and distribute food
· Reduce dependence on outside resources
· Increased employment in food and related businesses.
· Greater community self-reliance
· Virtually eliminate food waste
· Greater community security
Creating your foodshed strategy
Every community is unique. Each must determine its own destiny. Or not.
Many communities have local food system strategies. A few, a sample listed below, have comprehensive plans for developing their local food systems. Plans define a vision, provide goals and establish policy. The gap between a good plan and implementation is well known. Achieving plan objectives require serous work. The Transition Centre Resiliency Blueprint provides guidelines to help create effective plans.
While a foodshed strategy and plan is designed to fit local circumstances, our Blueprint is a master template applicable to local/foodshed development anywhere in the world. Around it each community can build its own comprehensive plan and related enterprises.
One cornerstone of the Transition Centre business model is the work of Ralph Borsodi. Borsodi was a leader for many years in a field of resilient living that embraced homesteading, organic food, appropriate technology, land trust, local currency and above all a model of life-long education to help people achieve self-reliance in both the material and spiritual sense. He had a keen appreciation of family and community. We have been restoring his considerable but fragmented and lamentably lost legacy. On the centenary of his establishing a model homestead in 1920, we published a blog with several chapters from an upcoming book at this link.
Borsodi was a critic of centralized commerce and especially food. He was an early consumer advocate. He wrote several books on this topic. He was a leader in the back-to-the-land movement. He developed a landmark model for home production and local economies.
Borsodi was a pioneer in community land trust. He formed his first in 1936. The land trust provides access to land for a small long-term lease rather than a mortgage. In 1967 Borsodi, Schumacher Society (now Schumacher Center for a New Economics) founder Bob Swann, and others incorporated the International Independence Institute (III) based on Borsodi’s land trust model. They sought to secure land for homesteading communities in the US, India (where Borsodi worked for several years and often visited) and elsewhere. In 1967 Bob Swann helped establish a large African American community land trust in Georgia (New Communities) as the first major project associated with the III. The III program became the model of community land trusts. The Schumacher Center continues to lead in promoting community land trust.
Borsodi focused on personal, family and small community self-reliance. Transition Centre has scaled up his approach to embrace larger communities and their foodsheds.
Transition Centre Guiding Principles
I have described a number of the core principles to the Transition Centre business model. To summarize them:
Localization: The place to start is locally. That’s all we can really understand and all we can control. If you can’t change the world, you can change a few square miles of it. It is above all about community and a community is a place where people are aware of each other and mutually supportive.
Ecosystem: A community is an ecosystem and we need to learn how nature designed this concept. The science is at this link. Above all it is a holistic, integral and interdependent network that works to maintain itself.
Vision: A clear and compelling model of what is to be accomplished. The vision must be something more than just a good idea. It is about transcending our current limitations. It is something both practical and essentially human. There is an element of what we may call the spiritual. It requires imagination and innovation. It takes a lot of work. The vision provides the motivation and energy needed to sustain the work.
Transformation: We either accept “business as usual” and bear the consequences or we attempt to undertake effective change. Our age is complex, out of equilibrium; in short problematic. It is in a state of continuous emergency. Our institutions are designed fix the problems and stay the course. They aren’t working well. We will have to do better.
Resiliency: Resiliency is about going beyond emergency management. It is no longer about managing or adapting to changes and emergencies but learning to thrive on challenges. It is about anticipation and preparation. That is, in fact, what nature made us to do.
Regenerative Economy (Link: REconomy): If you want resiliency, you must work on the economy. Unless and until you transform the economy, society and environment will benefit at best marginally. We do not advocate planned or centralized economies but rather a framework for sustainable community and economic development. A healthy economy continuously renews itself. It is essentially a business model; if you want change, it must pay for itself.
Learning: We have the capacity to learn. The human brain is an organism for learning. In order to achieve our potential, we must refine the art and science of learning. Education must be broad and genialized. It gives us access to the accumulated wisdom of our species. We learn in order improve our understand and to build character and virtue but also to solve the practical problems of life.
Leadership: With effective learning resources we can prepare those with a capacity for effective leadership. Leadership is not authority, not dominance, but rather stewardship and inspiration. (See link: Deep Leadership)
Planning: Significant projects require competent planning. The word “plan” is not a noun, it is a verb. Planning is a process, not a thing. An effective plan is a living document. It starts with an exacting statement of the problem/objective. It is not complete until its objectives are satisfactorily achieved.
Organization: Where people work together there must be organization. Under a plan a variety of roles and relationships are formalized, tasks and objective assigned and monitored. Again, it is not about hierarchies and command and control. It is about building a sense of community, of collaboration, of a common purpose.
Margaret Mead was famous for her statement about small groups changing the world. That is more than a platitude. What I call the Mead Minimum, drawn from her work, is five: Someone with an idea and four friends. If successful, they form a small core team around an innovative project or product. Effective, strong and unified, core teams provide the cohesion necessary to grow and maintain an organization
Transformative change is not about doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. New problems require new solutions and that means new thinking – thinking outside of the box. Transformative projects require the ideas embodied in the term “entrepreneurship.” That may be business or social entrepreneurship. They use the same basic tools. There is an art and science to achieving success. It is risky, even scary. It requires discipline and perseverance.
You have to have that plan. A plan starts with a statement of a problem and a compelling reason to address it. It requires one or more objectives. Planning starts with learning and moves into action. Since we have objectives that have not been achieved before, or achieved under different circumstances, we need to learn what we can about the processes involved. As we clearly define the problem, solutions tend to arise.
Transition Centre went deeply into the process of planning itself. We explored a growing literature on sustainability plans: what works and what doesn’t. We learned that few plans were systematic. We understand the disconnect between plans and action. We know that the people who do the plan should be the ones to pursue it. Each model of our Blueprint is a separate plan. There is a team for each. What is of importance is to understand that all of these parts are connected, integral and interdependent. We have evolved a dynamic planning framework.
We have found a large number of promising local foodshed models. Our work on the Borsodi legacy covers related efforts over the course of more than a century. We have the story of the American economy and agriculture. Case studies give us insight, programs and principles of the promising models across the country and around the world.
An outstanding example is the Vermont Farm to Plate program. Our case study for that can be found as this link.
One of my favorite stories is about the Seattle Pikes Place Market. It was a pioneering effort. That market and the neighborhood around it were scheduled for urban “renewal.” Local citizen took up the cause, saved that incredible cultural landmark and established feeder farms around the city. Seattle thus initiated one of the first sustainability cultures in the country. There have been a number of others we have investigated.
One way to get started is with a food council. There are many of them across the country. A food council is a group of stakeholders that provides support to community agencies and citizens in developing policy and programs related to the local food supply. The members of a food council have a solid understanding of the local food system and represent a diversity of community interests. The structure of a food council will vary depending upon the character of the community it serves. For instance, many food councils are designed to advise governments on policy and are referred to as food policy councils, while others focus their energies on work within the community.
Other notable examples that can be quickly found by search are:
Hudson Valley Foodshed
Cleveland 25% Shift.doc
Desert Rose Baha’i School Greening the Sonora (Janet Ruhe-Schoen)
Other dryland foodshed models
Fish 2.0: Sustainable seafood business development
Cleveland 25% Shift
Chesapeake Bay Foodshed Network
 Ten Percent Local Food Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNRs7KopLxU&feature=youtu.be
 Systems Ecology: https://transitioncentre.blogspot.com/2013/10/systems-ecology.html.
 The B, or Benefit, corporation is a recent innovation that requires a business to provide social and or environmental benefit. The model requires transparency. Such businesses are often employee owned.
 Vermont Farm to Plate Program: https://transitioncentre.blogspot.com/2019/04/vermont-farm-to-plate-case-study.html