Do you have enough money?

Will you ever?

Are you making a living or making a dying?

These questions posed in the first edition of Your Money or Your Life are just as fresh and in your face as ever. Does it need a face lift, though, to stay relevant for another generation? Take the survey to help us know the answer.

In just a year Your Money or Your Life will celebrate her 25th birthday. It’s not just a book anymore. It’s a classic. A phenomenon. Nearly a million copies in about a dozen languages. Many tens of thousands of people changed their lives in small and large ways using the tools. Phrases like “Money is life energy” and “No shame no blame” and “Gazingus Pin” have entered the culture.

A new generation has come of age into an even more complex financial world than the one 25 years ago. Rather than one career young people can look forward to 7 or more different jobs. Without the option of very inexpensive state or local schools, most students graduate with frankly obscene debt loads. A BA was enough in 1990. Now an MA is assumed. We wrote the first draft of the book before word processors! Now digital natives can track data and get answers via their phones. However, there’s a perennial wisdom between the covers of Your Money or Your Life. It asks you to examine your assumptions, face your behavior, dig for your values, wrap your mind around a much bigger picture than your one little life and question the money game itself. It’s not about strategies. It’s about your relationship with money, which isn’t just money and the things money can buy. It’s about the good life.

If you would like to help us understand how Your Money or Your Life, in some form, with adaptations and updates, might serve another generation, please take this survey.



If you haven’t gotten to watch my TEDxSeattle talk, now’s the time. It’s a 14-minute encapsulation of the core messages of my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking 2014)

I’m happy to present to you this lighter, easier on the pocketbook version with a subtitle I like a lot more: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet.

Let’s, on this Thanksgiving, reflect on whose hands we are blessing as we sit down to a meal.


Perhaps we start with the hands of God or Gaia or the God of your Understanding as they say in AA. Just imagine. The amazing marriage of sun and seed that brings over a quarter of a million edible and medicinal plants species to us, not by the glory of agriculture but by the glory of the gift of biodiversity. Then imagine…the amazing marriage of plants and animals, plants that capture the energy of he sun and animals that capture that energy through eating plants – and one another. None of this through the brilliance of human intervention.

The earth is designed for all to flourish – and for all to eat from the bounty of our generous Sun. Life sacrifices itself for life to continue, an endless relationship of feeding and being fed, birth to death. A ton of food a year goes through our bodies, life sacrificed that we might life. See infographic below. Continue Reading…

Halloween, 2014

Our first 10-Day Local Food Challenge comes to an official end today – though any day is a good day for a personal local food challenge.

Everyone’s experience this month counts. Those who did it. Those who started and stopped. Those who meant to but didn’t get around to it.

All of you will get the final survey and we hope all of you will use it to let us know how it went. There is no failure. Only information.

Being a local relational eater in a consumerist world takes courage and commitment. A lot of it. We swim against the tide, and the current is strong. The three sirens of consumerism – comfort, control and convenience – are at play in what and how we eat.

Comfort means we might slide into a romance with sugar, salt and fat, the foods our bodies are designed to crave. We may reject new flavors, new foods and the necessity to cook what comes out of the local ground because change itself is uncomfortable. We may not want to be weirdos – out of step with friends and family.

Control means we do not want to face that food isn’t a product, it’s a relationship with the ups and downs of seasons and the climate and that farmers aren’t factory workers, they work hard to supply us with food, often against many odds. The industrial system gives us the illusion of control, but it depends heavily on a diminishing supply of fossil fuel and clockwork supply chains. What looks solid because grocery stores are always stocked is actually fluid and subject to disruption.

Convenience means we are now accustomed to 24/7 grocery stores and pre-cooked foods and claim we are too busy to plan shopping trips and menus and cook in batches from scratch and the other simple skills of now by-gone home-makers (men and women).

How we are going to draw people out of that trance and into what we know as real nourishment is a grand puzzle.

All of us receiving this newsletter are engaged in some way or another in that puzzle – both in changing ourselves and changing the systems that feed us.

The survey will bring these challenges and strategies into sharper focus. Please, when you get the survey, do it. We will probably hound you because your experience is all we have to go on to make an honest assessment of making a local food shift.

Scroll down to read stories from this week on the Facebook group and blog. We’re refining the survey tool now to harvest what we’ve learned; what questions do you want to ask the challengers?

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Report from Vicki on Terra Madre

I just spent a week at the bi-annual Slow Food Conference called Terra Madre coupled with the Salone de Gusto, a bodacious 4-trade-show-halls worth of food tasting from every region of Italy and the world.

Slow Food is the big tent – or barn – that includes most of what local eaters care about. Good food. Shared with friends. Grown in the soils of your region. Tended with care. Cooked with love. Good, clean fair food. It’s what I came to call “relational eating.”

Because I was in the Piedmont region, I gave myself an extra day to go to Alba to eat white truffles and drink barolo wine. It occurred to me that I was doing a perfect 100 mile day. A friend told me that when he went to the annual cheese fair in the neighboring town of Bra, he asked the man at the stall with his favorite cheese about a photo tacked to the back of the booth. It was of an older man with a hand on the shoulder of a boy. “You and your son?” “No, my father and me. Taken right here.”

Local eating comes naturally for people rooted in a place. My experience at Terra Madre and with the 10-Day Local Food Challenge underscores what I learned 4 years ago doing my 10-mile diet: eating is an act of belonging, not just an act of consumption.

Local food isn’t just another product, it’s how you participate in the life and vitality of your place on earth.

Local food compared to anywhere food is, pardon the expression, apples and oranges.

Comfort, control and convenience apples from the 24/7 grocery store can hit the spot, but missing are the hundreds of distinct tastes of heritage apples and the security of knowing that if you care for the trees around you, they will feed you for your whole life and the empowerment of being a co-producer, an actor in your food system. We could also point out that the skins of those anywhere apples are bred to be thick to resist bruising, not to be tasty. And those apples are likely sprayed. And not fresh picked. They are missing the nourishment of context. Of belonging. Of being a living being in a living world, sharing food.

The consumerist mind doesn’t give a hoot about all this really. The Slow Food movement has been working for decades to awaken people to the pleasures of the table and the importance of the thousands of varietals of foods to our humanity.

I’m getting on the Slow Food bandwagon. You can too. Join.

What Challengers are learning

Maghan Kasper Andruscavage
I learned to be polite around friends and fam, but having this local challenge gives us a “thing to talk about” with friends. The specifics involved raises the awareness of everyone we talk to, which is awesome.

Jean Wright
One important finding: how long I could eat from what is on hand before going to market. Still eating. But will now go to pick up staples. How much GHG reduction by not making regular trips to market and eating locally? What if we added in that component for all of us? It would be substantial.

Laurie Pitts
Although I’ve completed my official challenge, when my 10 days ended, I resolved to make certain that at least one meal per winter day would feature local fare. So far, so delicious.

Maghan Kasper Andruscavage
I will only buy local milk and yogurt. Because its sooooo easy!! And I know I can commit year round.

Jan Deligans
I finished my 10 day challenge now about 5 days ago and am starting to evaluate what changed. A lot! … Some items I just hadn’t taken that step to start actually buying and using them even though I thought I should. Like goat’s milk. …for the challenge I bought and used the goat’s milk, yogurt and cheese. And now that I broke the ice so to speak I will definitely continue doing so. They taste great and I know are healthier for me and the planet. And it’s supporting the education of young people into holistic and organic life and food. So that change will be permanent. And I’ll continue to become more aware of the need to go ahead and act on things that I know are right and need to change in my life.

Watch out team! I’m swimming in inspiration at Terra Madre. Here’s what I posted on the Food Day website (in the middle of the night because I’m so full). What do you think of it?
I am at Terra Madre in Italy – a great place to be on Food Day. As a food activist I’m learning important ideas here about being effective.
1. Align with movements. I, like many Americans, start small groups because I don’t see in my immediate sphere who is working on what I care about. I’m looking for who and how to align with.
2. Align movements. My community had too many small non-profits with such specific mandates that we split the attention and money pies. If we could create a common cause or common goals, we could be more powerful in making change.
3. Participate in policy making. It’s hard to know timetables and requirements of governments developing policies, ordinances, laws, budgets. But once a local authority or state has mandated change and put money behind it, one can move a lot of money into campaigns, projects, pockets of the disadvantaged.
4. Work with foundations for early stage project development. A Foundation with your agenda might put money behind your project. One programs that’s now very large started with $5000 to one Farmer’s Market.
5. Expose injustice in the system. People are disgusted at waste. They are disgusted by what we feed our kids. People like Jamie Oliver and Tristram Stuart are shamelessly shaming schools and grocery stores by muckraking stories with pictures and movies and stories. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, exhorts us to be radical, fierce, to stand up for and stand up against – because everything is at stake.

For the love of food

Vicki Robin —  October 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

How can you not love food when in Italy, especially when you are at Terra Madre?

But something different is happening to me. Something less utilitarian. I’m “feeling” the flavors, because I am among people with reverence for food. For the thousands of different types of squashes and beans and apples and grains. This wheat versus that one. The soil, the air, the length of the season. I don’t really taste the difference myself – yet. But I am tasting the passion of the person who offers it.

I’m staying with a lovely couple in Turin who offered me their special marmalade bought on vacation on an island in France. “It is our favorite one!” So I put a thin smear on my bread. “No more!” They wanted me to really taste it. It was good, sure, but more so because of their stories.

How could I have missed this with all my talk of food!? I can feel my utilitarian mind shattering. In part, of course, it’s because I am drenched in the utilitarian American consciousness. I was a purveyor of frugality for umpteen years. So I need to take the girdle of frugality off, at least for my days here at Terra Madre. And let this experience in.

Yesterday I walked miles and miles to go from lecture to experience to lecture to experience. It’s a huge venue – the old Fiat factory with, I’m told, even a race track on the roof. I met people who can help me with my projects – the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and a local food grocery store/deli/education center – but my eyeball feast was the Ark of Taste. This is the Slow Food project of preserving the biodiversity of foods being lost to industrialization. Oh, the squashes. Something came over me. I wanted to have these seeds and grow them all. Or at least some. The beans! So many varieties and through them I could feel the peoples in pockets of the planet who for centuries had cultivated these beans, who felt about their beans the way I feel about my community.

Off I go to dive in to another day of swimming through food.

Terra Madre is the biannual Slow Food Conference to build and connect the movements for good, clean and fair food … and I’m here for the first time. I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, paying homage to the millions of people around the world who grow, process, distribute and defend real food and the hundreds of organizations that work on different slivers of the pie. so to speak.

The opening ceremony last night stirred us all, with production values closer to a rock concert than a conference. Traditionally delegates from every country in the world, when called in alphabetical order, parade out, waving their flags. It’s a tableau that says, “Food is culture. It is the soils and climates of patch of the earth and the diversity of plants we eat and  our traditional ways of preparing them and the cycles of the year that weaves us together as a people.”

Many Italian officials as well as regional Slow Food leaders took the podium to tell a story or make a statement. Courageous locals have reclaimed their rights to their traditional foods, agriculture and wild crafting. In Mexico they are defending indigenous corn varieties from GMO pollution. Elsewhere fisherfolk are reclaiming their fishing rights from corporate poachers.

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (original local food restaurant in Bay Area) talked about her decade+ working to connect children with food through school gardens. Michelle Obama even recorded a statement for us about the importance of our work.

As the italian government officials were celebrating their own wins and making broad sweeping statements I wondered: “If I had 3 minutes to say something worth saying to these thousand or so people, what would it be?”

1. Live it or lose it: Good clean fair food isn’t just a stand; it’s a way of life. Let your daily life reveal to you the ways that the commodified, corporatized food system has a grip on your craving, behaviors, habits and patterns. The three sirens of consumerism – comfort control and convenience – lead us down a path of least resistance and so we wander into our eating styles barely aware. Defending what we love against the tide of these sirens, and getting out of their grip is real work – but we need to do it. We need to spend more time and money. Maybe circumstances make it really too hard, but any effort points us in the right direction.

2. Power to the eaters. When food becomes a commodity, we forget that it – and we – are part of a living world. We envision a flourishing, sustainable food system and nourishing foods grown in healthy soil – but there are gnarly system conditions of the money economy that undermine our best efforts. Once anything is drawn into the corporate financial system – ourselves included – our power to change it is diminished.

3. Food is relational not just nutritional. This is slow food’s message. Our technologies – from electronics to transportation – makes it easy to slide out of our place on earth and away from communities that care for and about us. So eating becomes a solitary act of fueling, rather than a ritual of connection. Again, keep swimming against this tide.

These many thousands of people surely know this – but does anyone say anything from a podium in 3 minutes that we don’t know if we are gathered around shared concerns. Perhaps some story of triumph or venality will move us, but mostly we listen for the courage to keep up the good work.

I also got to the stadium and back on public transportation which pleased me. To get off a plane in a country where my Spanish and Portuguese don’t match the Italian, underslept, and just jump in and swim pleases me.

On to day one! Lots of tasting. Lots of conversations. My communities at home have asked me to pay attention to how people in cities can feed themselves good clean fair food. How traditional wildcrafting and herbalism is faring in this movement. How children are being educated and included. Justice. and most of all, my “job” is to enjoy the pageantry and food.

To get these updates sign up for the Local Food Challenge mailing list]

“A local eating challenge is a crash course in reconnection, putting us back in touch with the people who produce our food, the landscapes we live in, and even our own bodies. It is philosophy and politics lived out loud, a delicious demand for a new way of eating.” —J.B. MacKinnon, author, The 100-Mile Diet and The Once and Future World

The 10-Day Local Food Challenge is just a week old and already toddling. Nearly 60 people have signed up for the mailing list (and if you want updates on the campaign beyond October 1, you should too). Over 40 people have taken the opening survey. Some cool data below. Next week Transition US is hosting a tele-salon to introduce the 10-Day Local Food Challenge to you and hopefully many people like you. Sign up. Spread the word.

A Facebook Group is now live. Join in. Tell your stories. Before we just had a Facebook Page, but a Group is more interactive.

Comments and questions have already inspired me to write an essay exploring definitions of “local.” Yes, that’s below as well.

And I’ve processed 3 pounds of corn, 10 pounds of tomatoes and 5 pounds of green beans. I have salmon on order from a local fisherman. I have a monumental supply of local Rockwell field beans. And I’m buying up many pounds of potatoes from a biodynamic farmer; his crop has blemishes that make less committed consumers not buy them.

Yes, September is the time to gather food for your October Challenge.

Who’s showing up

From the surveys we can say…
* The biggest motivation so far? FUN! thank heavens local food eaters aren’t a sour lot. Second: “I believe local food is important for restoring the soil and communities.”
* 60% cook from scratch most if not all of the time – so we have cooks on board
* Over 50% eat meat to some degree
* Smallest eating radius: 5% of folks are going for under 10 mile eating radius. about the same number going for more than 100. I heard that someone commented “What’s she talking? 100 miles! I just go out my door.” So we have some 100 feet dieters as well.

We already have people from the UK, Tasmania and Nova Scotia and well as us US’ns.

What are the top 10 exotics? Tell you next time.

nathaniel hands

Comments from the survey

“Most produce, eggs and meat I eat are locally grown throughout the year. This will be a fun challenge to see what I miss and notice the things I eat frequently that perhaps aren’t from here.”

“I grew up on a small farm during the tine farmers were told to “get big or get out.” I remember my dad saying, “If someone doesn’t help the small family farmers we’re going to disappear.” And for the most part, that’s exactly what happened. But now, we might have a chance to turn that around and reclaim our food supply, providing access to real food before all hope of doing so is lost forever.”

“I will be trying this experiment in Tasmania, which is a GMO-free state of Australia. But I am realizing how much harder it will be to find food produced within 10 miles (easy within 20 or 30+) plus locally -produced food tends to be very expensive.”

Is it local?

Local food as a consumer preference is definitely on the rise. Some obvious connotations are: fresh, clean, nutritious and some sort of vague neighborliness. But the term has no fixed meaning. No standards or certification. It’s a bit like love: can’t define it but know when I feel it.

Challengers preparing for their 10-days within 100 miles have asked:
* If it is processed locally with ingredients from elsewhere, is it local?
* If it locally grown but sold by a corporate chain, is it local?
* If it’s 200 miles away, is it local?

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Here are 9 ways I’m currently slicing the local pie:
Miles: “Food miles” is a way to measure carbon pollution from food transport, but it’s not perfect. The global corporate industrial food system is a miracle of logistics. Apples from New Zealand could be more freshly picked than apples at the Farmers Market. Tonnage in the belly of an airplane might put less carbon per apple into the environment than a 1975 Ford pickup truckload from a nearby orchard. Distance traveled, though, stands in for many values we bundle as “local.” The shortest distance – out your back door or walking to the closest farm stand – is the most local. Obviously. Without measuring the carbon to took to make your shoes!
Geography determines climate, wind, sun, rain, soils and flows of food (10 miles over the mountain is further than 50 miles on the flat). It locates us in a real place on earth and represents the part of local that understands that food isn’t just a commodity – it’s part of the ecology of life.
Who decides is very important. In a food system dominated by corporations, these replace people as the “deciders”. When it comes to what goes into our mouths, local means that someone accountable to my community has taken this food from seed to plate, someone I might praise or complain to. Subsidiarity is a term for “making decisions as close as possible to those affected by the decisions.” For climate policy we need international forums. For seeds and soils, shouldn’t those decisions be locally sourced?
Scale: A farm can be an acre. Or 5. Or 50. Or 500. Or 500,000 (Ted Turner’s ranch). The US Census says if you earn $1,000 or more per year selling agricultural products, you’re a farm. And if you earn $250,000 or less, you are a small farm. Local favors the little guy over the corporation.
Method: Do we need industrial scale, mechanized, input intensive farming to “feed the world?” According to Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, agroecology (organic, ecologic), and not industrial scale, is the key to doubling food production in 10 years globally. Small is also beautiful where the climate is concerned: “A third of all greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, so we need to focus our efforts on an agriculture which does not degrade the soil and which increases carbon capture (i.e.agroecology).” Local farmers tend towards these soil building, low chemical input methods.
Ownership matters – farming your own land in your own way matters not just to you the farmer but to the prosperity and stability of your local food economy. In today’s market, many young farmers can’t afford to buy farmland, so they lease, functionally becoming tenant farmers – even as older farmers are aging out of farming and want to pass along their land, while still harvesting the one last crop (enough money to be secure in older age). Local means grappling with this farmland transfer issue. And it is gnarly.
Economy: a thriving local food economy creates jobs. Not the highest paying by any means, but enough for young people to bring their families back to rural communities. It also diversifies the economy, adding an important sector.
Culture: Is Italian food local if you come from Italy but live in the Bronx? Hard to say, but local, like “slow”, connotes generations around the table and the bonds that create stability.
Community. For me, this is one of the most important aspects of local. A community is a web of relationships that hold you when you fall and support you when you go forth. It is a currency really – a flow of resources, from sharing love to borrowing luggage. It is a non-governmental safety net. The richer in connections a community is, the more needs it fills – entertainment, sociability, celebrations, service groups, and this can translate into employment in the money economy. Local food is a key part of a strong community because we literally come to depend upon one another for our daily bread.

Even with all this complexity, though, I’ll bet you – and I – still think that “local” is buying big red tomatoes from the farmer who grew them. Which it is.


Since Blessing the Hands that Feed Us came out in January, I’ve gone from author to activist with a passion for restoring regional food systems so we-the-eaters can have more fresh, local food and our food producers can have more fresh money in their pockets.

Especially exciting is the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. Click here to read all about it. Simply put, in October you’re invited to join an experiment: can you, for just 10 days, eat only what grows within 100 miles of your home? Be part of a grassroots research team exploring the question: how local can we go? Join the Transition US launch teleclass on September 23. More details below.

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An All Local Grocery Store and Deli plus an Education and Distribution Hub

One stop shopping, right off the ferry, for local food on Whidbey Island. Because I want to bring my activism as close to home as my eating, I facilitated a Local Food Design Lab on Whidbey, where we clarified the need for a Local Food Center with everything from groceries to take out food to educational programs to a distribution hub. Guess what? We formed a non-profit group called the Food Shed and we’re underway, securing a building, finding merchants, making plans for remodeling the space. This sort of innovation is happening across the US and beyond. Food system activists are restoring distribution webs for local food, rebuilding food processing capability, digging in to challenging issues like land ownership and onerous regulations.

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10-Day Local Food Challenge

Local, they say, is the new organic. It nourishes you: body, soul and community. But local sourcing is almost impossible. Few communities have enough local production to cover even 5% of eaters’ daily fare. Most of us depend almost entirely the corporate industrial food system for every bite we eat.

Local used to be the way everyone ate. Could it be again? Let’s run the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and see. How local can we go? For how long? The challenge isn’t just “can you do it?” It’s “can we do it? Can we all bring our eating closer to home? And if not, why not?

The experiment is simple: For 10 days or more eat food grown within 100 miles or less of your home. Give yourself 10 or fewer exotics, foods from afar (like coffee or oil) to make it do-able.

Why 10 days? That’s long enough to go through a life-changing experience but not so long that busy people can’t imagine doing it. Go more if you like. The longer you go, the more you see, the more you change.

Why 100 miles? In 2005, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon began a one-year experiment in 100-mile eating. Their 2007 book, Plenty, told that story, inspiring thousands of people – and even whole communities – to try it. One hundred miles is now almost synonymous with “local”.

Also, 100 miles as the crow flies should be an abundant, varied eating region for most of us. You can cast a smaller circle if you want to, and go wider if you are sure that 100 miles still won’t work where you live. The USDA considers 400 miles “local” – a day’s drive. Some people think of their state as local.

The idea is to set the bar high enough so you stretch, but low enough so you are pretty sure you can do it. The point isn’t the miles; it’s community, belonging and abundant local food systems.

Why 10 exotics or less? Some foods are so essential to our well-being that excluding them could be a deal breaker. What are your exotics? Oil? Avocados? Chocolate? Coffee? Salt?

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Why do it at all?

For fun, for curiosity, for integrity, for health, for the love of farmers and community, for making friends, for encouraging others to eat local food, for building an alternative to food-as-usual, for taking a stand for the food system we-the-eaters want: fresh, locally-produced, fair, affordable food for all.

This isn’t just an adventure. It’s grassroots research. Does the challenge actually inspire more people to eat more local food more of the time? And do our local food systems have enough to feed us? And if not, why not? We want to know:

How did the experiment go?
If you redesigned it for your friends and networks, what would you change?
What was surprisingly hard?
What was surprisingly easy?
What made it worth your time, money and effort?
If you couldn’t do it, why?

Remember, this is an experiment. There are no wrong answers. No failures. All experience is information.

Sign up for the Challenge here.

Local isn’t the new right way. It just needs more room at our tables – and that’s going to require a lot of change.

at sonoma bookstore by sign

Travel and Speaking

September 8 I’ll speak at the Coupeville Washington library from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM. It’s in the meeting room at 788 NW Alexander St.

Join the Transition US teleclass: September 23, 11:30 AM -12:45 PM PST. Join live to participate in the conversation or listen to the recording.

Nebraska Wesleyan Univeristy, Lincoln, NE: Thursday, September, 18 at 10 am. I will be speaking on the the Visions and Ventures Symposium. Details HERE.

Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, October 23-27, Turin, Italy. I will be in attendance, as an activist for local food, soaking up inspiration at one of the largest gatherings for all things related to “good, clean and fair food”. Details HERE. Anyone out there going too?

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Let’s be relational eaters together

Won’t you dive in with me to transforming the way we eat from anywhere, anything, anytime eating to local relational eating? “Foodies” are known for their gourmet palate and artisanal preferences – but local food is so much more. It’s belonging to a people and a place – ending the restless search for greener pastures (fertilized by what?). It’s empowerment, taking back some of our food autonomy. It’s rebuilding rural economies – making it profitable for young people to come back to the farm after they’ve lost their city jobs.

Other food values have moved from the margins to the mainstream. Organic. Non-toxic. Vegan. It’s time for Local to build the capacity to feed the people. A lot of this has to do with the non-sexy parts of eating. Not glistening dishes but building local distribution hubs and gaining entry into markets. Even defining “what is local” is complex – but it has to be done. Incentives and priorities need to change.

All this is why I want you to do the 10-Day Local Food Challenge: we need to learn from the grassroots up what a local Live-it (not Die-it) means.



Ready Set Eat! Coming soon a game we can play together: the 10-Day/100 mile Local Food Challenge. I’ll post the game plan, mini-manual and helpful tools by the end of August. Any 10-days in September through November you can join in. For now, I stumbled on a tool to find a radius on a map, so I plugged in my home town and 100 miles to see where I will source my food during the challenge. I feel such affection for this territory of food. Try it for where you live. How do you feel? What do you think – can this territory feed you? If not, how wide a circle do you need to draw to feel assured of enough to eat?

futurefoodieMark Bittman’s latest column tried to reclaim the word “foodie” for something more than high-end eaters.

Here’s my response, only 1500 characters of which could actually fit into the NYTimes Comment box.

Mark uses a great term right in the article: food activist. Perhaps “foodie” is our current term for epicure, gourmet and lover of cooking. You aren’t going to change that. But you can write about “food activism” and really inform your readers.

Food activists look behind the curtain on the corporate industrial food system and don’t just protest – they do something about it. Doing a 10-mile diet (yes 10!) and writing about it, I’ve discovered several things:

1. Most of your Farmer’s Market and CSA farmers don’t make enough money farming. Mine supplement their income as techies or school bus drivers or are married to someone who makes money off the farm. The few who can do it either inherit the land and equipment and training from their parents or have access to a lot of free labor or figure out how to turn their produce into products (kale into kale chips) or live in rustic conditions.

2. Land is unnaturally expensive and food is unnaturally cheap.

Let’s start with land. Percentages vary across the country, but it’s safe to say that farmland price per acre has increase 10% on average, some places double that, in the last few years. Many assume low interest rates and high commodity crops are the cause. However, one study says 18% of buyers are Investors looking to park their money. When Ag land is a financial product, farmers can’t compete.

Commodities (think corn and soybeans) are also financial products as well as food products, meaning financial markets can drive up the cost of basic foods, sending the poor into hunger and starvation.

And our citizens pay the smallest percentage of our budget for food of any country on earth! I am now doing a study of the personal and cultural assumptions and delusional thinking that drive us to seek the lowest cost foods, while thinking it’s expensive.

3. Communities have lost control over their food systems. Because industrial food is unnaturally cheap, local processing facilities, distribution systems, canneries and other packagers have disappeared. Food activists realize this and are working to reclaim “local” through Food Hubs and Mobile Slaughter Units and Co-pack facilities to use some terms I’ve learned as I’ve engaged in this issue.

4. Food activists have a deeper pleasure from their food because of the relational eating part – the sense of belonging to a people and a place, the sense that people who come after us will have healthy soils, preserved farmland, and a vibrant food economy.

5. Food activists will have the deeper pleasure of challenging and changing laws that inhibit the prosperity of local/regional farmers. “Cottage laws” and “scale-appropriate regulations” “farmgate sales” are terms now used by people who want to lift from the shoulders of local farmers the regulatory burdens imposed on industrial producers to stock your super markets.

6. Food activists work for fair wages for all the dishwashers, cooks, servers who are the actors in the “foodie’s” experience of those lovely plates.

The pleasure of being a food activist (yes, I am one!) is that it gives you a place to work FOR something while unfairness rises and the climate changes and politics as usual keeps us from acting for the common good. At very least, you feed good food to people you love. You assure a better food future for towns and cities. You sit down to a meal and know that everyone – farmer, food workers, animals and vegetables have had a shot at the good life. No one wants to eat crummy food. No one wants, once they know, to eat unfair food. Food activists do something about that not just in their own kitchens and dining experiences. It’s like that old Dial commercial: “aren’t you glad you do it. Don’t you wish everyone did”?

I am just beginning my own work of liberating “we-the-eaters” from our mindsets and choices that do nothing for our health and ethics, and our society from the tyranny of cheap and big and 24/7 convenient and disconnected. and I’m loving every educational, shocking, inspiring, frustrating, infuriating and blessed minute!

Tada! The Local Food Lab is dead (for me) … long live The Locavore Lab.


As mentioned before on this blog, Local Food Lab is the name I’ve been using for intensives where eaters, farmers and everyone in between works together to map and evaluate their local food system, and dream into projects, businesses and organizations that can help build the food system they want. It’s part education, part design charette, part networking, part eating,  part mystery and totally participatory. The output belongs to the community – and the ideas are there for the plucking for people plucky enough to take their next steps.

But come to find out that “Local Food Lab” is Trademarked so I need to find another name. I tried Community Food Lab but a group in North Carolina has that website and even though they haven’t TMed it, they did ask me to not use it.

Facebook friends have offered an astonishing number of alternatives, and nixed most of my “good ideas.” Until someone suggested the Locavore Lab. That feels sassy. It includes everyone in a particular place on earth who cares about local food. Locavores – that’s who we are. Lab is what we do for a couple of days to accelerate the shift to sourcing more of our food closer to home. A relational food system is what we have, as local as we can go, as connected as we can be and grateful for the many hands in the industrial system that bring from afar what we also need.

I’ll play with it more but for now, Locavore Lab is the square I’m on. And I’m announcing it so I have a pixel trail to first usage… which I did not have for Local Food Lab so I lost that platform.

Oh, and new hashtags #locavorelab and #relationalfoodsystem. #justsaying.

I put “Lab” in quotes because I just learned that the term Local Food Lab is Trademarked. I’ve used it for a year and a half so I’m perplexed about how to migrate to a new name when the old term is dispersed through the web. At the end of this post in blue are alternative names (please vote on your favorites) so for now I’ll refer to it as the Food Lab.

This post outlines the key elements to this form of eater/producer/middle folk engagement to strengthen their local food systems.

I first designed the Food Lab in collaboration with Brazilian global sustainability leader, Thais Corral. She has dedicated her 160 acre Atlantic Rainforest retreat center, SINAL, to resilience and local food. We hosted a 3 day workshop in April 2013 with entrepreneurs, designers, government officials, creative artists and more to investigate how we in our personal lives and social roles might participate more in local food resilience. Of course, it being Brazil, there was a lot of laughing and music and fun. Being the tropics it was not so hard to find an abundance of local food (everything we ate came from a 30-mile radius). Being a bunch of very committed people, our work yielded not just projects but an understanding of how a Food Lab can work.

A beautiful report can be found here, including an infographic at the end that communicates the process. I’ve delivered versions of this Lab in Canada, Oregon and Washington in the last year, refining the basic structure. Here are the key elements:

Preparation elements:

1. A host team: Two or more local organizations committed to strengthening the local food economy, an alliance that can persist beyond an event to re-convene key players, facilitate cooperation, keep the process alive.

2. Design/Facilitation Team: People fluent in a variety of facilitation modalities from which to craft the event, which for me includes: World Cafe, Conversation Cafe, Circle, Open Space, ToP (Technology of Participation), Dynamic Facilitation and Non-Violent Communication. In effect, the Host team engages the Design/Facilitation team as consultants (even if they are the same people!)

3. Food Team: Defines a circle for sourcing the food (10 mile, 100 mile, county, state) and/or local chefs/food businesses and provides local food for the event.

4. The space: a community space or retreat center with food service capacity and moveable chairs – a place that can hold a public event plus can allow Lab participants to move chairs into small groups.

5. A compelling invitation: a letter/email/poster that will attract everyone who cares about food and the local food system to “the table” (example below) which is distributed to all key food system players and the general public.

6. Minimally a full day, ideally 1.5-3 days to run the lab

7. Experts on Tap, not on Top: coaches, bankers, investors, business advisors, legislators/policy experts, etc. present and available to help groups think concretely about their ideas and plans.

8. Local food storytellers: People who can briefly talk about innovations and institutions already active in the community.


Lab elements:

Module One: Celebration and Education (can be open to general public)

  1. Celebration of what’s working
    1. Presentations by those who are already building the local food economy: farmers, food outlets, non-profit, for profit, agencies, citizen groups, inspiring experts from nearby communities.
    2. Additional celebrations from community members present.
  2. Asset mapping: Either prior research or by posting flip chart sheets around the room labeled: farms, farmers markets, restaurants, grocers, organizations, agencies, spark-plugs (individual catalysts)
  3. Presentation on “What is a food system? Who are the change agents in a food system? Why change is needed?”
  4. Visioning exercise using the best method for situation (guided visualization, popcorn, small group, ToP workshop) to feed the imagination of what’s possible in a spirit of “Wouldn’t it be cool if …”

Module Two: Gaps and Opportunities

  1. Lecture on “Gaps as Opportunities” – etiquette and attitudes that help groups consider what’s missing outside of posturing, complaint, argument.
  2. A key open-ended question that is both the call to the lab and the beginning focus of this discussion of gaps and opportunities. One example: “How might food be an engine of prosperity for our community?” Another example: “How might more locally sourced food be served at tables – large and small – in our community?” Another example: “How might we (farmers) expand our markets and profits in our community?”
  3. Facilitated group discussion that can draw out what is already on the community’s mind, the questions, the experience, the good ideas, the crazy ideas, the inklings, the information, the doubts so that everything already known or felt can be on the table without being in conflict. I find that Dynamic Facilitation (a whole group process run by a skilled facilitator that allows all points of view to be present and the group to enter the realm of creativity) to be a powerful tool, but other processes can work towards the result needed.
  4. Visual Representation of core ideas:
    1. Graphic facilitation
    2. Post-it and grouping exercise

Module Three: Nuts and Bolts

  1. Lecturette on the shift from divergence (lots of ideas, lots of space) to convergence (down to the nuts and bolts of what, who, where, how and by when). Depending on time, the conversations might just gather the first “who”, and refine the first “what”. Or they might get to “how” and “by when.” At very least potential projects are discussed and a group for further inquiry formed.
  2. Techniques might be
    1. Open Space
    2. Facilitator/host determines which are the most crucial conversations
    3. Brief presentations from people with projects already up and running
    4. Red dot exercise: identify from the Gaps and Opportunities session the most compelling ideas for further discussion by giving each participant 3 “red dots/post-its” to vote with.
  3. “experts on tap but not on top” introduced and at the ready.

Module Four: Completion, Celebrations and Commitments

Wrap up, next steps, gratitude’s, clean up. Declaring one’s new or renewed commitments to a group that can support you and/or hold you accountable is a powerful way to anchor good intentions in the hub bub of daily life. Expressing gratitude is a wonderful way for a community to feel and stay connected. We all want to be seen, heard and appreciated.

Other elements depending on length of lab

  1. eating, hopefully food totally sourced regionally
  2. socializing, walks and talks, napping, meditation, yoga, watching videos, improv games

What results can a community expect from a Food Lab?

  • Understanding of the state of the local food system: A  Food Lab allows people to discover what is actually happening in a food system – the successes, the gaps, the opportunities, the barriers, the solutions – so they can form alliances, start projects or target their work more accurately. Even people and organizations with obviously shared agendas and purposes rarely convene, reflect, create and collaborate. If they do, they at best simply report on their work, often revealing only the good side, but not the challenges. Each participant has access to a fairly complete picture of what is already up and running, working, in trouble but worthy.
  • Market analysis for people who are scanning for opportunities are often oblivious of who else sees what they see, cares about what they care about and wants to do similar things. Or people launch businesses at the same time, unaware of “the competition.”
  • Courage: In the absence of partnerships or even educated encouragement, many ideas die on the drawing board.
  • Answers to “How can I change? How can I help?”  Eaters want to make a difference often don’t know where to begin. They will meet like-minded people and learn about organizations with volunteer opportunities.
  • Projects: Beyond this collaborative space, a Food Lab will generate a few new “low hanging fruit” ideas/projects/businesses that will move the local food economy towards greater resilience – start the infill of the elements lost to the industrial efficiencies and logistical prowess.
  • Education: The Lab will also serve to educate the community on the benefits of local food, the need for food system work and the possibility of food as an engine of rural and regional economic development. It’s like rebuilding degraded city lots or neighborhoods or an old homestead… little by little, piece by piece, the life returns.

The Food Lab is a work in progress. I (Vicki Robin) am a passionate advocate for action research on issues of common concern through focused, facilitated community workshops that happen in a context of ongoing commitment to change. Because I care deeply about local food, the Food Lab is my way of contributing – in addition to public speaking, comedy and writing (Blessing the Hands that Feed Us).

A sample invitation:

Imagine a beautiful, vibrant Clinton. Sound improbable? Maybe not. Read on.

As a follow on to the Clinton Future Search Conference 2 years ago, you are invited to join a diverse group of South Whidbey eaters, chefs, business owners, non-profit and institutional leaders, and grocers May 5 (evening) and 6 (9:30-4:00) for the first Clinton Community Food Lab. Together we will explore how food might be an engine of prosperity for Clinton. We will also have a few special guests from off-island, and local author Vicki Robin will be the keynote speaker.

What is a Food Lab?

A Community Food Lab is a structured sequence of group conversations and exercises that create a current map of local strengths, gaps and opportunities in our local food system. Together, we explore:

• what’s working,

• what’s missing,

• what’s ultimately possible,

• what’s currently feasible and

• what’s next – for farmers and processors, other businesses, alliances, service organizations, funding sources, policy makers…and the all-important consumers.

Your ideas, experience and love for our Whidbey Community will make a real difference. It’s time for us to stop depending on food from afar for over 90% of our diet; it’s time for us to reclaim our local food system – once vibrant and vibrant again in the future.

Why in Clinton, why now?

Building on success from the Future Search Conference:

We learned a great deal about our community at the Clinton Future Search Conference, in January 2012. And we have made great strides since then:

• The Clinton Thursday Market is preparing for its third season at our new location – The Clinton Community Hall

• The Clinton Community Council is actively working with the County and State on many issues of concern to us (e.g., clearing brush and trenching on the walkway up from the ferry)

• And we are in the process of building new websites for the Market, the Council and the Progressive Association.

Now it’s time to focus the question and see if food can be one of the keys to building a thriving Clinton.

Continuing to foster Economic Development:

It’s easy these days, with more shuttered businesses, to think of Clinton as a dying town, cut in two by a river of cars heading up island. An alternative is to see those empty storefronts as a canvas on which we’ll paint a new picture. As we all approach this process with an attitude of discovery, putting aside our negative assumptions, more opportunities and ideas are revealed.

The Community Food Lab team (Carol Flax, Sherryl Christie-Biershenk and Vicki Robin), the Clinton “Local Eats” Opportunity team (CLEO) (Sarah Boin, George Henny, Tara Long and Angi Mozer), are collaborating, along with the Clinton Thursday Market – and inviting other co-sponsors so we have a strong foundation as we take the next step on our journey to a beautiful, thriving Clinton. 

E​ven if you don’t live or work in Clinton, this is an important discussion about food security for all of us here on Whidbey. 

May 5 is a free event for anyone on South Whidbey Island who cares about food, farming, eating and a thriving local economy.

May 6 is for people who want to be the new entrepreneurs, committed change makers and in any way active builders of a thriving local food economy from Clinton on up the Island. 

​Monday ​evening ​we’ll hear from local leaders about what’s happening, map the food resources we have and dream together about what could be. No need to register. Free, with donations welcome. (Feel free to bring a dessert to share).

Tuesday will be a face-paced, facilitated workshop with the intention of seeing the gaps in our food system as opportunities for new businesses and projects, and then helping people and groups with budding ideas to concretize their projects and identify next steps.


The Name Game:

What shall we now call the Food Lab? Contenders are:

Community Food Lab

Local Food Collaboratory

Local Food Convening

Local Food Confab

Local Food CoLab

(your idea here)


How can communities take hold of their food destiny? How can people-in-community even understand themselves as part of a food system (a permanent culture) they might care about – and reclaim?

Given my background in personal finance, dialogue and now local food, I’m developing one answer I think might help: the Local Food Lab. It’s a one-day to several day facilitated workshop for people with diverse roles in a food system to educate, inspire and motivate participants towards new enterprises, alliances, ideas, courage, opportunities. In other words, to accelerate the pace and success of their work to reclaim their food economy. A Local Food Lab doesn’t solve problems – it reveals the state of the system, the problems that are ripe for solutions and the potential partners for businesses and non-profits.

Every since I heard a few chilling statistics, I’ve been on a hunt for answers to the “food destiny” question with some urgency.

If there were disruptions in transportation – vivid when you live on an island – grocery store shelves would be quite bare in just a few days. When you ask people where food comes from, they will say “the store”. Of course. That’s where food is for most of us. The store, though, is the end point of a global, corporate, industrial system. Not just the boxed, canned, packaged and frozen foods. The produce, breads, bulk bins, meats… everything but a few local products that have worked through the regulatory and scale issues required to earn shelf space. Unless you’ve figured out how to feed your family through home production (growing, tending, canning, freezing, etc. enough for a year), you depend on these global supply chains.

With current production, processing and consumer preferences, few communities produce more than 10% of their food locally (call that within 100 miles). By production I mean:

  • land zoned for agriculture that is still available for agriculture.
  • crops that grow well in each micro climate and soil profile.
  • preferences of land owners for what crops to plant and where to sell them

By processing I mean everything involved in moving food from field to the fork: harvesting, washing and packaging produce, slaughter, butchering and packaging of animals, transporting and shelving these products.

By consumer preferences I mean what we want to eat, based on:

  • advertising
  • culture
  • flavor
  • convenience
  • cooking skills
  • status
  • rituals of belonging
  • habit
  • addictions

See what I mean? The industrial system is a miracle of logistics (as well as of political clout), and this includes organic industrial. Local, while a rising star, is a marketplace baby. No, maybe a first term fetus in a womb of people who care.

Why local matters

Beyond the personal joys of buying beautiful food from local farmers, delivered to your door or bought at a market where you socialize with friends, there are community reasons to really really care about systematically shifting back to more abundant and prosperous local food system.

Safety: local food is largely antibiotic, GMO free. If it organic, it is largely herbicide and fungicide free. Farmers who want to stay in business need to increase the fertility of their soil (meaning more nutrients in the food) and eliminate any possibility of sickening their clients. Trust is a big reason why people are turning to local food.

Security: with the proverbial 3 days of food in the store, we certainly need more food close at hand. The Mormons are advised to store a year’s worth of food, which many do, but few of us even have the recommended week’s worth of food stocked in case of emergency. A wonderful place to store food is in the ground. roots can stay there til needed or can be stored in root cellars. With greenhouses, greens where I live grow nearly 9 months a year. Locally raised animals can fill freezers, or canning jars, or be dried. Not everyone has to do this. In fact, it’s not desirable. Better is to have more farmers with more fields in production with more customers more of the year. A prosperous food economy provides greater food security.

Sovereignty: it’s hard to have a felt sense of why we want to “own” our food supply rather than it being owned by corporations. Peasants in the rest of the world, though, know the perils of becoming “banana republics.” Control your food supply and you can better control your destiny. Global trade agreements have had perverse effects on subsistence farming communities. The current negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership are even more disturbing than NAFTA or the WTO because they are discussing the right of corporations to sue communities if local laws prevent them from prospering from real estate they own, be it farming or manufacturing (note: these facts need to be checked as they say on wikipedia). Could my little island become a banana republic? I have no idea but I realize now that “local food” means paying attention to global trade issues as well as the Farm Bill.

I’m not an advocate of swinging the pendulum too far too fast. We all love what shows up on our plates from the industrial system. It has the logistics and scale to deal with disasters and famine. We all depend on it. Very few are ready to commit to a local diet. It makes more sense to think in a more nuanced way about supply chains. Home gardens can provide food, including eggs. Local (neighborhood to regional) is more reasonable sources for fresh foods in season, honey and some dairy, eggs and meat. Perhaps further afield we get the grains and beans sufficient to fill our bellies (and make our booze!). Then there are what I call exotics, which for me are spices, citrus, all foods from the tropics, oil, caffeine, chocolate, nuts… and the list goes on.

I’m an advocate for reclaiming our food safety, security and sovereignty by bringing our eating closer to home.

Yes… but how?

Who is responsible for bringing our eating closer to home? All of us.

  • As eaters we can educate our palates as well as increase our skills (growing and cooking) and develop a taste for local i.e. welcoming the relational part of eating, the connections to soil, farmers, farms, forests, waters, and the sense of belonging and rootedness that comes from local living. And we can do our economic part: chose local over frugal, at least part of the time.
  • As people-in-families we can nourish our children through serving whole, healthy food and helping them grow, harvest and cook enough to love real food.
  • As people-in-workplaces we can use the scale of the workplace to buy food in bulk – in cafeterias, as CSAs delivered to the workplace.
  • As people-with-money-to-invest we can lend to local food enterprises.
  • As people-in-non-profits and agencies we can work on consumer education and policies that help the shift.
  • As people-who-control-purse-strings we can tilt budgets towards favoring local production.
  • As small and mid-scale farmers we can develop our skills and increase our land’s capacity to meet consumer demand for healthy local food.
  • As entrepreneurs, we can look to food-related businesses as opportunities, from restaurants to stores to processing.
  • As educators we can develop curricula, workshops, messaging and more to wake eaters up.
  • As grocers and procurement agents for institutions we can develop ways that local food can enter the supply chain.
  • As artists and story tellers and dreamers we can awaken our imaginations.

A Local Food Lab brings as many of these actors as possible to be in a focused, structured, sustained conversation about what we have, what we want, what’s missing that if it were there would make a real difference and – the tough stuff – what we each care about enough to jump through the hoops of finance, compliance, human cussedness and business start-up/expansion risks to make new enterprises work.

Next post: Ta-da! The Food Lab itself!


I posted the Permaculture of Community essay on Facebook and drew some interesting comments. I’d like to explore – not contradict – them here.

First: Isn’t it all social permaculture? Isn’t this Transition Towns emerging with a new name tag?

Well, of course. That’s why I took to the Transition Towns model like a duck to slugs… no water. I think there’s more to this idea of a permaculture-of-community, though it’s certainly implied in the brilliant work of this global movement to reclaim our local self-provisioning from the grass and grassroots up.

There is a je-ne-sais-quoi to the word community that isn’t in the word social. Continue Reading…

Take dandelions. You can plant a perfect lawn but if your neighbors don’t eradicate their dandelions, you’ve got them again. Or take the common cold. You can take vitamins, eat great food, work out, but if your co-workers have the flu or if your kid’s kindergarten has the flu, you’ll likely get it.

We are told we are all powerful individuals. With enough intention and work we can climb any mountain, solve any problem and even change any ills of the world. As Colbert would say, this is “truth-y”. or truth-ish. But common sense says that absent collective changing, personal efforts can only do so much.

Community is the only sensible context for change-making. A permaculture of community is an approach to shifting not just your body or yard or retreat center, but shifting the energy that flows through your community to make change that sticks because it is woven into a larger supportive system. Continue Reading…

My 2010 10-mile diet turned into a blog, then a book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, and now a passion not just for promoting “local” as a way to belong and to be well-fed, but “local food systems” as an important focus for communities to counteract our dependency on a global corporate industrial food system that is actually overproducing undernourishing and often chemical saturated food and pumping these foods into the American-style diet with alarming results (obesity, diabetes, eating disorders, diseases).

More and more people now want local food, and quite a few are willing to hurdle the barriers of cost and convenience.  Every week our local farmers bring us beautiful fresh produce via Farmers Markets, CSA weekly boxes for members, roadside stands, U-pick. Those in towns and cities where these direct sale outlets are available can be what I call “relational eaters” – have a direct connection with regional fields, farms and farmers. This abundance, however, is an very small sliver of the overall food pie. It’ more like a base camp for local food systems where good, clean, affordable food, grown by people you could know, is readily available to anyone willing to pay a bit more, eat a bit less, try new foods and relearn how to cook.

Sound like a tall order? It is. And it’s also common sense. Most humans through all but the last few decades of human existence sourced most of their food locally. Currently, however, few communities source even 10% of their food from their region.

Eaters for whom health and ethics are important can use standards like “organic” and “fair trade” and “grass fed” and “GMO free” and “pastured” to pull back the curtain a bit on their food. Invisible, though, are:

  • the fossil fuels used to produce and transport their food,
  • who grew it and if they make a living wage,
  • the quality of the soils and therefore quality of the food,
  • the regulations that affect the cost and quality of the food and all the middle people and processes that move food from field to fork.

All these unknown links in the industrial food system mean almost all of us are still dependent and in the dark.

To rebuild a thriving local food system, we need to understand and address these invisible factors.

Why would we want to do such hard work?

  • Sovereignty – we want to have control over our food supply!
  • Safety – we want to verify – as eaters-in-community – the wholesomeness of our food.
  • Justice – we want the people who grow and process our food to have a fair wage and a good life.
  • Prosperity – we want to build our local economies, to have living wage jobs in our communities, support local businesses.
  • Empowerment – Even if you’re busy, tired and strapped, it’s worth it to take back some of your power from the corporate industrial system by growing a little or cooking from scratch or learning more about our food. Wouldn’t you like to know how to whip up yummy dishes from whole local ingredients, how to turn turnips into soups and carrots into cakes? Wouldn’t you like to at least have some herbs and greens to pick fresh? Wouldn’t you like to be able to know a thing or too about growing and cooking food?
  • Disruptions – we do not know how the global industrial systems will adapt to climate change, resource constraints, environmental refugees – so we want to source more of our food nearer to home.

Changing eaters

This is not easy. Habit, comfort, control and convenience have wired us into the Borg of an industrial food system. We think we must have toast in the morning, strawberries for our cereal, avocados for our salads, tater-tots, frozen pepperoni pizzas, microwave dinners and salad dressings in a jar. No one wants to go cold turkey – which is also a nice gift of the industrial food system. In Blessing the Hands that Feed Us I give eaters a lot of good ideas about how to change from industrial to relational eating. Bit by bit, bite by bite, skill by skill, choice by choice. I also help eaters solve some of the cost issues through clever choices and reasonable portions.

Changing eaters, starting with ourselves, is a necessary first step to reclaiming our capacity to eat foods grown closer to home. Farmers, butchers, delivery services, markets and restaurants all need more customers to maintain and expand their businesses. We don’t buy local, we don’t have local (say that with an Italian accent and it reads better). We have Amazon and Costco and behind that Monsanto and Cargill and other corporations you’ve never heard of but who buy your politicians and bring you your food.

So get going. Try something. One food. One recipe. One home-cooked meal a week. Try Meatless Monday or how about 10-mile Tuesday (food sourced within 10 miles of your home). Or try the 10% rule. 10% more or 10% less. 10% more of your produce budget for locally grown, 10% less meals with boxed, packaged or processed ingredients.

Changing the system

The other part of this local food shift is changing the food system. Many people are now familiar with the phrase “farm-to-fork” but most of us haven’t a clue about all the steps in between. Talk to food system activist – as I have in Corvallis, Nelson BC and elsewhere – and you quickly learn what’s missing.

Can you guess what the two biggies are?

  • Distribution (how does it get from farm to fork?) and
  • Processing (how does it get from cow to beef or pig to pork or tomato to catsup?).

Those more in the know will cite three other factors. Can you guess what those are?

  • Laws that level the playing field, allowing smaller-scale farmers to compete with the not-so-jolly, not-so-green giants.
  • Financing for farmers to buy land and equipment and for activists to convene and lobby.
  • Training for new farmers (mostly young people, vets and under-dogs) so they can succeed and so they can supplant the aging, diminished population of long-time farmers.

Everywhere along this invisible chain are people who need a living wage. This is no longer the work of volunteers and wild-eyed do-it-for-nothing-cuz-it’s-right s/heroes. What we’re aiming for is a local food economy. Local food being an engine of prosperity for towns and cities around the world.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. It’s the work of generations. It’s an uphill battle. And we need to do this yesterday… without getting frantic, angry or stressed.

Seeds of this prosperous and abundant local food future are sprouting around the world. Subscribe to Slow Food or Food Tank. Pay attention to the co-op movement.

Who will do this work?

This isn’t the work of farmers. They are busy farming. This is the work of eaters-in-community. Said eaters could be in government, corporations, hospitals, schools, NGOs, law offices, grocery stores, restaurants, homes and more. In other words, everyone eats. Everyone has a role.

From my work on Whidbey Island and my visits to Ashland and Corvallis Oregon and Nelson BC I am developing a list of the kinds of actors that together get this work going. If you have a different list, let me know – this part is a work in progress:

  • Spark plugs – innovators, tinkerers, creative thinkers, Pied Pipers, conveners (moi)
  • System makers – people who operationalize good ideas, turning them into effective enterprises, who write apps, develop websites, hire-and-fire, administer, execute, build.
  • Money-people – personal lenders, venture capitalists, government programs, bankers, fundraisers, business coaches, customers
  • Educators – K-12 teachers, professors, vocational instructors, mentors, marketing to consumers, writers (moi), speakers (moi), home-ed teachers, workshop leaders
  • Policy-makers – elected officials, executives, lobbyists, NGOs, Think Tanks
  • Anchor institutions with a local food agenda – co-ops, land trusts, food banks, banks, prosperous established businesses, advocacy organizations, clubs, associations
  • Activists willing to march, write letters, speak at city council meetings, run for office, engage in civil-disobedience, go to jail, monkey-wrench.

These together are the drivers of change. Transformed eaters, transforming the systems that feed them.

What’s your 10-mile diet?

How do we accelerate this process. Where does the energy for change come from?

I believe that if you want to get from here to there you need to know what’s here and where’s there. You need to assess your current state and then set a measurable goal for the state you want in the future. Also helpful are “indicators” – check points that help you know if you are on course.

Eaters and eaters-in-community can set goals to generate will and motivate action. I did this with my month-long 10-mile diet. The month was enough time to go through a change. I’ve met others who’ve done similar experiments – backyard to 100-mile – and they all go through the radical awakening my diet pushed me into. In Brazil where we did the Local Food Lab the cooks set a 30 mile radius – the distance from the retreat center to the center of Rio. They even found coffee. Motivation was very high for caffeine.

At the Town Hall in Corvallis 300 people set a personal goal of 40% local (6 county region) for 2014. By 2020 they made a commitment that 40% of all food eaten in Corvallis would be sourced within that 6 county region. The Local Food Shift in Colorado has set a 10% goal. At the Farm Food Fork event in Nelson they thought that 20% Kootenays grown might be a good goal.

With a shared goal you don’t have to micro-manage all the actors in the system. You know you are each and all headed to the same point on the horizon and will naturally align, collaborate, form coalitions and perhaps even compete in a friendly way.

For starters… what’s your 10-mile diet? What will you do religiously to align your life with this vision of thriving regional food systems? Religiously is a good term. It’s like Lent. It’s a time to examine yourself and wake up to the beauty and resources all around.

Everyone eats. Everyone has a role. The work is big because of how far we have to go and how mysterious it is how to get there and how crucial it is that we do.

Maybe it’s a bit cheesy but I want to end by quoting an old Osibisa song:

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We’ll know we’re there. _
We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will._

It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We’ll know we’re there.