Food Circles Help Develop
Sustainable Food System
Corporate control of the food system is now nearly total. We are separated
from farms where food is grown. We are separated from where food is processed.
Nearly one-third of the vegetables and one-fourth of all food that reaches
our tables are imported from other countries. In large measure we have lost
control of our food system.
But the news is not all bad. There is a stirring of a new way of thinking
about the food system. We see the launching of alternative sustainable food
projects, including the formation of Food Circles. While the corporate structure
continues to push for globalization of the food system, we are witnessing
an increase of local, self-reliant food systems. Food Circles are a key
to developing an integrated, regional-based, sustainable food system.
Basically, the Food Circle is a holistic, ecologically based approach to
dealing with the food system. Food Circles link consumers, farmers, small-scale
growers, retailers, nutritionists, environmentalists, public advocates and
extension agencies and others in a creative and comprehensive effort to
work for a sustainable, just and sensible food system for communities and
regions. Food Circles promote sustainable agriculture and a gentle stewardship
of the land. The call is for us to reclaim our responsibility and control
of the food system.
An important contribution to the development of the Food Circle concept
came from the Green movement in the United States. Green thinking is inherently
holistic in theory and practice. Inspired by the science of ecology, Greens
recognize that nature works through interrelated processes. The many problems
in our society are to be seen as connected, interrelated, and so the solutions
to those problems must also be seen as connected and interrelated. Therefore,
it was natural to apply a comprehensive approach in dealing with the food
Kansas City Greens accepted the challenge and took the first steps in creating
the Kansas City Food Circle -- which we understand became the first regional
application of the Food Circle concept. The Food Circle evolved from a project
of the Kansas City Greens called the Organic Connection, which in seven
workshops and conferences through a 10-year period dealt with such topics
as safe food, community-supported agriculture, sustainable agriculture and
Launched with volunteer labor, in-kind contributions, small-scale fundraising
and membership fees, the Kansas City Food Circle has produced the following
* We set up a distribution center that links the Franklin Coop Store in
Kansas City, Kansas, with the Kansas Rural Center. During the growing season
farmers deliver fresh organic, regionally grown produce to the Coop Store
in an expanded Community Supported Agriculture project. Over 50 consumer
families are involved. It was encouraging that the Franklin Coop had a waiting
list of 100 families wanting to join the program.
* We established a hotline and voice mail number to inform consumers on
how to contact regional organic farmers. The Food Circle hotline enables
interested people to receive information on the location of distribution
centers and farmers' markets, how to join subscription buying clubs, and
information about the Food Circle network.
* We publish a brochure about the Kansas City Food Circle and resource directories
that list growers who are working with us as well as a listing of farmers'
markets operating in the region.
* Through public meetings, promotions, and tabling at farmers' markets and
community fairs we continue to build our membership base.
* We established a speakers bureau with persons available to speak at college
classes, church functions, EPA staff luncheons, and community action programs.
The Food Circle concept is catching on:
* The Kansas City Food Circle is expanding and is now in need of additional
* Two other localities in Missouri -- Columbia and Fulton -- have now begun
* Still in its formative stage, the Missouri Food Circle will encourage
other regions to create Food Circles, pursue educational projects and promote
grass-roots, value-added enterprises such as community kitchens.
* The Alliance for Democracy, the new progressive populist organization,
has approved an action plan to encourage local Alliances to start Food Circles.
* The Missouri legislature included an appropriation for a project that
would link welfare, work, food and agriculture and would involve the Food
Circle concept. At press time the budget was awaiting the governor's signature.
* A multi-disciplinary team is working on a model project called the New
Promise Homestead that has the goal of moving rural and some urban welfare
families into a viable farming operation which would include the Food Circle
In addition to Food Circles there are other projects and programs that are
working for a sustainable food system. To name a few: the Food Shed of Madison,
Wisconsin; the Field to Table project of Ames, Iowa; Good Food Direct of
Athens, Ohio; the Sustainable Food Center of Austin, Texas; Just Food (NYC
Sustainable Food System Alliance of New York City); and the Hartford Food
System of Hartford, Connecticut. Needed now is a national campaign for a
sustainable food system that would involve the above named organizations
and many more.
As Brewster Kneen writes in his book, From Land to Mouth, Understanding
Our Food System (New Canada Publications, second edition 1993), we need
to understand the faulty logic of our present food system. Separating people
from their food sources is resulting in a state of complete food dependency
as well as devastating rural communities with the loss of family farms.
We need to understand that the globalization of production, processing and
distribution that is taking place in our food system is resulting in vast,
obscene accumulation of wealth for some multi-national corporations. We
need to realize that food and agriculture are most vulnerable in their dependence
on oil and that we are facing a decline in world oil production with predicted
steep increases in oil prices as early as the year 2000. Realizing these
conditions, we see the critical need to reverse the course of our present
food system that the faulty logic of globalization has set.
In our present vulnerable food system a new framework of thinking is emerging.
It is imperative for us to work for a food system that is sustainable, regional-based
rather than global based, self-reliant to a considerable extent, and that
restores responsibility and control by folks living in given regions. There
is great potential for building a sustainable food system and creating Food
Circles. There is much to do. It won't be easy. We have our work cut out
Ben Kjelshus is coordinator of the Kansas City Food Circle. Contact him
at P.O. Box 30271, Kansas City, MO 64112; phone 816-444-4168; email BKjelshus@aol.com.
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