Category Archives: Local Food Systems

We must choose either “cheap” food or a better quality of life (for all)

Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was tying grape vines at a farm in Central California, when the temperature soared well above 95 degrees. Only a few days in the country, this undocumented field worker, who didn’t have easy access to water, shade or the work breaks required by law, passed out from the heat and died two days later. (More).

Maria was 17 years old. The Center for Disease Control reports that heat-related deaths of farm workers are on the rise in the U.S. This deadly trend is unfortunately one of the costs of cheap food.

Our industrialized food system consisting of mega-farms, long-distance shipping and big box-stores has driven down the retail price of food to the point that Americans, on average, expend about 9 percent of their annual income on food. The industrial food system in the U.S. produces relatively “cheap” food, but at a cost. Fortunately, in some parts of the U.S., we can partially opt out of this exploitative and costly system.

In the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, where I live, the locally grown vegetables are generally of higher quality than anything shipped from a distance.  We can enjoy the freshness and flavor of the food available at our local farmers’ markets, farm stands, food coops and some regional supermarkets. Yet most experts agree that less than 10 percent of the produce purchased in our region is grown locally.

I suspect the reason that 90 percent of the consumers in my (fairly progressive) region of the country don’t regularly buy local food is due to its perceived higher price and the convenience of shopping at major supermarkets.

Busy people treat food shopping as just another task, rather than a pleasurable social experience.  Studies indicate that we have 10 times more conversations when we shop at the farmers’ market than at the supermarket.  I know when I stop in at the new All Things Local Cooperative Market in downtown Amherst, I always bump into friends and neighbors.

Shopping locally isn’t an “efficient” use of time in my task-driven life – which is one of the reasons I make the effort slow down and shop at the farmers market or local coop.  For me, buying locally is an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).

Some regional supermarkets do try to offer local products. The Big Y in Western Massachusetts, for example, is a family-owned business and a major supporter of the UMass Student Farm, which grows organic vegetables for sale locally. When we do choose to shop at supermarkets, we can support local farmers by asking specifically for locally grown products.

And what about price? How often have we heard the statement that local food costs more?

Certainly, local beef, pork and chicken cost more than meat raised in a factory farm. You just can’t beat the efficiency and scale of the industrial animal factory for low price. The fact that local meat products are generally produced with less stress on the animals may not be worth the higher price to some of us. Of course, if we were concerned about our own health, the health of our community and the health of the environment, we might choose to eat less meat altogether and when we do we can buy local. This would be an investment in a higher quality of life for ourselves, for local farm families, and for the animals we consume.

On the other hand, there is little difference in price between local and shipped vegetables, especially during our growing season.

But “cost” includes more than “price.” The industrial food system that produces cheap food does so at the expense of the workers in the food system, on farms, in factories, shipping terminals, big box-stores, and the fast-food restaurants serving the food. These workers earn near minimum wage. A federal minimum wage law that leaves families in poverty is part of the cost of cheap food.  Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’s death is also part of the cost of cheap food.

When we consider the quality of life we enjoy in those regions like my own where local food is plentiful, we might also wonder about the quality of life of those who are working to produce, ship and sell cheap food. When we buy food shipped from long distances, we say “yes” to an exploitative system designed primarily to maximize financial returns of corporate shareholders – at the expense of others.

It is true that relocalization of the food system may result in higher (but fairer) food prices overall. At the same time buying local food will create local jobs and build community.

When you buy your food locally you are making an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).  I think this is an investment we can’t afford not to make.


Please check out my Just Food Now Resource Page and see our Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences program at the University of Massachusetts.  Go here for more of my posts.

NOTE: this post  was adapted from an editorial I wrote for the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project and was posted originally here.

Its Food Day in the U.S. on October 24!

Food Day in the U.S. is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies. It builds all year long and culminates on October 24 (NOTE: World Food Day is celebrated on October 16, the day the Food and Agricultural Organization was founded in 1945).

Learn more about Food Day in the video below.

Why Food Day?

The typical American diet is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Those problems cost Americans more than $150 billion per year. Plus, a meat-heavy diet takes a terrible toll on the environment.

Eating Real can save your own health and put our food system on a more humane, sustainable path. With America’s resources, there’s no excuse for hunger, low wages for food and farm workers, or inhumane conditions for farm animals.

Food Day’s national priorities address overarching concerns within the food system and provide common ground for building the food movement. Food Day aims to:

  • Promote safer, healthier diets: The foods we eat should promote, not undermine, our good health. Yet, every year we spend more than $150 billion on obesity-related health care costs, plus another $73 billion in reduced productivity.
  • Support sustainable and organic farms: Currently, sustainable farms receive little to no federal support and often lack market access to keep them competitive. Meanwhile, the largest 10 percent of industrialized farms—which contribute to poor health and severe environmental degradation—receive 75 percent of all farm subsidies.
  • Reduce hunger: Currently, around 50 million Americans are considered “food insecure”, or near hunger, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) participation is at an all-time high. SNAP is vital to reducing hunger, but the program’s budget is under constant attack while federal measures to increase food access are minimal.
  • Reform factory farms to protect the environment and farm animals: Today, most farm animals are confined in “factory farms”—sometimes containing as many as 50,000-100,000 cattle, hens, or pigs. These practices result in needless animal abuse and illness, environmental degradation, and harm the people who live in and around those facilities.
  • Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers: 20 million workers throughout the U.S. food system harvest, process, ship, sell, cook, and serve the food we eat every day. And yet, many farmworkers earn well below poverty levels while the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers has remained at $2.13 per hour for the last 21 years.

For more information Sign up for weekly email updates, and join the conversation about Food Day issues on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Our Food Day Celebration in Amherst, MA

Grow Food Amherst has organized a community potluck on Food Day, October 24.  This local organization has invited all members of the community to gather for a potluck meal to celebrate National Food Day in the Large Activity Room of the Bangs Community Center.  Everyone is asked to bring a dish to share prepared with items from their garden, CSA, local farm or local food store (as much as possible), their own plate and utensils, and an index card with a list of ingredients for those with food allergies.

The group will also have a photo board on hand so that people may share photos of their gardens or prepared dishes.

“The main idea behind Food Day is to raise awareness of the importance of eating fresh, local and healthy food” said Amherst’s Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello.

To sign up for the potluck, go to: Sign up here!


This post was created with text from the Food Day web page.  I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my posts.  To get a college degree see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.

Lets all support this local cooperative!

Lets engage our imagination.  Imagine a vital local market, a place where people invest and support and love helping to nurture locally owned farms and small businesses.  A place where the soil is shepherded for the benefit of generations to come; where seeds of inspiration are planted for developing a thriving economy through locally owned small businesses.

Imagine a collaborative community of residents and visitors where people work together to create a resilient local economy and a vibrant cultural vision.  Imagine a cooperative marketplace that offers lots of locally grown and locally made products, owned by producers and consumers.

If you can imagine this place, perhaps you’d be willing to help us make it a reality!  You don’t have to shop at this store to help.  You too are invited to be a member.

We have a location identified and are asking for memberships to help us acquire the Souper Bowl restaurant in downtown Amherst, Massachusetts. 

It’s a FABULOUS site for the producer-consumer cooperative, which will be called All Things Local.  Big enough for farmers and local craftspeople to each have their own marketplace spots. Small enough to be downtown. It includes a walk-in cooler to store farmer’s produce and dairy products. It has a commercial kitchen for a cafe, cooking demonstrations, and food canning and preservation parties!

But we have a deadline – July 31, 2013!  That is the date we must sign the lease or lose the store. We didn’t expect to find such a great location on such short notice!  But with your help, we can join together as coop members to secure the site.

Will you help?

Join the coop. A $50 membership makes you an founding member of the coop, with full membership benefits.  Just click on “Become a Member” and use Pay Pal to send in your membership fee….

Lets imagine All Things Local again….. a place where everything has local roots (from pears to pickles, sweaters to soap), where people can shop at a convenient year-round location featuring many producers and pay at a register operated by a local resident.  Imagine supporting this vision.

Our core idea being developed is the creation of a diversified, resilient, local owned community market, by employing a cooperative model with lower costs and shared-risk. The store’s design makes it:

Easy for buyers to buy:

  • Convenient location and hours
  • Year-round and indoors
  • Ability to pick-and-choose among many local producers
  • Single checkout, with all the usual payment options

Easy for producers to sell: 

  • Producers set their own price
  • Most of the selling price goes back to the producer where it belongs (no brokers or middle-men)
  • Fast drop off
  • Don’t have to be onsite (lower staffing costs)
  • Online pre-sale bulk orders
Like a year-round indoor farmers’ market
  • items sold by producer, in an information-rich setting
  • prices set by the producers themselves
  • 75%-85% of sales price is paid back to the producers
A community owned cooperative
  • joint governance by producer and consumer members
  • low sales commission covers overhead & staffing
  • volunteerism keeps prices down, and builds connections

Isn’t this the sort of business you’d like in your neighborhood as we all work toward alternatives to industrial farming.  Well, the likelihood of an All Things Local store in lots of places, depends on the success of this one.  Please help us make it real.

Join today and change a little part of the world “one co-op at a time”.


For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.

Is industrial food safe to eat?

On March 14, 2009, speaking about the number of incidents of food borne illnesses in the U.S., President Barak Obama reported on…

“…a troubling trend that’s seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year (up from 100 in the early 1990’s).” 

On that date, President Obama announced new FDA appointments and “tougher food safety measures.”  Since that date, the problem has gotten worse!

I used to get regular email updates from the Food and Drug Administration on food recalls because I was curious about the trend.  I discontinued the service, as there were just too many to follow, but if you are interested you can see the food recalled over the past 60 days at the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts web page.  Its scary!

Most recalls don’t get much public attention (unless lots of people get sick or die) but the FDA issues a press release for each recall.  Here is a recent example of a recall of cherry tomatoes sold from a farm in Florida.

June 7, 2013 – Alderman Farms Sales Corporation, Boynton Beach, Florida is recalling one pint containers of Certified Organic Cherry Tomatoes because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonellacan result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e. infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. This recall notice is being issued out of an abundance of caution.

Are you concerned?

Most food recalls involve processed foods like soups, cookies, cereal, cheese and brownie mix.  Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria are common problems in the industrial food system, showing up every few days in some products.  Many recalls do not involve health problems but may simply be triggered by mislabeling or products that are missing a label for a potentially harmful ingredient such as walnuts or pine nuts.  Nevertheless, the number of life-threatening problems continue to grow.

Just over the past five years, we may remember:

  • The “great salsa scare” of 2008 in which consumers were warned not to eat tomatoes or peppers believed to be contaminated with Salmonella.  Starting in Texas and New Mexico, eventually over 1,400 people were sickened in 43 states.
  • Within a month of the salsa scare, 30 million pounds of peanuts were recalled from stores and institutions due to Salmonella and 700 people fell ill across the nation, while 9 died from the contamination.
  • E. coli was believed to have contaminated Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. Nestlé recalled its products after the FDA reported that raw cookie dough sickened at least 66 people in 28 states.
  • You may remember when 500 million eggs were recalled after dangerous levels of Salmonella were detected in the eggs of two Iowa producers. Nearly 2,000 illnesses were reported between May and July, 2010.
  • Hundreds of people were made sick by cantaloupes sold by a Colorado farmer contaminated with Listeria in the fall of 2011.
  • Regular reports on E. coli were made in 2012 on contaminated spinach and other leafy green vegetables.
  • In 2013, 224 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella on whole chickens have been reported from 34 states.

Are you concerned yet?

Anyone who pays attention to the news won’t be surprised by this pattern of food borne illnesses, yet this is not something most people think about very often.  Most food illnesses are caused by under-cooking or sloppy preparation.  But contamination of food in the industrial food system at the source  (farm or factory) or along the long chain of handlers, processors, shippers, and retail distributors is a serious and escalating problem, in spite of increased efforts by the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent, monitor and report these problems.

Our government offers lots of advice on how to handle food at home to reduce the likelihood of a problem.  They even tell us how to try to remain safe while eating out. One thing our government agencies won’t tell you however is that if you want to eat safe – buy local. 

You have a choice!

As long as the industrial food system is built on the assumption that it must be fast and cheap to be successful, this problem won’t go away.  Increased inspectors can’t prevent the industrial system from getting us sick!  But you have a choice.  Local farmers must work hard to make sure the food they sell is safe, since they know their customers personally!

According to Grace Communications, “by buying locally, you can increase your chance of getting a fresh, high-quality product. Local farmers may invite you to visit the farm or talk about any food safety concerns that you may have. Most importantly, if you buy close to the source, you can help create local food systems, which are the exact opposite of the quantity over quality kind of food production that has created many of the food safety problems described above. To find a farmer near you, visit Eat Well Guide.”

Who do you trust?

Just look into the eyes of the farmer selling you potatoes, lettuce or pasture raised beef the next time you go to the farmers market, and ask yourself – who do you trust? 

Do you trust the industrial food system, dominated by multinational corporations with their primary focus on making more and more money for stockholders –  or my friend Jeremy from Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts?

You have a choice…..


For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.    You may be interested in the 15-credit Certificate, the 2-year Associate of Sciences degrees or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

UMass to sign the Real Food Challenge!

The Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA has agreed to sign the Real Food Challenge.  This will make UMass the largest university in America (serving about 40,000 meals per day) to sign the agreement committing the institution to assuring that 20% of the universities’ food purchases come from socially responsible farms and food businesses–what they call ‘real food.’

The Challenge was introduced to UMass in January 2012 with a presentation by the Real Food Challenge regional team in our Sustainable Living class.

Following this presentation a small group of students began to meet with university faculty and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee to begin to explore the possibility of making this commitment.

The Executive Director of Auxiliary Services and the person responsible for managing food services on campus, Ken Toong (left in the photo), has made a major commitment to high quality, sustainable food, and was an immediate and vocal supporter of the effort.

Students mounted a petition drive, collecting names of other students, faculty and staff who were in favor of the university making a commitment to the Challenge and on May 1, met with University Chancellor Subbaswamy.  According to Sustainable Food and Farming major Molly Bajgot, “the Chancellor was enthusiastic about the proposal and we expect to host a public signing in the fall.”  The actual text of the commitment is linked here

The UMass Student Food Advocacy team of (left to right in the picture below) Rachel Dutton, Ezra Small, Lila Grallert, Molly Bajgot, and Hannah Weinrock, should be congratulated for their hard work and perseverance.

Students in the project earn credit from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to review invoices from hundreds of food vendors, investigating their commitment to Real Food.

According to Real Food Challenge leaders, “despite a growing interest in local, organic and sustainable food on campuses, little consensus exists on what makes food truly “good”…”  Further, they write…. “the youngest generation of Americans today will be the first in our nation’s history with a shorter lifespan than their parents, thanks in part to the food they eat.  Our food system is driving an epidemic of diabetes and diet-related disease, while also fueling climate change and the loss of our nation’s family farmers. The challenge is there’s just not enough ‘real food’ out there – it’s less than two percent of our national food economy. Fortunately our nation’s colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to address these 21st century challenges and help build a truly healthy food economy. With a combined annual purchasing power of almost $5 billion, U.S. colleges and universities have the capacity to significantly impact our nation’s food system through their decisions. Further, by educating students—our future CEOs,politicians, parents, and (yes!) farmers — we can cultivate the leadership and the ingenuity needed to successfully transition to a healthier, more sustainable food system.”

This student-led campaign is an example of how the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is leading the nation in creating opportunities for small, local farmers and encouraging change in the industrial food system.  Other projects and activities at UMass along these lines are:

  1. The UMass Student Farming Enterprise is a yearround class that gives students the opportunity to manage a small organic university-owned farm and sell their produce through a CSA, farmers market, and to university and private food service and retail markets.  See the video!
  2. The UMass Permaculture Initiative is a unique class and program that has converted underused grass lawns on the campus into edible, low-maintenance, and easily replicable food gardens. See on of the program videos!
  3. Permaculture in the Pioneer Valley is a class, sponsored by the UMass Dining Services UMass Permaculture Initiative that designs and installs permaculture gardens off-campus in local elementary schools.
  4. A celebration of local food cooperatives was sponsored by Sustainable Food and Farming students introducing the UMass campus and students to work opportunities in local foods!
  5. There has been an “explosion” of interest in the Sustainable Food and Farming major, growing from only 5 students in 2003 to over 85 students today.

One of the most important aspects of student education is the emphasis on getting practical experience either with local farms and markets, or non-profit public policy and advocacy groups, and farm-based education collaboratives.  Practical education built on a solid foundation of biological and ecological sciences prepare students to explore creative options and good work Its surely a good time to be an “Aggie.”


Anyone interested in discussing this new major should contact Dr. John M. Gerber, Program Coordinator and Professor.  Many students have found the flexibility of the Sustainable Food and Farming major attractive.  Contact us or check out the major here and some videos presenting courses and topics of interest.

The U.S. needs 50 million farmers – including local gardeners

One of the readings I share with the students in the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences  program is Fifty Million Farmers by Richard Heinberg.  This reading is an abbreviated version of an address he presented to the E. F. Schumacher Society in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 2006.  It is a powerful declaration that in a world in which climate change, diminishing supplies of easily accessible fossil fuel, and increasing economic stress – our food supply is not guaranteed.  We need lots more farmers in lots more places!

I first heard of this outlandish idea in Sharon Astyk’s book, A Nation of Farmers.  She makes the additional claim that we not only need more farmers but our understanding of “farming” must include individual efforts to feed ourselves.  That is, even those of us who have gardens and perhaps domestic livestock to feed ourselves and our neighbors should be included in this call for more farming.

I like this idea……

I realize that some families who depend entirely on farming for their livelihood look askance at part-timers and gardeners, but my experience is that “hobbyists” are among the best customers at the local farmers market.  We need to be a bit more broadminded as we think about farming in the future.  So, while I work to support full time farmers in my region, I also encourage individuals to begin to take more responsibility for a portion of their food.   We need lots more farmers of all types! 

Think Globally and Farm Locally

I live in the northeastern U.S., in the region we think of as New England.  At times I play the “thought experiment” asking how would my region eat if the ships and planes stopped and all of the bridges on the Hudson River went away.  New England south of Canada would (almost) be an island – a big one, but still cut off from much of our current source of food.  Now I’m not proposing this as a likelihood….. but still?  Think about it.


My friend, Dr. Brian Donahue, a faculty member at Tufts University did a rough evaluation of what we could grow in New England if we had the political will to do so.  He suggested that we could grow:

  • Most of our vegetables on 250,000 acres
  • Most of our dry beans on 500,000 acres
  • Half of our fruit on 250,000 acres
  • All of our dairy and most of our beef and lamb on grass on 4,000,000 acres with 3,000,000 in pasture)
  • All of our pastured pork, poultry and eggs but mostly using imported grain on acreage already in large animal pasture or in woodlots
  • Some portion of our grain for specialty products and perhaps feed and vegetable oil on 1,000,000 acres

The major constraints are:

  • lack of vision and will
  • lack of training/education
  • failure to invest

Well, one of the ways to develop the political will would be for more individuals to care about the source of their food – and gardeners care!   We could grow more food in New England and some of that food could be grown in our own backyards.

Grow Food Amherst

A local initiative got off the ground this past month, in which residents of my hometown, Amherst, MA, decided to “roll up their sleeves” and get to work to help our town become more food self-sufficient (trying to “keep up with our neighbors” Grow Food Northampton).

The first project was a “gleaning and cooking together” community effort in which food that would have gone to waste was collected by volunteers and delivered to the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen and food distribution center, as well as a local church.


Organized by the town’s Sustainabilty Coordinator in cooperation with a new organization, Grow Food Amherst, and Transition Amherst, this work attracted about 20 volunteers who collected sweet potatoes, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower (that was too small for market).

A few days later another community event was organized as part of the national Food Day celebration of local and sustainable food for residents to learn to preserve and make soup from the food that was gleaned from local fields.

In addition to these efforts organized by volunteers, the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the UMass Permaculture Initiative partnered with the Amherst Public Schools to plant fruit trees at three elementary schools and are making plans for vegetable gardens in the spring.  Following the lead of Todmorden, England, permaculturists at UMass are committed to growing food in pubic spaces such as local schools.

NOTE: Anyone who wants to be added to the mailing list for Grow Food Amherst should contact John Gerber or add yourself to our mailing list at GrowFoodAmherst.

We can grow much more locally!

This is not to say that we should rely on gardening or even backyard homesteading to feed the American population but – I believe if we each took more responsibility for some portion of our own food – individually and as a community – we would also create more market demand for food grown by local farmers.  In the U.S., about one-percent of the food is sold directly from farmers to consumers.  We can do better!


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my posts.  To get a college degree see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.


Its the U.N. International Year of the Cooperative in Western Massachusetts

Did you know that 2012 is the United Nations International Year of the Cooperative? 

Well, students in the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program and many people living in Western Massachusetts sure do!   There have been lots of activities, events, and work in my neck of the woods related to the U.N. IYC.

Here are a few….

1.  Rebekah Hanlon, former UMass student and currently a co-owner of Valley Green Feast spoke to the UMass Sustainable Living class on cooperatively managed businesses.  Check out this short video on “why I prefer to work in a cooperative/collective business“.

2.  The students in my UMass Writing for Sustainability class this spring sponsored a celebratory event in which over 100 students and faculty came to hear presentations by local food cooperatives in the region.  Presenting at the celebration were:

  • Equal Exchange –  offering fair trade products from small farmers
  • Earthfoods Cafe – a vegetarian cafe on the UMass campus organized as a collective since 1976
  • Pedal People – a worker-owned human-powered delivery and hauling service for the Northampton, Massachusetts area
  • Franklyn Community Cooperative – two local stores stores offering fresh organic produce, bulk foods, organic meats and cheeses and natural groceries and wellness items
  • Valley Green Feast – offering fresh, organic and local food products delivered to your home or workplace

Adam Trott, from the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives was the keynote speaker.

3. In recognition of the extraordinary efforts of the worker-owners of Valley Green Feast, our local newspaper did a front page story and a follow-up editorial praising their work.  Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

This mission-driven business, run by four women, started five years ago as a food delivery service for people who might be customers for community-supported agriculture operations.  This crew now says it is ferrying fresh, locally produced food to 300 households in the Valley and south into Connecticut.  But this year it is also shaving its prices by 20 percent for low-income buyers and making do with those lower payments.

Though we live in a nation obsessed with appearances and worried about rising obesity, little headway is being made to help people shift from highly processed foods, which often contribute to weight gain, from nameless factories hundreds of miles away to healthier local alternatives.  The four co-owners of Valley Green Feast are doing something about that by making fresh produce and other local farm products available at lower cost to people who qualify for benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

4.  The University of Massachusetts Department of Economics recently launched a new certificate program in  Applied Economic Research on Cooperative EnterprisesThis program provides undergraduates with new opportunities for practical, field-based research while also promoting local economic development.   Working in collaboration with the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives (VAWC), UMass offers a course of study and internship combined with intensive, supervised summer research in this new program.  This program is sponsored by the UMass Cooperative Enterprise Collaborative. 

5. Graduating UMass student Nora Murphy, presented an idea for a local worker-consumer owned food cooperative designed to increase food access, provide meaningful employment and strengthen the local food system and economy, at the 2012 IGNITE UMass event.  There is lots of interest in the new proposed Amherst Community Market.

6.  Finally, a small group of citizens  associated with Transition Amherst is working to create a cooperatively managed store to be called All Things Local.  The core idea is to create a resilient local community market by employing a model with lower costs (because of significant contributions from volunteers who care about the mission) and shared-risk (items are sold on consignment, rather than taking on debt to stock inventory).

The store’s design makes it…

 Easy for buyers to buy:
  • Convenient location and hours
  • Year-round and indoors
  • Ability to pick-and-choose among many local producers
  • Single checkout, with all the usual payment options
 Easy for producers to sell: 
  • Producers set their own price
  • 90% of the selling price goes back to the producer where it belongs
  • Fast drop off
  • Don’t have to be onsite (lower staffing costs)
  • Online pre-sale bulk orders

Local producers, consumer advocates and organizers are working together to figure out how this concept might work.  To follow our progress, see: All Things Local blog.


According to the U.N. IYC

  • Cooperative enterprises build a better world.
  • Cooperative enterprises are member owned, member serving and member driven
  • Cooperatives empower people
  • Cooperatives improve livelihoods and strengthen the economy
  • Cooperatives enable sustainable development
  • Cooperatives promote rural development
  • Cooperatives balance both social and economic demands
  • Cooperatives promote democratic principles
  • Cooperatives and gender: a pathway out of poverty
  • Cooperatives: a sustainable business model for youth

We are celebrating the International Year of the Cooperative in Western Massachusetts.    Tell us about what is happening in your region in the comments box below.


Please share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my posts.

Don't wait for the federal government to fix the economy – relocalize your money now!

“What would it be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?”  

Woody Tasch founder of Slow Money.

Even though the U.S. economy was rocked by market and banking scams, Wall Street has rebounded quite nicely from the economic crisis they helped to create with assistance from a federal government that continues to support a “big corporation” economic policy.  Want proof –  just follow the money!

  • According to Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the financial  assistance provided those corporations that were “too big to fail” exceeded $3 trillion
  • The U.S. federal government Small Business Jobs Acts created a fund to spur local bank lending to small businesses, investing about 10% of the amount provided to the big banks through TARP

But that’s not all.  According to Amy Cortese’s new book, Locavesting: the Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It, government subsidies, tax breaks and grants to big corporations are estimated as:

$10 to $30 billion to “big agriculture” each year,
$17 billion to oil and gas companies per year, and
… tens of billions to state and local officials to attract corporations to build stores, factories and warehouses in their communities that compete with local, small businesses.

There are fundamental flaws in how the federal government deals with the financial system.  They continue to underwrite big investment banks that play roulette with our money.  They have bailed out financial institutions and corporations deemed “too big to fail” and then allowed them to get even bigger.  And they subsidize multinational corporations that continue to move jobs offshore.

Healthy small businesses and vibrant community banks are needed to restore economic vitality in the U.S. because they create jobs and circulate money locally.  Multinational corporations have failed to produce sustainable prosperity, because they are more interested in making money than making things people need.

According to Sagar Sheth, cofounder of a successful technology firm, “we have lost a sense of respect for what brought us here – building things that the world can use.”  He continues…  “… you have these smart kids coming out of school and going to Wall Street and making a lot of money playing around with numbers.

Federal deregulation has made our financial system a casino for the rich – and they are playing with our money.  When Congress repealed of the Glass-Steagall Act, the relatively conservative culture of banking changed radically and became a free-for-all of risky speculation culminating in the collapse of 2008.   

A ballooning trade deficit producing a massive international debt, an underemployed middle class, the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs overseas, and the acceptance of speculative trading as the way to make “easy money” –  is not the road to a sustainable prosperity.  When 40% of the annual profit of large corporations are generated by the Financial Services Divisions that make speculative investments to maximize short term profit (rather than actually making something real) we are in serious trouble!

According to Cortese, the financial system supports “…a massive misallocation of capital away from its most productive uses and toward unproductive, even harmful, ones, such as speculative trading, subprime mortgagees, and the latest bubble du jour.”

Our trade, tax and bank policies create a business environment in which exploitative practices are the norm.  Given the financial power of Wall Street, efforts to regulate this dangerous behavior will be difficult.  Politicians that try are labeled “socialist” and marginalized.

What can the ordinary person do? 


Occupy Wall Street is one response!

Another is to keep your money close to home!

We need to relocalize our money!

Here are some ways how

Our corrupt financial system must be reformed, (even some bankers agree) but we can’t wait for the federal government to begin.  Politicians run for election full-time and depend on corporate money to stay in office. Wall Street has too much money and power to be reformed by government.

We must take action ourselves and reclaim the power to make the economy work for people, rather than allowing the 1% to manipulate the financial system to serve short-term greed.

Impossible you say?  I say – believe it!

Begin with small actions like those listed above.  Small actions taken by enough people will create a reinforcing feedback loop that can develop into a title wave of change.  If we start a parade, eventually politicians will want to jump up front and carry our flag.

Too many people just don’t believe it is possible to create real change…

To quote a classic……

“‘I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the White Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Believe it

…. and then relocalize your money – today!


For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And for those of you from Amherst, please send me your favorite public initiatives to promote local food to add to my list for a future blog.  This post was inspired by the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project.

Occupy the food system: a sermon

I thought I had exhausted just about every angle on my “occupy” message in previous posts when I was invited to give a sermon at the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Amherst, MA.  My students often accuse me of being a bit preachy, and here was an opportunity to “preach the good news about local food and farming from a church pulpit”.  I couldn’t pass it up!

So here it is (or at least an abbreviated version of the sermon)…


We live in a world that is profoundly unjust and fundamentally unsustainable.  Food is grown, packaged, processed and distributed in a way that plays a role in global climate change, is dependent on non-renewable energy sources, and contributes to social inequality.   For me, buying local is a means of uncoupling my household from an inherently unjust global food economy.  A recent  Huffington Post article states:  

“…the rules and institutions governing our food system — Wall Street, the U.S. Farm Bill, the World Trade Organization and the USDA — all favor the global monopolies controlling the world’s seeds, food processing, distribution and retail.” 

Industrial agriculture exploits people, undermines democracy, erodes community, and degrades the land and water to maximize profit.  We can do better.  It is unlikely either government or corporate leaders will cry out against a system that maximizes short term profit but ignores long term ecological and social degradation.  Government officials run for election every 2, 4 or 6 years and corporate leaders must show increased profit every 3 months to be successful!

Government & corporate leaders can’t think in the long term

Only average citizens can make decisions that consider the 7th generation.  We must all be leaders.   We must “start a parade.”  When we are all marching in a more sustainable direction, government and corporate leaders will jump right up front and carry our flag!

A leading international voice for food justice, la Via Campesina, represents peasants, indigenous peoples and family farmers.  They have claimed that well-managed small farms can feed the world while reducing carbon emissions using principles of agricultural ecology.  Many new small, family farmers in the U.S. are working to partner with Mother Nature rather than trying to dominate her.

Corporate agriculture is in the business of maximizing short term profit by manipulating the environment with fertilizers, pesticides, land levelers, mechanization, and irrigation.  The result of these efforts to control Mother Nature is environmental degradation and an unsustainable dependency on non-renewable resources.

Domination of Mother Nature is not “natural”

About 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia something shifted in the human psyche, as people who had formally lived in partnership with Mother Nature as hunter/gatherers, learned to intervene into the management of complex ecosystems and began to manipulate the environment –  to serve our own short-term benefit.

We called it an agricultural revolution and we moved from a partnership relationship with the Earth Mother – to a domineering relationship.  We are the only species that fails to live “naturally” – that is in accordance with Mother Nature’s “rules” (or ecological principles).  Thomas Merton wrote that an oak tree gives glory to God simply by being an oak tree.  It can’t break Mother Nature’s rules.  Humans can and do on a regular basis.

We learn Mother Nature’s rules by observing what has worked for billions of years.   There are three “rules”:

  • Use current solar income
  • Cycle everything material
  • Support biological diversity

Humans can “act naturally” once again by learning to play by the rules!   And it matters little if you believe these rules were created by divine intervention or by an evolutionary process over the last 4.5 billion years.  These are the rules that work in the long-term!

Industrial agriculture produces lots of cheap food by violating these rules.  The global corporately controlled food system is not sustainable in the long run, but still presents significant short term economic competition to those small, local farms trying to do it right!  If we want to support a more sustainable agriculture, individually and collectively, we need to:

  • buy local food and grow our own,
  • create tax incentives for small farms committed to selling within their own community,
  • support changes in zoning regulations to support the “homegrown food revolution,”
  • make public investments in infrastructure to provide communal food processing, packaging, cold storage and redistribution, perhaps a local butcher, a community kitchen for processing vegetables, a maple sugar boiler, a cider press, and a flour mill, and
  • develop education programs encouraging family, neighborhood, community self-sufficiency, and local farming.

All this is possible…. if we start the parade….

We all can eat better by eating local.  And in doing so we can support personal health, community health, and environmental health.  Putting food in our bodies is the most intimate act we do on a regular basis.  Eating food can either be a sterile, hurried act, offering little cause for joy – or a creative, spiritual act of connecting with other people, the earth – and thus with all of Creation. 

Rediscovering the sacred through growing or purchasing and preparing good food can be an act of healing.  Shopping in a supermarket with its artificial lighting and hurried atmosphere is not a sacred act.  We seek and receive bargains, hurry home to microwave a pre-prepared package  (or perhaps stop for ‘fast-food’ on the way) and thoughtlessly shovel too much food into our hungry bellies (maybe while watching television).

Perhaps we can experience a connection with the divine……..

  •             by collecting an egg from under a hen you have raised yourself…
  •             by pouring maple syrup on pancakes from a tree tapped by a neighbor…
  •             by knowing the baker of the bread (or better yet, baking it yourself)…
  •             by  shaking the hand of the farmer who dug the carrots you bought…
  •             by saying thank you for the gifts of creation; the fruit, the vegetables, the meat, the eggs, the bread and the wine…..

I believe there is value in rediscovering ways to connect with the sacred by growing our own food,  buying real food from people we know and trust, and sharing food with family and friends in a communion of the spirit

Barbara Kingsolver’s wrote in her lovely little book, Small Wonder, that people will join the sustainability movement (including supporting local farms) because;

 “…our revolution will have dancing and excellent food.”



I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.

Want to help design a local food hub?

On December 1st, 2011, three local college students, Brian Downes, Jennifer Christian, and Tabbitha Greenough, gave a presentation at the community college downtown center in Greenfield, Massachusetts on ideas to enhance the local food system by developing more capacity to process vegetables.

The presentation was attended by about 50 local residents who came to see the results of a creative new class offered by Abrah Dresdale, on local food systems.  Part of their presentation focused on an idea to create a town food hub.  Their presentation is worth watching!

The very next day, an article about creating the Greenfield Food Hub in an abandoned factory building was published in the local paper.  The article was written by Kyle Bostrom, a Greenfield farmer and member of the town Agricultural Commission.

Coincidence?  Maybe…. or maybe an idea whose time has come.

Ideas like this evolve over time.  I first became aware of the concept when a regional newspaper, The Valley Advocate, published a story about a study conducted by yet more students (this time from the Conway School of Landscape Design) on how the nearby community of Northampton might create an infrastructure that was supportive of a local food system.

Recently, two Greenfield residents asked me to post a few questions to my local blog, Just Food Now in Western Massachusetts, to see who else might be working on a local food hub.  The response was encouraging.  Here are a few of the comments we received:

  • I have three friends that are part of food hubs in different parts of the country – in Hardwick VT, in the Bay Area, and in Southern CA.
  • I’m excited about the possibilities you are exploring to develop an important aspect of a more local food system.
  • There is Hardwick, VT, Intervale in Burlington, VT and there has been a group working to establish one in the Bellows Falls, VT area for the past few years and they have received a grant to do a feasibility study

And some words of caution:

  • We found a need to focus on the development of the social infrastructure first, (community gardens, surplus food and gleaning efforts, farm- to-school, cooking classes, neighborhood buying markets, etc.) and the network of organizations working on local food issues  – and build them until the need for physical infrastructure became clearer.
  • Who is the economics person to crunch the numbers on this project? It seems that if public money was used you would have to know how long until the project can pay itself back?

I was encouraged enough by the local response to bring this conversation to the global audience at  Here are the questions we posed in the local blog (where you can find all of the previous comments).  The organizers of this project would greatly appreciate your thoughts (please put them in the comments box below).

1) Are you aware of other Food Hub examples in the U.S. or around the World?  Please share them here and let us know if there is anything that can be added or changed to make the Greenfield Food Hub most effective.

2)  Please share your knowledge relating to:

a. Laws, accreditations, compliances, etc. required to make a local hub reality

b. Infrastructure needs such as design firms, contractors, transportation businesses

c. Equipment needed to make parts of the Food Hub function and where to get it

d. Sources of funding

As you give feedback on each of these questions, please identify yourself and describe your expertise or interest in the Greenfield Food Hub.

Thanks for your help!


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends and perhaps comment below.  For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please check out my web page Just Food Now.