Our Good Food Community Bridge

When my family first drove to Oaxaca from Mexico city it took over 9 hours. Well, always a little longer than average estimated time because mother had to make many stops. She would say, Mira Cele que lindo! (lindo = pretty) and then would ask my dad to stop. My dad would pull over, even when we just passed 3 semi trucks going slow and would have to pass them again once we caught up to them. We would look at the beautiful grasses, pottery or arts and crafts a roadside entrepreneur may be peddling.

My mother's observant nature and my dad's love of food took us in many food adventures. We stopped at every market we could find to check food vendors. In Oaxaca the food market has a bug section. That is where I first tasted grasshoppers. My mother and dad had grubs, that was too adventurous for me. In San Cristobal de Las Casas we tasted queso de bola. A cheese that comes in a wax ball made in Ocosingo a nearby town. In Puebla we walked a street full of locally made candy stores, they sold camotes, borrachitos and tortitas de Santa Clara.

All this to say that local and regional flavors are an important part of our cultural heritage. Having strong local food markets nurture the growth of our food entrepreneurs. It makes it possible for your neighbor’s special BBQ sauce to become a point of local pride. A local food market helps our food entrepreneurs launch their small batch label. They celebrate our local food talent.

In the age of smartphone convenience and pumpkin spice conglomerates, how do we nurture a locally owned food market? A market that can surprise our kids and bring us the enjoyment of knowing who made the food. A market that can support local food production. Having local food producers is also an insurance against potential crisis or catastrophy.

From my perspective a Locally Owned Food System (LOFS) in the shape of a market place owned by consumers, food vendors and farmers offers a city these benefits:

  • Supports local food entrepreneurship to develop local flavors and promotes local food culture;
  • Encourages production of food that is healthy for you using processes that are also healthy for our planet too, like organic farming
  • Serves to reduce the carbon foot print of our food consumption;
  • Provides means to scale up local food production to ensure a local, healthy, safe food supply in case of a calamity.

Ideally a locally owned food market can connect food entrepreneurs to customers. It does so at a low cost and with minimum barriers. Maybe I made up a chipotle Pho base, but only have enough funds to can and label 250 units. I can rent a commercial kitchen space at La Dorita or at the Market Kitchen. Then I have to sell them. Typically this could entail renting a stall at a market, selling it to neighbors and friends or online. In Mexico I would peddle a commercial bike and call out for customers, like camote vendors do, camotes! Camotes! Camotes!

Selling what you made can be time consuming and costly. However, if I was a part owner of a LOFS, then I could take my 250 units add them to the inventory of the market. Promote my product line through social media. As orders come in the market packs and delivers them to customers. I could also participate in special tasting events organized by the market to promote my brand.

The purpose of a LOFS is to aggregate our food consumption to strengthen local food production. It connects food producers directly to consumer demand. Consumers that care about where their food comes from and how it is grown. Their commitment maybe to promoting our food culture, or for health reasons, environmental values or just the pragmatic idea of making sure we have strong resilient local food system as an insurance policy.

By pooling our food consumption under a LOFS we can invest in growing our local food systems capacity. In the Pittsburgh region we already have a very active urban and organic farming community. However, most of our food production is seasonal. To respond to urgent food needs we need to produce year round. We also need to have capacity to scale.

Securing a consumer market that is committed to a LOFS reduces risk for farmers and investors interested in scaling up. Moving to scale could include using hi-tech farming methods, for example: vertical growing, aquaponics and other indoor farming methods.

Hi-tech farming can offer cities food security. It can also help lower the carbon footprint associated with our agriculture system. It is estimated that nearly 40% of food costs is associated with energy use.

What could that look like? One of the ideas I am exploring is zero carbon food production. My thought is to place a greenhouse on a barge and let the river's energy provide the power. The greenhouse would produce vegetables, fish and insect protein. Ideally it would be a closed loop system and have zero waste.

Starting this venture and then seeking a market is pretty high risk. However, if I was a LOFS member I would know that I could have access to a market if my assumptions were feasible. Perhaps my concept is too lofty and may not work. However, there are already indoor micro farms you can operate in a shipping container. Purchase and startup costs are around 50K plus. Knowing that I could have guaranteed access to a market would make it easier to obtain the financing to purchase and operate a micro greens farm.

Having access to market that is committed to securing a Locally Owned Food System is what will enable us to scale up local food production. Nourish a local food culture. And provide our city with food security. Together we could be a good food community.

Happy New Year! Smiles

Carlos Gasca Yanez

Be life giving! Smile

Canada, USA, Mexico