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The Worm Farm Institute is reintegrating culture and agriculture
Artist Designed Roadside Stands in Community Gardens
We have a couple Milwaukee projects brewing - one involves artist designed roadside stands in community gardens - Id like to share more about this project we’re calling Roadside culture stands.
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SHARING WORK AND FOOD CREATES AN UPSIDE TO THE ECONOMIC DOWN
BY Wayne Roberts
Unlike most people, Thomas Homer-Dixon doesn’t think today’s world economic crisis is very complicated. He thinks it’s very complex, which makes for a world of difference in understanding which government anti-recession programs will fail (most of them) and deciding which ones can help.
Homer-Dixon, who chairs a centre for global systems analysis at the University of Waterloo, is one of the world’s leading thinkers in the field of “complexity theory,” and the author of several international bestsellers, including The Ingenuity Gap and The Upside of Down. He brings a missing dimension to thinking about remedies to the looming economic collapse that that’s so far been excluded from public and media debate. “If ever there was a case of experts not knowing what’s happening, it’s this economic crisis,” he says.
Hang in for the introductory lecture on Chaos Theory 101, and you’ll be able to follow and lead the economics debate in fresh ways.
Homer-Dixon is the first to admit he has no straight-ahead answers to a downturn that’s much more challenging that the Great Depression of the 1930s, to which it’s often unthinkingly compared. “We’ve never seen a collapse on this scale before in an environment of such enormous complexity and such a huge number of unk-unks,” he says, in a reference to the term used during his days working with Pentagon analysts who referred to unknown unknowns.
The way in which a relatively small proportion of mortgage defaults in one country during the fall of 2008 precipitated the collapse of a global economic house of cards expresses a telltale, if seemingly illogical, sign of complex systems in crisis - a very small cause leading to a very huge result, like the final grain of snow or shift of wind that produce a mountain avalanche.
But in Homer-Dixon’s view, that small cause, and even slightly bigger versions of that small cause - the breakdown of integrity in the global financial system, or the inequality that put home purchases beyond the reach of typical families, for example - is only a small part of an overall mix of “cascading failures.” His list of factors converging into a catastrophic perfect storm include intensified inequality, increased global warming, rising resource prices, and the “sheer productivity of capitalism - in many ways the deepest of all causes,” he says, since it produces chronic gluts in desperate search for markets. Together, they overloaded a rigid and “tightly coupled” global financial system that spread uncontrollable wildfires.
“Multiple stresses that reinforced each other” led to “a collapse of assets greater and faster” than anything witnessed during the simpler days of the Great Depression, he says. That’s why simplistic and one-dimensional rhetoric from politicians and pundits about fixing the problem, putting the pieces back together, and managing the crisis betrays a failure to understand what’s going down, he says. “Complex problems require complex solutions. It’s the law of requisite variety. We need a repertoire of responses as complex as the environment. “We must move from management to complex adaptation.”
Just as bodies under stress require core strength in the lower abdomen, economies and societies under shock require sources of core strength, what hip policy experts increasingly refer to as “robustness” and “resilience.” Government policy makers need to focus their view on the prize of supporting resilience in the population. Failure of governments to be on constant alert for the pitfalls of economic giantism or to be on guard for stresses in social resilience “is like not requiring cities to be earthquake-proof,” he says.
“Resilience means helping people to take care of themselves better in tough times,” rather than relying on specialization and expertise, he says, a guideline that puts a community’s ability to feed itself and care for each other at the top of his to-do list.
Here’s how I simplify Homer-Dixon’s analysis, in ways that he may or may not agree with.
When public money is used to keep enterprises afloat, the public has a right to demand that public benefits be spread among the general public. In my opinion, a longstanding (if best-kept secret) of Canadian employment insurance policy should be extended to all public enterprises and bailed-out private enterprises, including car companies and banks. Canada’s federal government allows workers at a company facing lay-offs to opt for everyone sharing the layoff by working a four day week, and everyone sharing the employment insurance by being covered on their one day a week of unemployment. This measure does not cost the employment insurance system a dime, since five people taking a payout for a day is the same as one person taking a payout for a week. It allows a workforce to stay intact for better times, maintains morale among workers and within a community, and protects younger workers with families, a group unlikely to enjoy high seniority.
This simple measure would abolish unemployment overnight, maintain purchasing power in the community, and buy people the time to become more resilient and self-reliant in their own lives, by gardening, cooking from scratch or insulating their walls, for example. It would even give people some time to sleep, the least acknowledged of the crucial determinants of health and well-being.
Only the epidemics of workaholism and every-man-for-himselfishism have kept this obvious low-pain remedy off the agenda for so long.
Having bolstered purchasing power in the community-at-large, the multiplier effect of that purchasing power needs to be captured for public benefit by requiring all government and publicly-bailed-out institutions to purchase local and local-sustainable food, recognizing that the food industry already produces almost as many jobs as the auto industry and can directly employ local people. Since one job for a local farmer commonly leads to five jobs producing farm inputs or off-farm processing, this doable measure is an employment bonanza that also yields major health and environmental benefits. This also fulfils Homer-Dixon’s call for self-reliant and unplugged systems that remove essentials of life from the vagaries of uncontrollable forces.
This depression does not have to hurt. Get beyond the complications into the complexity, and discover what Homer-Dixon calls “the upside to down.”
(adapted from NOW Magazine, February 26-March 4, 2009. Wayne Roberts is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food.)
[[~Tyler Schuster]] March 03, 2009, at 11:19 AM
The Toronto Food Policy Council manages this information service for people working on food issues with community organizations, social agencies, public health units, educational institutions, faith and justice organizations, and local governments. If you would like to share information on community gardens, urban agriculture, farmers markets, school meals, obesity, social determinants of health and diet, local food systems, or multicultural, educational and anti-hunger initiatives in your area, please send them to Wayne Roberts at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in items carried through this information service do not, unless explicitly stated, reflect the views of either the Toronto Food Policy Council or Toronto Public Health.
If you are interested in global food policy, please consider subscribing to an e-mail service we co-sponsor called Foodforethought, at email@example.com
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Nonprofit lender provides loans to ag startups
Great article about a great young rancher and Farm Link successful model.
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Urban Garden Work Vacation in Detroit
Interested to learn and work with a soup kitchen’s urban agriculture project in Detroit? Contact Lisa at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Earthworks Urban Farm with your interests and availabilities. Room and board may be available. email@example.com, (313)579–2100 x 204
Philadelphia Brownfield Turned Into Successful Family Raised Bed Farm Business
There was an article in the NY TImes about it last summer. It is actually a for-profit operation on an old brownfield which the city leases to the person for a minimal sum. She brought in lots of new soil and installed raised beds. According to the article, she is doing well enough (after a number of years), that she is actually able to pay herself $60,000!
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Forums for Solidarity Economies, e.g. bartering, landshares, work/housing exchanges, community work days, local food system maps, etc.
I think what’s really needed is a new kind of Craigslist-like hub designed to facilitate the exponential growth of local & regional sustainability movements.
Imagine an (inter)national network of local websites all geared toward connecting more people into what folks in Latin America have called “solidarity economies” — bartering, landshares, work/housing exchanges, event announcements, community work days, local food system maps, links to community groups, etc.
There are lots of forums that do pieces of this — Idealist, Indymedia, Craigslist, Freecycle, Local Harvest, to name a few — but wouldn’t it be great to have a well-designed, participatory, decentralized, grassroots hub that brings it all together with real-life sustainability as the focus?
Of course, it’s not a perfect solution … because Internet accessibility is not universal & indeed tends to be least available to the most marginalized + oppressed communities … and there is a risk of fetishizing or over-emphasizing the mediated, impersonal nature of Internet at the expense of actual hands-on, shovel-ready community building … but overall I think the benefits could make something like this really worthwhile. What do you think?
At the recent “Future of Local Food” open-space meeting that Transition Santa Cruz organized, ideas like this were brought up (independently) by a number of people. The next meeting of Transition SC’s local food working group is this Saturday … I hope to see if there is serious interest in moving forward to actually create it.
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Urban Agriculture: A Guide to Container Gardens
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New York Group Transforming Brownfields Into Community Gardens
Pratt Center? http://prattcenter.net/about.php
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Some Milwaukee Sustainability/Urban Ag Web Pages
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Resources on Setting Up and Running Cooperatives
Cooperatives have long been a way that individuals and small businesses can compete successfully with larger corporations. Local food coops and farmer owned cooperatives are examples. Although large agribusiness and industrialized ag have taken center stage, cooperatives have continued to work well in the background, often without much fanfare.
There is a great video introduction to cooperatives on the Legal E-Source website. Legal E-Source is a free online resource for non-profits, providing legal information and helpful suggestions. It is provided by the University of Arkansas and is available to anyone who wants to access it, although you need to register or sign in. Rest assured that the registration only helps the University to track who uses the site; this information is essential for obtaining grant funding for the project.
The cooperatives video is done by Dr. James Baarda, a recognized leader in the area of cooperative law. Dr. Baarda has taught our Ag Cooperatives class in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural Law and has donated his extensive set of course materials to us. We are in the process of setting up a cooperatives website that will provide an independent link his video, post his course materials and slide presentations, and provide other information and resources.
The USDA provides information and support to cooperatives through its Rural Development agency. Here is a link to their cooperatives page. There are helpful resources and information on grants posted. In a recent conversation with one of the career folks there, I learned that many are hopeful that with the new administration, there will be increased effort to strengthen this support. She sees tremendous interest and potential benefit in the use of the cooperative structure in direct marketing of food, urban food efforts, local food efforts, and other related activities. The former administration was more interested in promoting the large “new generation” coops that really are more like corporations.
I hope this information is helpful.
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