The Food Commons

“We are building the world’s first fully integrated system for local and regional food that is community-based in its ownership and operations yet networked internationally for governance, learning and innovation. Complete with physical, financial and organizational infrastructure, our business model posits a more balanced economic paradigm that institutes fairness, stewardship and sustainability.” —Larry Yee, Project Lead, The Food Commons

SUMMARY: The Food Commons marks a radical shift from a narrow focus on the production of food towards a whole systems approach in which the interests of farm communities, the land, watersheds and biodiversity are all considered. The Food Commons is conceived as the connective fiber that weaves together grassroots projects and vital support services: legal, financial, communications and organizational. A food system is a complex, dynamic process with uncountable moving parts that connect, compete, conflict, and cooperate to provide food choices to the end consumer. Part of the true innovation of The Food Commons is its vision for all-inclusive vertical integration; it is certainly an outstanding representation of Bucky’s audacious maxim: “to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

PROBLEM SPACE: By many well-documented measures, our global industrial food system is inequitable at best and fundamentally unsustainable at worst. It has become overly consolidated, centralized and corporatized with little balance or diversity. It can be characterized as exploitive and extractive mostly designed for export markets and profit. As it has evolved, rural economies and communities have been decimated, mid-scale food enterprises virtually eliminated, and the health of people and the environment severely compromised. Buckminster Fuller understood the need for new models. Clearly what’s needed is an inspiring, innovative regenerative food system model. There is tremendous interest in and movement afoot for creating an alternative food system, one that is local in scope where much of the food is produced by and for the people in their own regional foodshed. The Food Commons is an anticipatory response to this movement. It is a highly replicable model that provides a willing receptacle for food system innovation and entrepreneurship. Shifting some fraction – even 5% or 10% – of the global food economy into localized food systems within a reasonable time frame will require commitment to, development of and investment in new, efficient and high performing infrastructure, all integrated into a whole system.

SOLUTION: “We have three prototypes in various stages of development – Fresno, CA, Atlanta, GA, and New Zealand. Each is a large-scale, complex business development project focused on building the necessary infrastructure for a regional food system that is supported nationally and internationally. It is a breakthrough strategy that “solves for pattern” treating land, labor, and capital with a commons philosophy and community-based business model within a new economic paradigm. There are three horizontally integrated core system components: a Trust to hold the brand, land, and other assets; a Community Fund to allow for local investment, financing and ownership; and a Community Corporation for the business operation that produces food and brings it to local tables. The Community Corporation is a vertically integrated food value chain (production, processing, distribution, retail) under one business umbrella. Diagrammatically, these component parts form our “T” system. In each community, the process is essentially 1) Develop a focused vision of the model working in the community, 2) Craft an investable business plan, and 3) Implement, build, operate. In step three, Fresno will be the first working implementation of the Food Commons. Concurrently, national and international structures are being developed to support the emergence of local models and the network.”