Catalysing the new regional food economy

1  - Connecting small, regionally owned networks

We will work to encourage "bottom-up economies" by facilitating connections between ethical, regional food businesses, co-operatives, bulk buyers groups and ecological farmers through the Food Connect network of local farmers and artisan foodmakers.  This is in direct contrast to multi-national, globally focussed corporations which dictate market conditions and food policy, through their vertical and horizontal ownership of the food system.  

When thousands of small, independently owned and regionally focussed enterprises form networks in ethical and reciprocal relationships, the local economy benefits without compromising the health of people and the ecology on which the community depends.  These regional food networks develop new social and material infrastructure and create jobs in communities they serve by existing not to become big, but to strengthen each other and magnify the benefits of what they do.

2 - Use public contracts to express public values and create markets for smaller producers

Like the renewable energy sector, public contracts allow governments to enact on public values expressed by the people.  Policies that require a percentage of the federal and state budget be allocated to small, ecological growers in regions will ensure economic viability for rural and regional communities.

A metric-based approach can encourage the food procurement power of public institutions. A national example is Brazil, which passed a law requiring that schools spend 30 percent of their meal budgets on food produced by the country’s millions of smallholder farmers. The program is credited with providing economic viability to that farm sector, through access to a guaranteed market in a direct relationship with government.

Metrics based on these values (such as targets for healthy corner stores, sustainably produced food purchases, and purchases of food from fair labour producers and suppliers) would drive healthy food access, economic viability for the range of participants in the food chain, and a system of agriculture that supports regenerative farming practices.

It is the Food Connect Foundation's firm belief that the Australian food system cannot truly be fair unless we support our First Australians in achieving their own food sovereignty, and for this work we look to author, Bruce Pascoe for leadership and inspiration.  We also draw on the great work of Michael Shuman, Anthony Flaccavento and Kathryn Scharf whose experience in North America demonstrate working examples of community-based, regional food hubs and economic networks building their own success.

Community Food Hub Project

Food Connect has recently transitioned its operations to a multi-farmer /processor /consumer aggregation and distribution enterprise.  Its main activities include retail and wholesale operations with processing facilities that are utilised by five other ethical food businesses.  Currently 89  organic and ecological farmers that are too small to compete in wholesale and too big to operate exclusively in direct to consumer channels work directly with Food Connect.  The Hub improves farmers economic advantage by strengthening their capacity to supply local markets, thereby re-building resilient regional food systems.

Additional investment in the model is planned to take advantage of the burgeoning Social Procurement policies by institutional providers (hospitals, child care, government agencies) and bulk buying clubs.  The long-term plans include scaling to include twenty on-site processors collaborating with farmers on marketing, waste minimisation, logistics, ecological sustainability and local economics.

The Food Hub collaboration will be governed by the Food Connect Foundation through a multi-stakeholder board from farmers to consumers who have oversight on the direction and use of the intellectual property the collaboration develops.

3 - Slow Money

Food Connect Foundation was a founding member / investor in the US-based, Slow Money Alliance, which aims to bring people together around a new conversation about money that is too fast, about finance that is disconnected from people and place, about how we can begin fixing our economy from the ground up... starting with food.

The Slow Money Principles

In order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration, we do hereby affirm the following Slow Money Principles:

I. We must bring money back down to earth.

II. There is such a thing as money that is too fast, companies that are too big, finance that is too complex. Therefore, we must slow our money down -- not all of it, of course, but enough to matter.

III. The 20th Century was the era of Buy Low/Sell High and Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later—what one venture capitalist called “the largest legal accumulation of wealth in history.” The 21st Century will be the era of nurture capital, built around principles of carrying capacity, care of the commons, sense of place and non-violence.

IV. We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.

V. Let us celebrate the new generation of entrepreneurs, consumers and investors who are showing the way from Making A Killing to Making a Living.

VI. Paul Newman said, "I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out." Recognising the wisdom of these words, let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:

  • What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
  • What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
  • What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?

Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-Operative

FCF have been instrumental in setting up Australia's first ever Investment Co-Operative for farms and food businesses that are working to create a better planet and better future for generations to come.  It will enable education, investment & growth opportunities across the organic, regenerative, biodynamic and agro ecology farming and food sector in Australia.  This includes acquisition and long term preservation of organic & regenerative farmland, specific business opportunities & educational pathways.  ORIC is looking for deep & long term involvement of ORICoop members, farmers, stakeholders & investors in the future growth of the Co-operative, land ownership & stewardship in Australia.  

We have also transparently provided access to enterprise information and IP so that others can flourish from our learnings.

We actively partner with advocacy, education and industry organisations such as the Australian Youth Food Movement, RegenAg, Slow Food, Wandering Cooks, Universities and the Social Enterprise sector.  Through our consulting arm, Think Food, we have consulted to firms including ARUP, Lend Lease, Local and State Government agencies.

What does the future food system look like?

50,000 food social enterprises by 2050!  Melbourne City Council asked Robert Pekin to wrap up a session of lightning talks at the EcoCity Food Forum in 2013, where he challenged the room to realise its potential to create a fairer, highly networked, ethical food system.