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Community is the New Local

Just recently, we met with Farmer Al, organic farming pioneer and owner of Frog Hollow Farms in Brentwood, CA.  If you’ve heard Farmer Al talk, you’ve probably heard him say “community is the new local”.  We agree.

For many years, the “locavore” movement has shaped our thinking about how and where we spend our money.  We’ve heard the impressive statistics on what happens to a community when we spend our dollars at a locally-owned business versus a national chain; and how having a local orientation directly benefits locally owned business, and indirectly benefits the whole community.

Without a deliberate emphasis on building true community, local investors and locavore consumers are tied to local businesses, but they develop few ties to one another.

Community is not just about our location, and it is not just about our money.  Community is a reflection of what we share and what we love.  In community, we create value not just by buying, investing, and spending locally; but by building common bonds, social ties and shared objectives.  Rich, thriving community is a reflection of how strongly people are tied to their sense of place; as well as how strongly people are tied to one another.  In community, we maximize critical social capital through borrowing a cup of sugar from our neighbor, starting a new moms group, having a neighborhood garage sale, taking our children to story time at the local library, getting to know the farmer who grew our food, and by finding reasons to be together.

So let’s pretend that rather than just promoting her CSA boxes (Community Supported Agriculture is when a farm delivers boxes of seasonal produce to local consumers on a regular schedule), a local farmer instead decides to build deeper ties and pool resources with other farmers in her region.  Together, these farms could widely promote the concept of CSA boxes (think of a small scale version of the dairy industry’s “got milk” campaign) and together set a goal of subscribing 25% of the households in a particular region to any of the local CSAs.  Rather than cutting their market piece from a small pie, together the farms could create a bigger pie of customers to draw from.  This “big pie” wouldn’t just be a win for the farmers but would improve the overall physical health of the community.  Go local and everyone wins!

And what if the farm alliance encouraged their collective CSA subscribers to form community dinner nights where people cooked seasonal dishes using ingredients from their CSA boxes, shared recipes, traded produce that came in their box that they didn’t really like, and learned more about the farms they were supporting?  What if there were new ways for people to not just be connected to the farms and the farmers, but to each other via their love of fresh and local vegetables?

Not only would people be eating healthier and farms would be better supported, but these local farm-loving communities would also see an increase in voter turnout, improved high school graduation rates, lower incidences of crime, better physical health of residents and myriad more social benefits (one place for more information on the subject is socialcapitalresearch.com).

Let’s say the 2012 Farm Bill had a provision that would harm local family farms and their ability to serve their local communities.  You can bet that this network of dinner-partiers and recipe-sharers would be the first line of defense, making calls and rallying others around saving family farms.  What if there were 1,000 such small farm community alliances all over the U.S., supported by communities that came together around their love of local food?

Within social change organizations, our collective obsession with more members, more Facebook followers and larger email lists has meant that we lose focus on building a core of committed, engaged members who refer others, stick around longer and often serve as our top leaders.  Reorienting our priorities towards building communities that enjoy being together- that have the strength of social and cultural ties (not just political messaging) holding them together- can yield huge results for social change movements in the long term.

In a time when we are profoundly connected via the myriad online tools at our disposal, we are simultaneously profoundly disconnected from our neighbors, our farmers, and our city workers.  Instead of aspiring to  “buy local” let’s challenge ourselves to take it a step further.  Real community transformation will be inevitable if we make it a point to ask  How can I more deeply connect with my community today? Here’s the real payoff: each time we answer that question, we become a crucial part of ensuring the health, vitality and resilience of the places we live and love.

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  1. By Link Loving 04.07.11 « Casper ter Kuile on 07/04/2011 at 6:31 pm

    [...] Community is the new local. [...]

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