Can the local food movement scale up? Thats the question posed in a recent post on FastCompany.com. I was glad to see this publication known for profiling innovative, high-tech ideas and solutions take on an issue that will increasingly be on the minds of so many as the world struggles to feed its growing population. In the piece, guest blogger Jigar Shah makes a good point: As the local food movement gains steam, how will small-scale farmers continue to meet the demand for their fresh, wholesome produce?
The question we must ask is, Will this scale? For anything to scale, it must solve a real problem, be cost-effective and replicable, and have the right systems in place to support it. To do that, it must attract sufficient capital from the private sector to encourage entrepreneurs to build large, profitable businesses.
Shah, who has a background as a solar energy entrepreneur, points out parallels between the conventional energy and food industries. In his words, both industries suffer from complex and inefficient distribution systems and heavy regulations that favor the status quo over young companies that might have solutions to some of these industries problems.
One innovative new food producer, BrightFarms, is taking an interesting approach to scaling up local food production by placing hydroponic greenhouses on the roofs of supermarkets. The harvested produce reaches shopping carts without leaving the neighborhood. Shah closes his post by acknowledging that BrightFarms cant address the need for wholesome foods alone.
Just as solar rooftop systems meet some but not all of our energy needs, rooftop gardens can make some but not all of our nation's food production and distribution more efficient. Finding the right answers for energy or food production will require us to invest in thousands of technologies that are scalable and make an impact.
It occurred to me that the local food movement can only scale up if the demand is there. But what if it isnt? In El Alto of La Paz, Bolivia, a local group recognized the need to raise awareness of the health benefits of wholesome foods. Through a partnership with Heifer International, they conducted a series of workshops at eight local schools about preparing and eating healthy food made with traditional, local ingredients. The families who attended these workshops then conducted similar workshops in other schools, and later organized a street fair to raise awareness of local foods. Our colleagues in Bolivia sent this video that tells this impressive story.
I like to think of this as scaling up awareness, and its exciting to me because this is something we can all do. We may not all be able to build hydroponic greenhouses; but like our friends in Bolivia, we can certainly tell others of the importance of eating wholesome, locally-produced food. Of course, Id like to hear what you think. What are you doing to raise awareness of and support your local, small-scale farmers and food producers?