Filling the Food Processing Gap Between Local Farms and Institutions

Laura Flagg’s 2018 UEP Thesis (“Small-Scale Food Processing’s Role in Farm to Institution: Filling Market Gaps and Moving Toward a Regional Supply Chain”) explores small-scale food processing with a case study of Commonwealth Kitchen and three other processors. Read Laura’s full thesis here.

tomatoes

By Laura Flagg

Farm-to-institution initiatives are trying to grow the local economy by having local farms supply produce to the food systems of local schools and hospitals. But one of the challenges to developing this supply chain is a lack of infrastructure to process the season’s bounties into products (like sauces) that can be used throughout the year. Laura Flagg’s May 2018 master’s thesis explores how CommonWealth Kitchen in Boston and three other small scale food processors in the Northeast are attempting to close this gap.

Flagg finds that food processing for farm to institution faces similar challenges as supplying local produce, such as distribution, cost, and supply of production. But there are also unique challenges such as funding, scaling up production, and buyer habits. Small-scale processors of local food struggle to access consistent and sufficient funding. Even more challenging is that available funding usually focuses on developing new food processing centers rather than expanding existing infrastructure. This lack of consistent funding feeds into the challenge of scaling up and expanding processing operations. Eventually, small-scale processors need to scale up to take full advantage of their opportunities, which includes purchasing more equipment, expanding their physical space, and finding a steady stream to customers to regulate their operating costs. However, for many this process is a “chicken or the egg” situation. In many cases, the processor needs a steady stream of income to scale up and bring the product costs down to appeal to institutional buyers, but this cannot happen until the processor has a steady stream of committed institutional buyers. However, many institutions will not commit to large purchases of locally processed food due to buyer habits of expecting low-cost, high volume food, short turn around times for orders placed, and working with vendors within their food service management companies.

Flagg also finds that local procurement laws and mandates have good intent, but they are not strong enough to create major change within the farm to institution movement. There are two types of local procurement laws, the first being a preference for local food purchasing as long as it does not cost a certain percentage more than conventionally purchased food and the second being a targeted mandate of purchasing a certain percentage of local food by a certain date. The issue with preference vs. target laws is that preference laws are not binding. They imply a desire to purchase locally grown and processed goods, but impose no requirement.

Regional Economic Impact of Small-Scale Food Processing

One of her most significant findings is the need to reframe the conversation around farm to institution to emphasize the positive regional economic impacts of small-scale food processing. The conversation around farm to institution has typically been framed around increasing knowledge of and access to local fresh foods and healthy eating and creating close relationships between farmers and consumers. However, the economic benefits of farm to institution are not often discussed, even though the potential is high.

Product and Capital Flow in Farm to Institution

Farm2Institut Flow

As can be seen in the above figure, farm to institution has impacts on the regional economy through import substitution and the multiplier effect (orange arrows=product flow, green arrows=capital flow). Goods that are produced locally or regionally can replace goods that are typically imported. The purchase of these local products begins the circulation of money within a region, as opposed to money flowing out of a region. This can be seen in the way that dollars from institutional purchases flow to local aggregators and small-scale processors, to local farms, and then are circulated back into the local economy through job creation and local spending. It is estimated that for every $1 spent locally, another 40 cents to $1.60 of local economic activity is generated.[1] Additionally, the purchase of local food leads to job creation, with studies indicating that nearly 32 jobs are created for every $1 million in revenue generated by local farms, compared to only 10.5 jobs for wholesale farms.[2]

CommonWealth Kitchen Small-Scale Processing

CommonWealth Kitchen (CWK) is best known for their work as a food business incubator and shared kitchen facility in Dorchester, MA. Their work focuses on creating an equitable and resilient local food economy, by supporting women, immigrant, and people of color owned businesses. They also focus on providing sustainable employment, especially for those impacted by racial, social, and economic inequality. Recently, CWK has expanded their operations to include small-scale food processing. They see this venture as a way to further support small food business, create more jobs within the food system, and play a role in regional food systems change.

With grant funding from the US Department of Agriculture and the Massachusetts Dept. of Agriculture Resources, CWK first began their foray into small-scale food processing in 2016. At the start, their work focused on co-packing for member businesses, farmer value added products, and farm-to-institution. The first tangible work that CWK did with farm-to-institution was the 2016 Tomato Project that CWK completed for Northeastern University Dining Services. Conceptualized in the spring and executed in the summer of 2016, CWK developed a recipe and then produced sauce from diced tomatoes gleaned from Davidian’s Farm (sourced by Red Tomato), which was then sold to Northeastern. This local marinara sauce was then showcased on Northeastern’s fall menu in their residential dining halls.

Throughout the process of working with local institutions, CWK has found buyer habits and their capacity to develop new products as challenges. However, they have found working with existing buyer habits, specifically the typical institutional purchasing and procurement timeline and price sensitivity, to be the largest hurdle. Institutional buyers are used to purchasing products that are readily available and in stock, as well as products that are low-cost for a higher volume. As small-scale processing of local food is fairly new, CWK’s timeline for developing, processing, and finalizing a product is approximately 1 – 2 months. The length of the process depends on when an order is placed, how larger the order is, CWK’s production schedule, and the type of product that is being made (it takes longer if the product is new to CWK and requires recipe scaling and other adjustments).

Pathway of Institutional Contract Manufacturing with CWK

CWK Pathway

The pathway of institutional food processing at CWK starts with partnership formation with local institutions. Once a partnership is formed, CWK and the institution discuss the specific needs of that institution, what products would do well on their menu, what volume of product they need, and when they need it by. Following this conversation, the institution places an order with their estimated volumes. This process of meeting, discussion, and order placement takes around 1 – 4 weeks. Next, the institution confirms the final volume of product needed, CWK schedules production and orders ingredients, and the product is manufactured, packed, and labeled at CWK’s facility. This process takes another 1 – 4 weeks. Once the product is finalized, it is picked up and distributed throughout the institution’s kitchens and food service locations to be used in institutional meals. This last part of the pathway takes about 1 – 2 weeks.

Thesis Recommendations

Based on her thesis learnings, Flagg recommends further exploration and expansion of existing cross-sector partnerships. She urges the development of a cross-sector pilot program focused on institutional buyer commitments. Ideally, this cross-sector pilot program would bring together various partners along the supply chain, including farmers, food processors, and distributors, food management companies, food procurement directors at institutions, and funders. The shared goal of those in the pilot program would be to acknowledge and commit to strengthening and obtaining institutional commitments to buy. Finally, she encourages the reframing of the farm to institution conversation to focus on the local and regional economic impacts of small-scale food processing.

Since Flagg’s thesis was published, the City of Boston has passed the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), which will transform the way public institutions purchase food. Boston is the first East Coast city to follow in the footsteps of cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. The GFPP directs public institutions in Boston to purchase food that is nutritious, local, sustainable and ethically sourced, as well as food that meets robust labor, health, animal welfare, and environmental standards. Boston’s GFPP specifically centers around racial equity, and includes stakeholder participation in the implementation process. The coalition advocating for this program included local and national organizations, including CWK.

[1] “Farm to School Rocks,” Farm Aid, Accessed April 5, 2018.

[2] “The Economic Impact of Locally Produced Food,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Accessed December 5, 22017.

Will Work for Food: How Boston is Building a Just Food Economy

By Penn Loh and Laura Flagg

Despite growing appetites for healthy, sustainable, and local food, workers in the food industry are still among the lowest paid and highly exploited workers in the US. The more than 20 million people (representing 1/6 of the entire US workforce)[i] who are growing, producing, and serving food often work long hours in hazardous conditions for poverty wages, with few opportunities for economic mobility.

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(from Food Solutions New England)

Many are, not so ironically, food insecure themselves. A 2014 study of almost 300 restaurant workers in New York City and San Francisco Bay Area found that almost one-third were food insecure as defined by the US Department of Agriculture.[ii] These rates are double the overall rates in those cities. In the Bay Area, workers serving organic or sustainable food were 22% more likely to be food insecure than other food workers in the region. A 2012 study analyzing US Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that a majority of food sector workers qualified for government assistance programs and 14% relied on food stamps.[iii]

In Boston, the story is much the same. A 2016 study of 500 Boston area restaurant workers by Restaurant Opportunities Center found that 36% earned below the US Department of Labor’s lower living standard for a family of three.[iv] And 94% said their employer does not provide health insurance, while 83% reported not having access to paid sick days.

“The hardest part about my previous job as a waitress was the inconsistent hours, lack of benefits, and low pay when it was a slow day with few tips,” says Dinora Andrade, who is now a prep cook at Boston’s CommonWealth Kitchen incubator.

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Dinora Andrade, Prep Cook, Commonwealth Kitchen

Yet, the local food economy is booming, with new restaurants and food businesses catering to foodies. In 2014, local foods generated $12 billion in sales, accounting for 2% of total U.S. retail sales of foods and beverages, and it is predicted that local food sales will grow to $20 billion in 2019.[v] In Boston, food service jobs have grown from 6.5% of all private sector jobs in 2004 to 8.5% in 2014.

In Boston, a variety of efforts are under way to ensure that this growth benefits all workers and does not just lead to more low-wage jobs. Some have been campaigning to raise the wage floor. UNITE HERE (Local 26) has unionized hundreds of university food service workers to win higher wages and more job security. In Massachusetts, the Fight for 15, initially launched by fast food workers, recently won a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2023.

But the fight does not end with higher wages. Efforts are also under way to support food entrepreneurship and business ownership by those who have been most exploited. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which has a Boston chapter and fights for fair wages, has developed restaurants cooperatively owned by workers in New York City and Detroit. Commonwealth Kitchen in Boston is incubating food businesses started by local entrepreneurs, primarily women and people of color. And it is creating a food manufacturing workforce to support these new businesses, as well as create a supply chain of locally manufactured goods to local universities and hospitals. Many of these new food businesses and their entrepreneurs aspire to generate benefits for workers, community, and the environment, as well as make a profit.

Transforming the Conventional Food System

All of these efforts are needed to transform the conventional food economy, which exploits people and the planet to mass produce inexpensive food. The global industrial model starts with government subsidies and cheap labor to promote the ecologically harmful production of inexpensive commodities like corn and sugar. These commodities are then manufactured into food products, often unhealthy, which are then shipped around the world.

Even nutritious fresh foods are a part of this global system. Lettuce, for instance, is harvested by migrant workers, who are not protected by federal labor laws and often vulnerable to other abuses, as a quarter to half of all farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented.[vi] That lettuce then gets trucked across the country by large distributors to grocery stores, cafeterias, and restaurants. Though the workers at the retail end of the supply chain may not have to work in as hot or pesticide-laden conditions as farmworkers, their work is also low paid and often seasonal and without any benefits.

To break this cycle of producing cheap food by paying poverty wages and poisoning the environment, food justice movements are working to set higher labor and environmental standards, as well as re-localize the economy with “high road” businesses. Food worker organizing has resulted in major gains and a fairer share of the fruits of the food economy.

Over the past several years UNITE HERE has unionized thousands of food service workers at Boston-area universities. The 700 workers at Harvard went on 3-week strike in Fall 2016 to win wage increases to $35,000 per year and more affordable health care. In Fall 2017, over 300 Northeastern University workers won $35,000, up from an average of less than $22,000.

Building the Community Food Economy

While trying to reform the conventional food economy, the food justice movement is also building new business models for more locally grown and manufactured food. ROC United seeks to organize restaurant workers to advocate for fair wages, but at the same time is opening COLORS restaurants that are owned by workers and modeling “high road” ethical labor and environmental practices, such as providing free skills training to workers to help them obtain living wage jobs. COLORS have opened in New York City and Detroit and are planned for Washington DC, New Orleans, and Oakland. ROC is also engaging consumers through Diners United to promote dining at high road restaurants by reporting restaurants with low-road employment practices, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, to ROC.

No single farmer, food manufacturer, or restaurant is going to transform the food economy by itself. However, linking these businesses together into supply chains and building a base of ethical consumers to drive demand, can be the foundation of a more just, sustainable, and democratic economy and challenge the conventional food system. There are several notable examples of high road food businesses in Boston area that are pioneering food justice practices.

City Fresh Foods prepares healthy, culturally appropriate meals for many institutions. Founded by several entrepreneurs of color in 1994, the company has now grown to ~100 employees. Because its mission was always about providing economic empowerment to local residents, it is working towards 100% community ownership. It already practices open book management and profit sharing and is majority owned and operated by local residents. City Fresh leaders also helped found Urban Farming Institute to train local residents to grow commercially on vacant lots.

CommonWealth Kitchen: Building the Community Food Ecosystem

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As more and more local residents are inspired to start food businesses, infrastructure is growing to meet the needs of these new entrepreneurs and their small businesses. Based in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, CommonWealth Kitchen (CWK) incubates over 50 small food businesses, a majority of which are owned by women and people of color. From food trucks and caterers to ice cream and empanada producers, these businesses collectively employ more than 140.

As startup businesses, most CWK members do not yet have the revenue or size to support many full time, year-round jobs. Some businesses only need workers during high production seasons, such as in the summer for farmers’ market production or during the holidays for gift order production. They find it difficult to hire workers with the skills and motivation, when they can only offer part-time seasonal contracts.

CWK is helping to solve this labor challenge by training its own workforce to prepare food under contract in its commissary kitchen, to serve its multiple members. This system of sharing workers helps to aggregate many small jobs into full-time jobs. CWK now has a commissary workforce of 11, being paid $12-16 per hour, with support for training and career advancement. They prioritize hiring from the local neighborhood, with 90% of commissary workers living in surrounding neighborhoods.

Dinora Andrade used to work as a waitress at a local restaurant, where her hours were inconsistent and part-time. She was hired as a CWK prep cook in the commissary kitchen in 2014, and says that she enjoys this job more than her previous one. “It is a good working environment, with a friendly community and benefits. And it is close to where I live so I can just walk,” says Andrade. Her job in the commissary kitchen is usually full-time, between 30-40 hours a week. When she wants to work more hours, Andrade picks up extra work to help prepare for food trucks or other caterers in the CWK member business family.

With space, equipment, and workforce, CWK is now also pioneering small-scale contract manufacturing for partners beyond its own members. Industrial food manufacturing in the conventional food system typically requires large orders with frequently scheduled production runs. While the exact order amount varies depending on the product and equipment, in many cases the businesses are required to increase their production by 100-200%. CWK saw an opportunity to fill this gap in the food system to serve smaller local businesses, as well as to spur the creation of more quality jobs for food workers.

To put this manufacturing capacity to use, CWK has been developing products for universities and hospitals that are looking to source more local food. In one example, they are using surplus end-of-season tomatoes from local farms to make tomato sauce for local universities. In 2016, CWK produced about 15,000 gallons of crushed tomatoes from local tomatoes gleaned by Boston Area Gleaners for Northeastern University to use in their on-campus meals. They are also trying innovative ways to process other locally-grown produce, such as apples and pumpkins, into products with longer shelf-lives such as apple sauce and as an input for local beer.

As these efforts in Boston show, turning bad jobs in the food sector into good ones requires more than just raising wages or building local food businesses. It will take an ecosystem approach, in which local supply chains can be built around local growers, producers, and manufacturers, and connected to consumers who care about where their food comes from and how the workers and environment are treated in getting it to their plates.

Endnotes

[i] Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA). June 6, 2012. The Hands that Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain. Accessed July 11, 2018 from http://foodchainworkers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Hands-That-Feed-Us-Report.pdf

[ii] Food Chain Workers Alliance, The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, The Restaurant Opportunities Center the Bay, Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy. July 24, 2014. Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers. Accessed July 11, 2018 from https://www.issuelab.org/resources/18559/18559.pdf

[iii] FCWA 2012.

[iv] The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Boston, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and the Boston Area Restaurant Industry Coalition. October 2016. Behind the Kitchen Door: Promise and Denial in Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry. Accessed July 11, 2018 from http://rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/BKD_Boston_Report_W.pdf

[v] Packaged Facts. January 28, 2015. Sales of Local Foods Reaches $12 Billion. Accessed July 17, 2018, https://www.packagedfacts.com/about/release.asp?id=3717.

[vi] FCWA 2012.

Laura Flagg completed her MA at Tufts UEP in May 2018. Her masters thesis explores Commonwealth Kitchen’s efforts to build small scale food processing capacity.

 

Owning Main Street: Three Finance Innovations for Community Control of Development

By Allison Curtis

Main Street businesses provide access to goods and services and generate jobs and ownership opportunities for local residents. But more than these economic roles, they also enhance vibrant and safe street life. As important as these commercial districts are, residents may not feel much control as businesses move in and out, shifting the fabric of the places they live. Commercial gentrification, for example, can displace local business owners that provide culturally and community specific goods and services to make room for chain stores that can pay higher rents.

In 2015, Oksana Mironova joined a Facebook discussion with others in New York City who were concerned about “seeing small businesses vanish, seeing places that have important community roles… vanish” due to the increasing prices of land in the City and its impact on local businesses and organizations. The online thread led to an in-person meet-up. This group of community members was ready to take action, but was faced with a daunting question: how can a community gain control over commercial development?

The group ultimately decided to collectively invest in real estate development through a somewhat new tool designed to address commercial real estate affordability — the real estate investment cooperative (REIC). Investing pooled funds in real estate would enable these community members to more directly control commercial development.

In Boston, a group of Black and Latino workers pursued this same idea of collective ownership to form CERO, a worker cooperative providing organic recycling services. And when they needed startup capital, they opened up investment to local community members through a direct public offering (DPO).

Cooperative investment in real estate development and collective ownership of local businesses are just two ways that communities are trying to exert control over their main streets. Boston Ujima Project, which is building a community investment fund, is taking democratic control one step further by running a participatory budgeting process among its members to decide how to allocate their capital fund. These three projects are examples of community-based financing and cooperative ownership, particularly to support businesses that have community value but lack access to capital. These attempts to “own Main Street” are each described in further detail below.

NYCREIC logo

Real Estate Investment Cooperatives

Popularized in the United States by the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) in Minneapolis, a real estate investment cooperative is an organization designed for buying and developing real estate. They provide a structure through which community members can collectively invest in commercial or office space to ensure that the amenities and services they want in their communities can be financed.

Mironova and her associates became the New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative, “a group of over 500 New Yorkers who are pooling their money and power to secure space for community, small business, and cultural use in NYC.” By gathering funds from community members to financially support the purchase of real estate around the city, NYC REIC hopes to re-establish the community’s control of development.

“We want to play a role in helping people pool money and make decisions based on cooperative principles of keeping nonresidential spaces affordable. For a lot of people that’s thinking about commercial space, but also office space for nonprofits, manufacturing spaces… supporting non-speculative development” says Mironova.

Each investor, regardless of their investment amount, holds a single vote in deciding how money will be spent. While they have yet to purchase their first property, NYC REIC hopes to partner with other organizations to help maintain the affordability of property after it is purchased, perhaps transferring the ownership to a community land trust or other non-profit.

Residents of communities where real estate prices are increasing, like New York City, are not the only ones seeking new ways to finance business and real estate. Finding the capital to support and finance commercial projects is a general challenge, particularly in lower and moderate income communities that are perceived as “risky” for investors.

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Direct Public Offerings

In 2012 a group of community members from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and representatives from the Boston Workers Alliance and MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health) came together to create a worker-owned compost diversion enterprise. They sought to build sustainable employment opportunities within a growing green economy while also addressing the need for composting.

However, CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling and Organics, also “zero” in Spanish) struggled to access financing. Without a historical record of business success, customers, or collateral, banks were not interested in providing a loan for the new business. And because they were a business, not a non-profit, many foundations were also uninterested or unable to invest in the project.

Lor Holmes, CERO’s general manager, remembers the process: “We needed capital. We had none of our own. We were all low-income and working class. Most everybody was working at least one other job. We went around to all the usual places, traditional banks, and we couldn’t offer them what they needed. We didn’t have a record; we didn’t have customers, inventory, any collateral. That knocked out almost all of the places that businesses get money.”

CERO was also committed to being a worker-owned cooperative, and thus could not offer equity shares to investors because any profit they made would go back to the worker-owners of the business. The worker-owners involved in the founding of CERO were residents of the community that would be served by the business, deepening the company’s tie to the area.

After securing a small loan from the Cooperative Fund of New England and the Boston Impact Initiative and raising a bit more cash and community support through a crowdfunding campaign, CERO decided to explore an alternative finance method: a direct public offering or DPO. When large companies or corporations launch publicly in the stock market, they provide individual public offerings, or IPOs. An IPO provides the opportunity for companies to sell shares to institutional investors and/or retail investors. However in order to purchase an IPO an investor must work with an underwriting firm and have a net worth of at least $1 million or an income of at least $200,000 for the past year.

As opposed to IPOs, DPOs are self-administered and self-underwritten public securities. Unlike a typical crowdsourcing platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, DPOs are public offerings where individuals can buy stock in the company and thus potentially gain a return on their investment if the company is successful. Based on the type of DPO that they establish, companies may be restricted to targeting a single geographic location or be able to reach a wider base online. CERO, for example, could only accept investments from within Massachusetts. For companies that do not have the collateral to access loans from banks, a DPO provides an opportunity to build a pool of equity capital that could be used as collateral while also offering community investors partial ownership of the business and direct involvement in its development.

For CERO, the DPO process ended up costing about $20,000 (spent mostly on legal fees and advertising) but eventually raised $370,000 from 85 investors. 95% of those investors live in Eastern Massachusetts; many are from Dorchester and the other surrounding neighborhoods that CERO serves. As noted by Holmes, most of these investments were of $2,500, the minimum investment amount, and most investors had never made a stock purchase before.

Ujima Logo

Ujima’s Community Capital Fund

Not far from CERO’s home base in Dorchester is another organization seeking to find new ways to finance community businesses and services through collective ownership. The Boston Ujima Project, founded in 2016, is an organization with a mission to create “a new community controlled economy in Greater Boston.”

In 2014, a group of four local organizations came together to address funding needs for grassroots organizations and movement building in the Boston area. After a few years of studying the needs of local communities, these organizations came to the conclusion that a system was needed to provide access to capital for community needs that could be administered directly by the community. They studied a variety of different models and decided to pull aspects of a handful of cooperative frameworks to create a larger initiative, now called the Boston Ujima Project.

One of Ujima’s key programs, the Community Capital Fund, pools money from local community members to be invested in businesses and entrepreneurs that are voted on by members. The Community Capital Fund uses a participatory budgeting model wherein all Ujima members who are residents of Boston have an equal vote as to how the money is spent, regardless of how much they have invested. Membership costs just $25 for adults, and members also have a vote in deciding on the community standards that each investment must adhere to — for example, paying a living wage or a focus on environmental sustainability.

While Ujima is still developing the fund and has yet to allocate capital through this process, the fund will eventually be distributed to small businesses and real estate projects through its Neighborhood Assemblies and Good Business Alliance and Worker Services Network. The fund itself is made up of contributions from members, impact investors, philanthropic foundations, faith based organizations, and anchor institutions. Ujima hopes that the fund will provide an opportunity for the market needs of community members to be heard and provided for outside of a typical investment structure.

 

Democratizing Finance, Democratizing Development

Democratizing the finance structure of community development leads to a more diverse set of funding options, encouraging businesses that may not be able to access conventional funding sources to open and increase access to goods and services to the community. This democratization also provides the general public more opportunities to access to the financial benefits of investment.

Main street districts can be the lifeline of a community — providing jobs, access to goods and services that people need, and a place for people to gather and connect with one another. By democratizing the investment process, the community is invited to share in the success and benefits of commercial development, while being directly involved in deciding what happens in these districts.

[Note: this article is based on Allison’s 2018 master’s thesis for the Tufts University Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning: Extending Community Control over Commercial Development: Community Land Trusts and Community Finance Models]

Article online: Urban food sharing and the emerging Boston food solidarity economy

An article that I and Julian Agyeman wrote has just been published online in Geoforum journal. This piece will be part of a forthcoming special issue on Food Sharing. We continue to follow the emerging food solidarity economy in Boston and look at the potentials and challenges to its growth.

Check it out at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016718518302513

 

Abstract

A food solidarity economy has been sprouting in Boston’s lower income neighborhoods and communities of color, rooted in struggles for control over the food system itself. Though not centrally coordinated, this movement encompasses a varied network of nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives, operating in all parts of the food system, from stewarding land and growing to processing, consumption, and composting. They span a range of urban food sharing practices: sharing stuff, spaces, and skills via collecting, gifting, and selling. They have taken collective ownership of land, created shared growing spaces, developed shared facilities for food businesses, opened a community cafe, and launched a worker-owned food recycling cooperative. They are driven by desires for transformation and are decommodifying the food system and increasing the urban food commons.

This paper offers a critical, but hopeful, examination of the transformational potential of this growing food solidarity economy by viewing it as a local social movement. We draw on the theory and practice of solidarity economy and diverse community economies to highlight the possibilities for encouraging economies that go beyond the constraints of capitalism. But we also use an urban political ecology lens to foreground the challenges of neoliberalism to a food solidarity economy. We assess the trajectories of transformation in three dimensions: ideological, political, and economic. We conclude that transformation will likely require reforming neoliberalized policies and institutions, while at the same time building noncapitalist practices. A network approach to building scale seems promising, including building the movement’s own solidarity financing vehicles.

Keywords

Solidarity economy
Food sharing
Food justice
Boston
Community land trust
Cooperatives

Boston Learns from Jackson MS

Akuno panel

On Saturday April 28, the Solidarity Economy Initiative hosted “Learning from Jackson: Building a Solidarity Economy in Boston.” Almost 200 came to afternoon workshops and an evening program featuring Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson. This event had many co-sponsors, including from Tufts (Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, Education, and Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora).

We were all inspired by the experience in Jackson, Mississippi of building independent political power and harnessing community and government resources to build a solidarity economy. Kali Akuno challenged us in Boston to develop a shared vision of our future and then develop strategies for how to get there. He recently co-wrote Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. I was particularly struck by how Akuno described their work on solidarity economy, political organizing, and community building as breaking down the artificial divide between the economic and social.

Read on below for more details of the day.

Akuno event

Repost of article on April 28th event by Boston Ujima Project newsletter:

During the afternoon, we came together for collective learning. Participants attended one of four workshops, covering Solidarity Economy 101, Divest/Invest, Intro to Building Coops, Alternative Land and Housing Report, and Healing in the Solidarity Economy.

In the evening, we were honored to hear a keynote talk from Kali Akuno, a fierce movement builder from Jackson, MI who inspired us with stories and learnings from the work of Cooperation Jackson, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), and the Jackson Kush Plan.  Kali emphasized democracy through People’s Assemblies, experimentation, and the need to prioritize community livelihoods over the rules of our current economy.

Kali Akuno drew connections across geography and history.  He emphasized the need for our movements to support each other, despite our distance and differing contexts: “We need each other to succeed.” And he inspired us to look back at the work that happened decades ago, which made everything we do today possible, including the work of the UNIA and SNCC in Boston, and the leadership of Malcolm X and Bob Moses.

After Kali’s speech, we learned from a panel of incredible local movement leaders: Lisa Husniyyah Owens of City Life/Vida Urbana; Nia Evans of Boston Ujima Project; Elena Letona of Neighbor To Neighbor Massachusetts Education Fund and former City Councilor Chuck Turner.

Nishani Frazier on Black Power v. Black Capitalism

Check out this great podcast/article by Next System Project, interviewing Nishani Frazier on Black Power versus Black Capitalism. Frazier is a fellow at the Democracy Collaborative and an associate professor of history at Miami University of Ohio, who has recently wrote Harambee City: The Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and the Rise of Black Power Populism.

Her work examines the black power strategies of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which pursued collective economic development strategies. But many of these ideas and programs were reinterpreted as Black Capitalism in the Nixon administration, promoting individual black ownership.

She sees a return to some of these ideas with some of today’s new radical black mayors – Ras Baraka in Newark and Chokwe Antar Lumumba in Jackson, MI. Three things she thinks we can learn from the experience of CORE include:

  1. Institutionalizing economic self determination in policy to build resources and infrastructure.
  2. Building economic independence so that city is not dependent on outside resources.
  3. Building the city as a whole.

Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice

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Check out this article I wrote for YES Magazine on solidarity economies. It argues that we need to escape “capitalocentrism” and see that there are all sorts of thriving non-capitalist economies, where there may not be a profit motive or market exchange. These solidarity economies are being innovated out of necessity by poor communities and communities of color. Some examples identified in the article include Wellspring (Springfield, MA), Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance (Worcester), Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity (East Boston), and Boston Ujima Project.

Capitalism Is Not the Only Choice

We have opportunities every day to build economies that lift each other up and spread joy.
By Penn Loh, posted November 14, 2017

Since the breakup of the Soviet bloc and China’s turn toward free markets, many economists have pronounced an “end of history,” where capitalism reigns supreme as the ultimate form of economy. Perhaps “there is no alternative” to a globalized neoliberal economy, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher often said. Indeed, free markets in which individuals compete to get what they can while they can are glorified in popular culture through reality shows such as Shark Tank.

But many of us in the 99 percent are not feeling so happy or secure about this economy’s results. Many are working harder and longer just to maintain housing and keep food on the table. Even the college-educated are mired in student debt, keeping the American Dream beyond their grasp. And then there are those who have never been served well by this economy. African Americans were liberated from enslavement only to be largely shut out of “free” market opportunities. Immigrants continue to work in the shadows. Women still earn only about three-quarters of what men make for the same work.

So, are we trapped in capitalism? While many of us may want a new economy where people and planet are prioritized over profit, we remain skeptical that another world is really possible. We make some progress locally but then feel powerless to affect national and global forces. Too often “the economy” is equated with markets where corporations compete to make profits for the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest work for a wage or salary (or don’t make money at all). Work itself is seen as legitimate only if it legally generates income. Value is measured only in money terms, based on what people are willing to pay in the market. The capitalist mindset also separates economy from society and nature, as if it exists apart from people, communities, government, and our planet. Economy is its own machine, fueled by profit and competition.

When everything that we label “economic” is assumed to be capitalist—transactional and market-driven—then it is no wonder that we run short on imagination.

[For full article, go to http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/solidarity/capitalism-is-not-the-only-choice-20171114]

Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning

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Environmental Justice communities across the nation are reclaiming planning and driving climate resilience. Check out the new report by Movement Strategy Center: Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework.

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From Buffalo to the Gulf South to Minneapolis to California to New York City, communities are reclaiming the planning processes that shape how we live, work, eat, breathe, play, and raise our children. Community leadership in planning increases resilience by putting those most impacted at the heart of our future.

Movement Strategy Center is proud to launch our new report, Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework, along with APEN, Center for Earth, Energy, & Democracy(CEED), Movement Generation, Oakland Climate Action Coalition, Our Power Richmond (see Our Power Campaign), PODER, PUSH Buffalo, Rooted in Resilience, UPROSE, and WE ACT. Also see Communities for a Better Environment, Gulf South Rising, and more featured in the Framework!

Go to the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners website at nacrp.org to download the Framework.  You’ll find principles, practices, and inspiring Spotlights full of wisdom and action from communities who are facing climate chaos by leading our world toward resilience and regeneration.