The Leaders met five times in 2018 and gained an understanding of a systems approach to the issues, increased the understanding of our current local food economy, developed problem statements and a set of common values and gained a better understanding of the issue from the farm perspective. In their final meeting in December 2018 they identified a Demonstration Project for 2019.
SIMPLIFIED VALUES CHART FROM LEADERSHIP GROUP
The chart “illustrates the priority values the Leadership Group identified. It is a conglomerate that creates a frame for making change. Based on the Leadership Group’s work, the diagram shows that creating the local food culture is the glue that is needed to hold these values together. The group achieved consensus that the linchpin values that define the local food culture are diversity, sustainability, and knowledge. These concepts form the foundation for building a value-based local food system” (REICHERT, Leadership Internal Report, June 2018). The values will provide the screen that the Leadership Group can use to critically assess the approaches, strategies, and components that need to be put in place to address the problems.
With Problem statements and values in place there are “four more major steps in the systems development process: create the vision, develop the strategic plan and conduct feasibility, and implement the system” (REICHERT, Leadership Internal Report, June 2018). Phase one will be to scope out the risks and outcomes for each part of the feasibility study and the second phase will be to implement the change action and measure the impacts across the whole system. Leaders will meet again in December to flesh out the details of the demonstration they want to test in 2019. This is the first step in an iterative process that will create change over time.
FARM SECTOR CAPACITY BUILDING
A most important building block in creating a food system is the farms. Focus Group with farmers were held in the Spring of 2018 where we heard the challenges and opportunities farmers face in order to sell into the larger retail and institutional markets.
There was notable consensus on the factors that affect the farmers’ capacities to produce more food:
Lack of labour
Lack of capital to develop farm fixtures and equipment
A strong majority said that the key infrastructure need is shared warehouse, coolers, trucking, and storage. A key issue that was added into this discussion and carried through to the next is the issue that it is hard for local food to compete on price with industrially produced food.
Health and Safety Standards - The question on diversification and GAP certification and the related discussion produced the most variation between the two focus groups, and among the participants. Overall, the question prompted complex responses. Some of the participants were more open to the possibility of wholesaling to larger buyers than others
Relational Contracts - All of the participants viewed contracting as a new kind of relationship. The various perspectives on diversifying markets shared tentativeness about the benefits that would accrue to their individual farm businesses. Without exception, however, diversifying markets is strongly linked to the established specific values of each farm operation.
Values - Similarly, farming values dominated the discussion about contracting with buyers. There was consensus that the nature of the contract is the key concern. Regardless of whether the farmer was amenable to contracting or less likely to contract, it is essential that contracts be based on a relationship and trust. Price mattered but the overriding character of the contractual arrangements must be based on a shared understanding of the nature of smaller scale farming.