Kitsap Food Web

The buzz these days is all about creating what is commonly called a “Food Hub”. There are different models of Food Hubs, but on the Kitsap County scale, a food hub might be like a “food web” – a network of food producers, value-added kitchens, and retail and wholesale consumers. The goal would be to increase local food production by enlarging the “pipelines” of that food web – to support food security, local economic resilience and overall community health.

Going local” is a challenge because of the financial efficiency of the global economy. The global economy has grown at the expense of local economies primarily because of economy of scale, and also because of its driving need to continually expand – the “growth imperative” (which politicians are promising is just around the corner). The global economy is favored for many reasons:

  • Small profit margins favor large corporations with huge volumes of business.
  • The global economy externalizes costs to the natural environment.
  • Cheap energy favors highly mechanized agro-biz farms
  • Cheap transportation enables global travel for cheap labor and farmland.

So how do we design a local food economy to compete with the global economy? Permaculture uses principles of natural systems which could be applied to design an “economical” Food Hub. Here is my interpretation of nature’s principles:

  1. Common purpose Currently there is a climate of individualism and competition among many of the farms – despite the fact that a very small proportion of the food consumed in Kitsap County is produced locally. If a Food Hub were seen as being in the best interests of everyone, then individual farmers and business owners might put aside their fears and consider doing what’s best for the Food Hub in the short term, understanding that everyone would benefit in the long term. An example is how Vashon Island’s Tilth Chapter has developed the Farmers’ Market to become a focus for the common good of Vashon Producers.
  2. Mutually negotiated self-interest Overcoming fears requires communicating and trust-building. Participants need to believe they will have their needs met in the new system – though differently than in the current system. This balances the competitiveness (which supports individual competency) with cooperation (which supports the whole system). It will be important to work with the stakeholders to understand how to best design their interests into the plan.
  3. Centralization vs. decentralization A Hub is a centralized structure that aggregates produce from decentralized farms. So there has to be a dynamic balance between the centralized and decentralized aspects. Farms would still have to be responsible for their activities, but would have to negotiate with the centralized functions to meet the needs of the larger organization. These decisions would be most effective if made collaboratively, to benefit the whole. The Ferry Stand is an example where the producers had to be centrally coordinated for a weekly successful offering.
  4. Diversity vs. Integration vs.Diversity includes:
      • farm products
      • value-added products
      • offerings to the customers (Farmers’ Markets, Farmstands, CSA’s, green grocer stores, etc.).
      • job specialitiesfor production, distribution, packaging,value-added, marketing, data processing, etc.

An example would be to encourage farmers to focus on production – where they have the most expertise, rather than when they have to also be marketers and salespeople and distributors. The efficiency comes from integrating diverse specialities to maximize overall Food Hub profit.

  1. Balancing positive & negative feedback Increasing mechanisms for feedback, and making it easier for negative feedback to become constructive feedback would make the system more responsive and dynamic to change as needed. For example, if a centralized computer data file showed an increased cabbage harvest, a fermentation site couldprocess the excess produce. Computer data systems with shared access are one such strategy, but necessitatedataentering (another specialized function needed?) Positive feedback is part of a learning organization, which can occur through building on successes, designingincentives for positive changes, and having a strong shared value for continuous improvement. Shared incentives from the success of the Food Hub with the participants would be an example of using positive feedback to benefit the whole.
  2. Balancing synergy &redundancy An example of synergy would be having several different farms commit to putting more land into production, and then aggregating the produce streams from all those farms to supply a common CSAthat is put together and delivered by other Hub personnel. Another would be capturing waste streams – for example, vehicles that deliver produce to a restaurant, and then take food scraps back to the farms for feeding pigs. Redundancy means having multiple options in case one source fails. Diverse elements in a complex Food Hub create opportunities for both synergy and redundancy
  3. Balancing order vs. chaos While organization and coordination are essential, designing “flexibility elements” would make the system more adaptable. Having a mobile work-force that is knowledgable in different specialities could provide flexibility for helping with a harvest, making unscheduled deliveries, orunexpected surplusprocessing. The global economy is efficient, but lacks resilience. A well-designed Food Hub should make up for its losses in economy of scale by being more adaptable.

Future details are being developed collaboratively for a model “Phase I” start-up Food Hub, guided by these design principles. A pilot Food Hub might start with a few farms, a value-added processing center, a distribution vehicle, a pilot electronic database website, a cooperative CSA, and some retail and wholesale consumers. The design should also be expandable to a future vision of a robust Kitsap Food Hub.

Bios Design
design bylili estin