A Local Food Northland conference?

Local Food Northland is in the early stages of planning a local food conference. A big part of the shift to a more sustainable food systems is working together – so the diverse people and groups that have an interest in food and health can learn about what each other are doing and build productive connections.

We are still finalising the dates and venue, but it could be as early as February 2017. We are talking with a potential keynote speaker from the U.S. who has a prominent role in promoting food policy initiatives.


These are the 25 goals for Vermont’s Farm to Plate strategic plan. It makes sense to adapt this for our own purposes and part of the conference will be about shaping up some of these goals in the Northland context. A sustainable food system in Northland has to be grounded in our Treaty partnership, so we will make some room for one or two goals specifically focusing on kai Māori.

Notice that many of these goals are focused on commercial food production and distribution, others are about food related aspects of social and environmental sustainability and others are about policy.

Which of these goals motivate you? If you can see yourself being involved in promoting one or more specific goals, please contact us. You can leave a comment below, or contact Jeff Griggs, Clive McKegg or Peter Bruce-Iri.

A Food Policy Council for Northland?

While current sustainable food system initiatives in Northland are admirable, as yet, they remain relatively poorly connected. If this were to continue, such initiatives will remain as a counter-culture in the prevailing industrial food system. Local Food Northland believe that developing a Northland food policy council, founded democratically as a “grass-roots” initiative with the task of preparing a regional food plan and fostering greater connectivity is a desirable step toward a more sustainable food system.

Here is  an extract about food policy councils from our current research.

It is not surprising that we find strong momentum towards establishing sustainable food systems in the nation that has been at the forefront of the proliferation of fast food chains, food processing and long food chains. In 2015, The United States had 215 Food Policy Councils, with a total of 282 in North America.

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Food Policy Councils in North America

This graph (from John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future) reveals dramatic growth in Councils from 2000 to 2015. Growth appears to have plateaued, but based on its proliferation in North America is primed to expand in other locations world-wide.

Seventy eight percent of these councils are either independent grass-roots organisations or NGOs with Twenty one percent embedded in government or government funded organisations (Center for a Livable Future, 2015).

The Center for a Livable Future’s mission is “to promote research and to develop and communicate information about the complex interrelationships among diet, food production, environment, and human health” (Center for a Livable Future, 2016). The top priorities for Food Policy Councils are healthy food access, urban agriculture/food production, education, purchasing and procurements, networking and food hubs. Other interests are anti-hunger, food waste and fitness(Center for a Livable Future, 2015).

Two examples of Food Policy Councils follow – the first metropolitan and the second regional.

The Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC)

The Toronto Food Policy Council, established in 1991 is one of the oldest. The TFPC “connects diverse people from the food, farming and community sector to develop innovative policies and projects that support a health-focused food system, and provides a forum for action across the food system” (Toronto Food Policy Council, 2016).

Key documents include the Toronto Food Charter and Cultivating Food Connections, Toronto Food Strategy. The TFPC also collaborates with other organisations in Ontario to promote policy and legislation to shape a sustainable food system. Wayne Roberts (2014) uses a flywheel as a metaphor for food policy councils. They institutionalise and foster innovation providing momentum, rather than having new projects have to start unaided and poorly connected to the diversity in the food system.

Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council (PSRFPC)

The PSRFPC is much younger, established in 2010. Its vision is a “thriving, inclusive and just local and regional food system that enhances the health of: people, diverse communities, economies, and environments”(Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council, 2011). In addition to policy work, the PSRFPC has worked on farmers market viability.

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 http://www.ottoscharmer.com/publications/executive-summaries