Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Foodsheds and Food Circles

The Foodshed and The Food Circle

The foodshed and the food circle are two concepts gaining recognition as models or conceptual frameworks for describing local food systems.

The foodshed concept, most often attributed to Arthur Getz's in his 1991 Urban Foodsheds article in Permaculture Activist, uses the analogy of a watershed to describe 'the area that is defined by a structure of supply'. Getz used the image of a foodshed to answer the question of "Where our food is coming from and how it is getting to us" and to picture how the local and regional food supply system works. Inherent in this concept, he emphasized, was 'the suggestion of a need to protect a source, as well as the need to know and understand its specific geographic and ecological dimensions, condition and stability in order for it to be safeguarded and enhanced.'

Today the Madison, Wisconsin area Foodshed Working Group along with an active coalition of food coops, csa associations, farmer's markets, producer coops, bakeries and other food processors, a natural food warehouse/ distributor, UWMadison and other active participants is the best example of a local food system identifying with the foodshed concept.

The Food Circle is a dynamic, community-based and regionally-integrated food systems concept/model/vision. In effect, it is a systems ecology. In contrast to the current linear production-consumption system, The Food Circle is a production-consumption-recycle model. A celebration of cycles, this model mirrors all natural systems and is based on the fact that all stable, biological and other systems function as closed cycles or circles, carefully preserving energy, nutrients, resources and the integrity of the whole.

The graphic model is a wheel of concentric circles, illustrating how an integrated food system flows from ag inputs and production through consumption and waste recycling. Starting with the individual at the center and moving outward through the family and community circles,this model shows the food system and its parts work, integrating political, economic, communication and other factors. For example, the CSA farmer in the production sector is directly across the circle from the CSA consumer members, showing the direct marketing relationship.

The goal of The Food Circle is to consciously develop networks of sustainable, community- based and regionally-integrated food systems, capable of providing the basic food needs of their members, providing markets for local food and agricultural producers, providing cooperative communications and trading exchanges as clearinghouses for goods, services and information. Finally, the concept fosters an awareness of food stewardship. The bottom line is energy, values and the preservation of life.

In contrast to the current linear food "chain" or food system resembling a gas and energy guzzling snake with two funnels at each end, The Food Circle depicts a fundamental closure, integration and healing of the food system we desperately need. The Food Circle embraces the whole web, including the food system connections, from a regional perspective.

The beauty of The Food Circle lies in its addressing a host of associated issues, making it adaptable to a broad range of multidisciplinary interests as an organizing vehicle, a teaching model, a community economic development and planning model, even an entrepreneurial model.

This Food Circle is actually a blueprint model I have been developing and nurturing for a number of years, first publicly used by myself and other organizers of New York's first organic conference, Closing the Food Circle, held at Ithaca in 1984. Since then the concept has grown slowly, organically, through writing, presentations, university research, local organizing projects, local and regional workshops, and now the budding of plans for the first multidisciplinary foodsystem conference, The Food Circle Network: Campaign for Sustainable Food Systems, targetted for 1996. The Food Circle WWW page is also now under construction.

Several communities, including Kansas City/Columbia, Missouri and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois are developing local food circles. The Kansas City model incorporates a food policy council and membership in a statewide foodsystems task force, including a developing network of producers, consumers and neighborhood based local food circle projects have been organized. Two yearly conferences have been held.

The Champaign-Urbana Food Circle, sprouting shoots in this Silicon Prairie testbed community, is still an informal consortium of csa's, food coop, vegetarian restaurant, farmer's market, farmer's market nutrition coupon project, UIUC, organic/sustainable producers in a Sustainable Agriculture Network and other activists, but also includes the local electronic Prairienet/freenet as a component of its nervous system. Local currency options, especially incorporating electronic information/creditsystems, are being researched.

One key component of the local food circle operating model is communication. As Food Systems Development Coordinator with U of I , this past year I have been working with the Sustainable Agriculture Network and other groups to develop specialty/organic/ LOVA (locally- owned, value-added) approaches for Illinois and Midwest producers. An electronic marketing information service, including electronic marketing directory and marketing network development, has been proposed. Meanwhile, we are working with the local CCNet (business net) Ag committee to get at least 50 farmers up on Email before the summer.

The work takes time, growing organically, for the people must develop conviction in the ecological basis for the model and then reorient their working or consuming relationships. Barriers abound, from the centralized, technocratic structure of agriculture to consumer obsession with speed and convenience. Likewise, as emphasized in the June 1994 Defining Sustainable Communities Conference, sponsored by the Tides Foundation, "Sustainable communities require a different value system than the one which predominates in America today". Yet, the change will come, the conversion will happen. Inevitably, whether by choice or through economic collapse, we will end up returning to a locally-based food system.

More Local Food Security and Food Systems Development Issues

Other approaches to local food security and food systems development have been focused on formation of local/municipal food policy councils. Ken Dahlberg, at the Dept. of Political Science, Western Michigan University, has done extensive research, written several papers on this top-down approach to local food systems development. He is currently coordinating the Local Food Systems Project, funded by W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which has been active in financial support and leadership in this area.

Charleston, SC; Kansas City, Mo; Knoxville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; and St. Paul, MN, plus Onondaga County, (Syracuse) NY have or have had food policy councils to coordinate local food systems in their municipalities, with varying degrees of success. Some other cities with strong local food systems are Hartford, CT, Ithaca, NY, and Toronto, Ontario. Food systems developments in Los Angeles and East St. Louis, IL have been spearheaded by Urban and Regional Planners, rather than by food advocates per se.

In their paper "Community Food Security: A Food Systems Approach to the 1995 Farm Bill", Andy Fisher and Bob Gottlieb of UCLA's School of Architecture and Urban Planning, brought out key issues to those activists attending the first Community Food Security Coalition's organizational meeting, August 25th, 1994:

"... the concept of food security is often associated with the phenomenon of hunger. However, food security differs from hunger in certain crucial ways. First, food security represents a community need rather than an individual's plight, as with hunger. In this context, we define food security as 'all persons obtaining a culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through non-emergency (conventional) sources at all times.' Second, whereas hunger measures an existing condition of depravation, food security is decidedly prevention-oriented, evaluating the existence of resources -- both community and personal -- to provide an individual with adequate acceptable food...

A food security analysis extends .. into an examination of the food system. Questions of equity and sustainability are vital to the development of food security.... A food system offering security should have sustainability such that the ecological system is protected and improved over time.. and equity, meaning as a minimum, dependable access for all social groups".

Within the organizing framework of these models, local food systems/community food security can provide a vehicle for coalition-building among those interested in anti-hunger advocacy, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, urban agriculture, local food policy and community development and other related issues.

We are approaching a time of integration, where growing numbers of food, agriculture and other professionals are recognizing the need for an integrated local/regional f ood systems approach to really address, analyze and solve the current challenges in food and agriculture today. In this visually-oriented world, such models are critical tools in this emerging discipline. They can help increase understanding of our current food system, identify barriers and constraints to sustainability and give us a vision and roadmap for realizing -- making real -- an optimum food system.

Resources and References

A partial listing of References and Resources on foodsheds, food circles, community food security and local food systems issues and information.


An Introduction to The Food Circle: A Stewardship 'Technology' for the New Paradigm, by Nancy Lee Bentley, EcoCity Journal, Winter 1994, available from The Food Circle.

Community Food Security: A Food Systems Approach to the 1995 Farm Bill, by Andy Fisher and Robert Gottlieb, UCLA , for The Community Food Security Coalition.

Food for the Future: Conditions and Contradictions of Sustainability, edited by Patricia Allen, 1993. New York, John Wiley.

Defining Sustainable Communities, Report from the Conference, June 2-4, 1994, $5.00 from Neighborhood Funders Group, 1001 South Marshall Street, Suite 55, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27101; 910-724-9070.

Food Policy Councils: The Experience of Five Cities and One County, by Kenneth Dahlberg, Paper presented to the Joint Meeting of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society and the Society for the Study of Food and Society, Tucson, AZ, June 1994

Hendrix College Project. by Melissa Beck Yazman, available from Gary Valen, Hendrix College, Conway, AR 72032.

Local Food Systems: Policies and Values Influencing their Potential, by Kenneth Dahlberg, 1993. National Science Foundation supported project, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

Planting the Future: Developing an Agriculture that Sustains Land and Community, edited by Ann R. Bird, Gordan L. Bultena, and John C. Gardner. 1995. available from Iowa State University Press, 2121 S. State Avenue, Ames, IA 50014-8300.

Regional Food Guidance: A Tool for a Sustainable Food System, by Jennifer Wilkens, Presented at the joint meeting of the Association for the Study of Food and Nutrition and the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society, Tucson, AZ, May 1994.

Sustainable Community Values Project Preliminary Report, Workshop presentation by Verna Kragnes and others, Eating Closer to Home CSA Conference, Dec. 1994. University of Wisconsin, River Falls.

The Community Food Security Empowerment Act, January 1995, available from The Community Food Security Coalition c/o Hartford Food System.

Urban Foodsheds, by Arthur Getz. 1991, Permaculture Activist: Vol VII, No.3.


The Community Food Security Coalition; Mark Winne, c/o the Hartford Food System, 509 Wethersfield Ave. Hartford, CT 06114. 203-296-9325; 203-296-8326 fax

Andy Fisher, Robert Gottlieb, UCLA Department of Urban Planning, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095 310-825-1067; 310-206-5566 fax

Kate Fitzgerald, Nessa Richman, Sustainable Food Center, 1715 East Sixth St., Suite 200, Austin, TX 78702; (512) 472-2073; (512) 472-2075 fax; hn2953@handsnet.org

Kenneth Dahlberg, Local Food Systems Project;, Department of Political Science, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, (616) 387- 5686; (616) 387-3999 fax

Anne deMeurisse, Minnesota Food Project, 2395 University Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55114. (612) 644-2038.

Kate Clancy, Department of Nutrition and Food Managerment, 034 Slocum Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York; 13244-1250; (315) 443-4554.

Robert L. Wilson, consultant to City of Knoxville Food Policy Council, (615)-588-7168. or Gail Harris, City of Knoxville, Food Policy Council, PO Box 51650, Knoxville, TN 37950-1650. (615)-546-3500.

Sally Leong, Foodshed Working Group, 793A Russell Laboratories, UW-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 (608) 262-5309

Nancy Lee Bentley, The Food Circle, The Food Circle Network, PO Box 3083, Champaign, IL, 61826-3083, (217)-586-3846, xx200@prairienet.org for a packet of informational material including graphic linear and Food Circle models and a reprint of the Eco-City Journal "An Introduction to The Food Circle" article, send $6.95 to The Food Circle.

Ben Kjelsus, The Food Circle Project, 7121 Park Road, Kansas City, MO 64129. (816) 924-3003.

Verna Kragnes, Philadelphia Community Farm, Box 668, Osceola, WI 54020; (715) 294-3136.

Rod MacRae, Toronto Food Policy Council, 277 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5B 1W1 416-392-1107: 416-392-1357 fax

Nancy Lee Bentley The Food Circle Network PO Box 3083, Champaign, IL, 61826-3083
(217)-586-3846 xx200@prairienet.org

For a packet of informational material including graphic linear and Food Circle models and a reprint of the Eco-City Journal "An Introduction to The Food Circle" article, send $7.95 payable to The Food Circle, address above.

1 comment:

  1. To establish local foods systems robust enough to hold their own against established large- scale mass production agriculture, we are going to need many more farmers. And to attract more people to the farming profession, the traditional hardships need to be eliminated. That is a main aim of SPIN-Farming. It is a non-technical, easy-to-understand and inexpensive-to-implement farming system that makes farming as a profession accessible to many more people by removing the 2 barriers to entry - capital and land. You don't need to own much, or any land, to practice SPIN. Minimal infrastructure, reliance on hand labor to accomplish most farming tasks, utilization of existing water sources to meet irrigation needs, and situating close to markets all keep investment and overhead costs low. Start-up investment ranges from $5,350 for a 5,000 square foot hobby farm to to $15,700 for a full acre full-time farm, with gross revenue ranging from $16,900 for the hobby farm to $60,000 for the acre model. By re-casting farming as a small business, SPIN is helping to not only re-imagine the current food production system, but it is providing a tool for re-building it. You can see the operations of some of these backyard and front lawn farmers at the SPIN-Farming web site - www.spinfarming.com.