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Turkish fast food: Real food fast

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What are community food systems?

People are becoming disconnected from nutritious food, active lifestyles, and the natural world.  This leads to physical and mental illhealth.  The community fabric frays.  Small farmers sink under heavy debts and lose their farms and livelihood 

Reconnecting to food, people and the natural environment helps to preserve natural resources, strengthen communities and increase our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

In the last 50 years the food production systems in Western countries have followed a trend towards industrialisation.  Where we were once 80 percent rural, we are now more than 90 percent urban.  We are losing farmers every year, and rural communities are deteriorating socially and economically.  Children are growing up not knowing where their food comes from – not  just where it is produced but also how it is produced.  Some children are unaware that carrots grow under the ground and tomatoes on plants above ground.  They have lost connection to their food.

Changing economic conditions coupled with this dislocation from food sources means that in areas of high poverty in inner cities and remote rural areas people cannot easily access fresh, locally grown produce.  In the past these people would have been able to grow their own or were able to glean local farmers fields, or their neighbours would give them any surplus produce from their gardens.  Without local or community food systems these options don’t exist.

Community food systems are one of the most important ways we can lead a connected life.  These systems connect us to our food, to our local area, to the producers of our food, and other people in the community who belong to the same community food system.

What is a community food system?  I use the term ‘food system’ to refer to all processes involved in providing us with food.  For example, growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming and disposing of food.  The food system also extends outwards to include the inputs needed and outputs generated at each of the processes in the food system.  The system is also influenced at each process by human resources that provide labour, research, development and education.  And then from a system perspective the food system does not operate in isolation but functions within and is influenced by the social, economic and natural environments. 

Food systems can operate at any level.  We feel greatest connection when it operates at the local or community level.  Therefore, a local or community food system is promoted as an ideal – a food system in all processes in the food system occur in the one spatial area and in which all processes have positive benefits to the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of that area. 

Local or community food systems can operate at the bioregion level or at neighbourhood level or at any level in between.  The use of the word ‘community’ instead of ‘local’ puts the emphasis on ‘community’ and on strengthening or developing connections between all processes in the food system.

Local or community food systems are not new. Their history dates back as far as the early agricultural systems when people lived a connected life.  Our current food production systems bear little resemblance to the systems of our forebears. 

The early food production systems involved cooperative activities.  It was the norm for land, implements and the harvest itself to be shared.  Both inputs and outputs were shared.  But over time ownership of land has tended to reside with a select few, and this has been the single most influential factor in the demise of community food systems based on cooperative effort and reward.

It was not until the 1960s in Western countries that the iniquitous access and control of land and resources was challenged.  At this time the ‘hippy era’ voiced dissatisfaction and instigated many social changes that have helped move us towards a more equitable system.  There is still some distance to go but this generation set change in motion.

One of the factors in the food system that has changed in the last fifty years is the distribution of the food dollar.  In the 1950’s 50 percent of every dollar spent on food found its way back to rural communities with farmers getting 35 percent.  People outside the local community didn’t get as great a share, as they do today.  Since the 1950’s the dollar has been captured by agrochemical, feed, and seed companies and by transporters, processors, marketers, and sellers of the produce and food.  Research in the 1990’s found that farmers received only 9 percent of the food dollar.  In this change of distribution of food dollars farmers, communities and local economies have suffered.

One of the reasons farmers are keen to be part of community food systems is because it is a way for them to reclaim a bigger share of the food dollar.  This is a result of direct marketing or of local processing or value-adding to their produce

Some people associate community food systems with the past and not with modernity, but the trend is for reconnection with the past whilst still engaging in modernity.  There is a growing movement towards finding ways to incorporate community food systems into the lives of us all. 

Community food systems are not just the province of the middle class ‘niche’ market.  Currently they are restricted to islands of sanity in the fast world in which we live, but the islands can eventually meld and community foods systems can become the usual food system not the unusual food system.

Community food systems result in increased food security and greater community self-reliance.  These food systems allow us opportunities to support people in our community who are disadvantaged and who may not otherwise have access to fresh, organic food.  We are also able to develop social systems that can support social sustainability.

Community food systems put a face on our food.

The benefits of community food systems are not just in developing connections, there are other ecological benefits as well.  When we localise food and use organic techniques we are able to improve the sustainability of the production system.  Many current food production systems are unsustainable, both environmentally and economically.  Their use of chemicals, monocultures, poor farming techniques and non-traditional seeds means they are not environmentally sustainable.  Current returns to farmers are too low to be economically sustainable.  This has occurred because a greater share of the food dollar has been increasingly captured by manufacturers, processors, and retailers.

Today, there is just too much disconnection with food, its production, producers and traditional food.  We need to find easy, cost effective ways to reconnect and create more meaning in our lives.  This doesn’t mean we all have to move to the country and grow our own food.  Some of us may choose to do this but is not necessary, and it is not possible for many of us who rely on an urban environment for work. 

We can reconnect in a number of ways.  There is a way to suit every body.  Depending on your circumstances you may choose to join a cfs, start a cfs, work on a local farm, start your own vegie garden or community garden.  Community food systems include;

  • Box schemes,
  • Community gardens,
  • Farmers markets,
  • Community supported agriculture,
  • U-Pick-It farms,
  • Roadside stalls,
  • Gleaning and recovery programs,
  • Consumer cooperatives and groups,
  • Farmer cooperatives, and
  • Local shops and restaurants using local food.

I’ll outline these different types of community food systems and then provide you with some useful tips for other ways you can increase your connection to the production of your food and to your community and bioregion.