Posted on November 18, 2009 - by Lisa Madison
By: Zachary Adam Cohen
Originally posted on Farm to Table
In order to break through and become a mainstream movement, the local sustainable food movement needs several things to happen.
1. We need leadership
There are too many disparate leaders in the movement. Michael Pollan is an obvious choice, but he’s made his decision to use journalism and education as his tools. And he’s made great strides in educating so many of us, raising our level of awareness and giving many of us our mission statements in life. That in itself will assure that Pollan will be remembered and revered for a long time to come.
But Michael Pollan cannot do it on his own. And neither can Joel Salatin.
We need leadership at every level. In every city, rural community we need civic leaders who are local sustainable advocates. We need people on both the inside and outside of local and state governments who see the redemptive value of local food sheds and work hard to reform.
We need educators, writers, entertainers, and advocates working in concert to drive the conversation forward. No progress will be made unless the American public can be educated and instructed on how to make the necessary changes. This is happening now, but we need to redouble our efforts, use every opportunity to work together, and put down petty differences. It shocks me to realize how many divisions exist within the local sustainable food movement. These division are already slowing our efforts. They will continue to do so if we cannot find a way to work together. I am amazed at how the most minor differences prevent passionate, driven people from working together.
We need to get organized, and quickly. We need website communities, we need local organizations talking to one another.
2. We Need the Business Community to Get On Board
The local sustainable food movement needs, very badly, for entrepreneurs to lead the way. America is a country built on capitalist principles, and despite the shakiness that form of capitalism currently projects, no serious change happens in America without the business community either supporting or leading.
The local sustainable food movement can also benefit from the inclusion and assistance of America’s vast entrepreneurial and finance networks. There is plenty of money to be made in the local sustainable world: healthy profit margins, impressive return-on-investment, and activity in this sphere has the added benefit of healing the land, nourishing our citizens and strengthening our communities. That is a compelling reason to invest.
Investors need to get out there. They need to meet with the farmers and artisans that will create the opportunities. They need to bring their fantastic ability to identify opportunities into the sustainable food world. They will be amazed at what they see.
But there are quarters within the local sustainable movement that are suspicious of American business. After all, wasn’t it our blind pursuit of profit through industrialized methods that gave us the totally broken food system we have now? The answer is Yes and No. The consciousness level is currently at a place where we understand what works and what doesn’t. We have the history, we have the knowledge. We know what doesn’t work. And it’s time for business to recognize what does work, and support it.
The point remains that the local sustainable food movement remains a niche movement unless the amazing energy and persistence of American investors can be geared towards developing the hundreds, even thousands, of local sustainable food opportunities into successful businesses. This is what the business community can do:
Learn the vocabulary of the local sustainable food movement.
Understand and sympathize with the passion and concerns of the farmers, artisans, chefs and others involved in the production and consumption of good food.
Accept the fact that their return on investment may be lower than they are accustomed to.
This last point is a sticky one. The truth is that there is plenty of money to be made in the local sustainable world, but the manner in which it is going to be made will be quite different than the wealth creation heretofore known in this country. We will need investors who understand that it is better to be a part of a business that grows more slowly but that is sustainable, rather than the quarterly focus on growth to which we are accustomed.
3. Government Needs to Reform or Get Out of The Way
As Dawn Gifford laid out in her essay, 13 Ways to Create a Sustainable Food Tipping Point, massive governmental reform is a necessity. We’ve got to end or scale back agricultural subsidies. Government needs to roll back its “Go big or get out” mentality. And perhaps most of all, government needs to stop impeding small sustainable enterprises. We now know that local and federal government often prevents the emergence of real competition by carving out laws that make it nearly impossible for small new businesses to enter and serve new markets. This has to stop.
What are the other developments need to take place in order to bring the local sustainable food movement into the mainstream? Please join the discussion and leave your comments below!