The u.Lab free course is highly relevant to local food

Have you done a MOOC yet (Massive Online Open Course)? I have completed Otto Scharmer’s u.Lab course twice now, because it was so good. It is on again in September.

It is highly relevant to our aspirations for local food for at least two key concepts in the course. Otto Scharmer uses hi Theory U to illustrate how our societies and economies around the world have evolved through four stages. The first is state centric, based on hierarchy and centralised control. The next two, free market and social markets, introduced markets and competition and then moderating influences such as NGOs and unions. These three sectors continue to operate in conflict and have exhausted the extent of their value. Proponents of each suggest that more of their chosen ideology will provide the necessary remedy.


Otto Scharmer points to the emergence of a new societal model  – the co-creative society. It is the earlier three sectors, but rather than competing, they are working together – seeing and acting from the whole. In the local food context, we would not have monopolies dominating. The links between food production, consumption, health and a thriving local economy, that are so evident to us, will drive decision making when we get to look at things more holistically.

The second very relevant concept is about our listening. Otto Scharmer guides us through the need to suspend the voices of judgement, cynicism and fear to help us get to a space when we can co-create and together “step into the future that wants to emerge”.

Last year a group of Northlanders get together for weekly “coaching circles” as part of this course. If a group of us were to do the course we could create a coaching circle specifically focussing on local food. Please comment if you are interested.

Here is a link to a short self-paced introductory course and to details of the full course.


Moving the food system towards sustainability

We are promoting a sustainable food system for Northland.

Sheri Flies… says that three essentials must be considered in order to move the food system towards sustainability. “The first thing is that you have to have a critical mass of benevolent demand on the side of the customers. Then you need full economic, social, and ecological transparency across the entire supply chain. And then you need to give a face to the producers, to the farmers; you need to personalise their connection with the consumers, which in turn will strengthen the benevolent demand for high-quality products and processes”.[1]

Lets look at each of these essentials.

1. Critical mass of benevolent demand

The success of the Whangarei Growers Market (WGM) evidences momentum towards a “critical mass of benevolent demand”. The research report into the WGM revealed strong customer loyalty. Sixty percent of customers identified support for local growers as important. Thus we can extrapolate that perhaps 2,000 to 4,000 of the 3,000 to 6,000 customers that shop at the market every week can be regarded as “benevolent”. Growers and farmers markets are on the rise all around Northland.

Another evidence of customer benevolence is the rise of popularity of Fair Trade movement in Northland and world-wide. The purpose of Fair Trade is to generate more equitable returns for producers.

The distribution systems that have disadvantaged third world producers have the same characteristics as the systems that have driven many Northland producers out of business.

2. Transparency across the entire supply chain

The traditional supply chain is often predatory. Organisations in it battle to gain dominance, and when they do, they exercise power to the disadvantage of others in the chain. At their worst players in predatory supply chains guard knowledge as a competitive knowledge and seek to extract value to their own advantage.

By contrast value chain players seek to create and share value across the chain. Transparency is vital. Tinkering with existing supply chains won’t achieve the aim of delivering value to both producers and consumers. To achieve this, we must use technology to establish transparent distribution systems. Fortunately there are already local models of this in place, including markets, where the producer sells directly to the customer and newer initiatives such as the Northland Natural Food Co-op which enables the producer to determine the sale price with a small cut for the co-op.

In the short term, a social enterprise will be a good vehicle to reform distribution systems and create transparency. Social enterprises are designed to operate commercially, but have mechanisms to ensure surpluses are returned to the enterprise or community stakeholders. Thus profit and purpose are in balance.

3. Personalise connections between producers and consumers

Building richer connections between producers and their customers is happening. Our job is to seek to understand our food systems and promote interventions that enhance these connections. And as Sherie Flies states this “in turn will strengthen the benevolent demand for high-quality products and processes”.

What do you know about the food you consume? Who benefits from your purchases? And how can you use your food dollars to generate more benefits for local producers and consumers?

[1] from Theory U: Leading From the Future as it Emerges. Otto Scharmer