Building momentum towards a sustainable food system

Every project I’m involved with aspiring to move from an industrial food system to a sustainable food system reinforces the critical importance of connecting people. In Northland we have a lot of organisations aspiring to improve our food system. They range from environmental groups and landowners working to improve waterways, health workers, farmers and growers, marae-based groups, co-operatives, educationalists and researchers to name a few. The problem is, we are barely aware of what each other are doing.

Collectively, I am sure that there are a lot of us. But we fail to leverage our collective voice.

The development this year of the Northland Food Policy Network encourages me. Its a group of volunteers of similar diversity expressed above advocating to influence policy. Our success will be proportional to our ability to connect with others of like mind to generate momentum for change.

The industrial food system has super-tanker momentum! It has slick and seductive marketing, economies of scale, sophisticated supply chains and political influence. And perhaps most insidiously, it is the normal – the orthodox, with mostly unquestioned legitimacy.

This Guardian article identifies a similar dynamics for those advocating for climate change. Advocates for change are often left to work on individual efforts while the neo-liberal agenda actively seeks to shore up the status quo and feed our oil addiction.

Duncan Green, author of How Change Happens (get if free here) outlines the power gradient that is fundamental to change in this video:

  • power within (when the individual finds ways to change)
  • power with (when connections are made with likeminded others)
  • power to (the capability to decide actions and carry them out)
  • power over ( the power to effect and embed change).

Those of us focussed on food system change have taken steps to make connections and are developing the capability for collective action. Our ability to influence will be determined by our ability to make ongoing connections.

Another useful idea from this video is Duncan Green’s power analysis adapted below. Those with high concern about issues, but low influence have to find their collective voice, translate it into action and engage and influence those who have influence but are not engaged to change. We need to reach out to landowners and supermarkets for example.

influence and concern

Follow this link for more on change, based on Duncan Green’s thinking.

A way forward

Two projects that Local Food Northland are working on are supporting the change dynamics. We are supporting the Northland Food Policy Network and Clive McKegg is leading a project to develop a database of individuals and organisations with common aspirations. We are fully aware that a data base is only part of the engagement equation. We need to engage kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).

What can you do?

If you want to see a food system that serves people by supporting our health, building our economy and sustaining our environment, one practical step is to help us connect with organisations that you are aware of that want these outcomes too. Please contact us or leave a comment below.

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