The Food Commons model is a networked system of physical, ﬁnancial and organizational infrastructure that allows new local and regional markets to operate efﬁciently, and small to mid-sized food enterprises – from farms to processors, distributors, and retailers – to compete and thrive according to principles of sustainability, fairness, and public accountability.
These principles, described in greater detail in the following section, will shape and deﬁne the organizational structures that make up the new food system. They will be institutionalized in bylaws, supply chain agreements, and pricing that encourage and reward not only high-quality food products, but also products and business practices that result in community beneﬁts, environmental protection, equitable treatment of all participants, and long-term economic value creation.
This values-based approach to system design is not without precedent. Successful examples of innovative economic models founded on similar democratic and cooperative principles include the Mondragon Co-operative network in Spain, the Organic Valley Co-op in the U.S., and the VISA International ﬁnancial services organization. Our vision combines the experience of paradigm-shifting systems such as these with the thousands of examples of successful small and mid-sized food entrepreneurs and enterprises around the United States.
The Food Commons infrastructure has three key components:
1) Food Commons Trust. Independent, small, sustainable and social balance oriented entrepreneurs need access to land, facilities, and infrastructure. The Food Commons Trust would own and develop the physical assets necessary to produce, process, and market local food products. It would then lease this land and facilities to participating small farms and businesses at affordable rates, thereby creating dozens of small food enterprise ownership opportunities for those who might not otherwise be able to get access to land and buildings.
2) Food Commons Financing Arm. The nascent local food economy will require specialized ﬁnancial institutions that understand the small-scale food businesses and the special needs of their communities. While some communities are fortunate to have local lending institutions that could provide these services, the communities most in need may not, and few communities have institutions that truly understand “triple bottom line” businesses. Not-for-proﬁt, community-oriented Food Commons Financing Organizations would serve that specialized need.
3) Regional Food Hub. A coordinating entity is needed to facilitate the complex logistics of aggregation and distribution between all the moving parts of the system, and to create new small food businesses and help them achieve economies of scale in their administrative, marketing, and human resources and other business functions. Regional Food Hubs will provide these services, as well as technical assistance, specialized vocational training, and other functions as needed in specific regions.
The Food Commons system would provide multiple economic, environmental and community beneﬁts:
Benefits of the Food Commons System
- Creation of thousands of new small and mid-sized farms and food enterprises, including greater access to local and other markets
- Creation of tens of thousands of jobs constructing new infrastructure
- Increased economic viability and enhancement of existing small and mid-sized farms and food enterprises that elect to participate in the system
- Reduced transaction costs for small to medium scale producers
- Creation of new ‘living-wage’ jobs in local food production, processing, distribution, marketing and food service
- Urban and rural economic revitalization and increased retention and recirculation of wealth within local economies
- Reduced food transportation distances and footprint
- Greater natural resource conservation and farmland preservation
- Expansion of “green” food and farming businesses and practices
- Greater practice of re-cycling, re-use and renewal within whole systems
- Increased access to healthier, higher quality, and affordable foods by consumers at lower and middle income levels through the creation of new local retail outlets linked by the system to achieve scale efficiencies
- Reduction of diet-related chronic disease as a result of increased consumption of nutritious, fresh and locally-sourced foods
- Reduced healthcare costs and at the same time a healthier citizenry
- Increased local and national food security and system resilience through decentralization of food production and distribution infrastructure
- Higher labor standards resulting in improved wages and working conditions for all participants in the system
- Transparent value chains that may result in more balanced distribution of proﬁts across the system and increased entrepreneurship
- Increased local control and public accountability for stewardship of food system resources
- Increased food safety and reduced vulnerability to natural disasters, industrial mishaps, and terrorist events