Connecting food to community owned assets
By Arnie King
Bristol citizen Arnie King writes our latest blog post asking community projects and organisations to get in touch to explore community ownership and what it might mean for food in Bristol.
After spending eight months cycling from Land’s End to Liverpool, where along the way I stayed on cooperative farms, organic growing projects and visited as many examples of community ownership that I could find, I now want to see what kinds of practical exchanges between diverse projects and organisations would look like.
• What can different types of projects offer that is most useful to others?
• What would help existing networks to empower exchanges and solidarity between members?
• How do you find a balance that means new projects are supported by the existing work by others, but do not feel restricted by a top-down or overly prescriptive model?
• What has/hasn’t worked before?
Widening the circle
Ideas around the circular economy underpin a lot of the incredible work that happens across progressive food and cooperative ownership structures, and solidarity between actors in this movement exist in some form in lots of places already. It is my view though that existing or new networks have an opportunity to strengthen the structures that help develop and grow individual projects.
It is very likely that the biggest ask from most projects will funds, and although there is room for better sharing of sources, application tips and crowdfunding, there are more intricate and sustainable ways to spread mutual development across projects in lieu of huge grants suddenly being rolled out across the country. For example, if a community land trust could set up a long-term buying agreement with a community farm then the farm can depend on long-term trading income, which is vital, especially in early stages. The Land Trust may only buy a small amount of food that it can afford each month, but the legal setup of organisations like this mean that whoever becomes tenants of the café, housing site, shop etc. at any point in the future will have to agree to this when signing up. In the same way that they would have to agree to other charitable/community-led/inclusive terms that are a fundamental feature of robust community-stewardship schemes.
Other resources that could be considered for these types of exchanges could vary from volunteers, template policy and legal resources, administration expertise, links with partners such as Universities and trading companies, or whatever is appropriate and practicable to offer.
Who has the time to make it worthwhile?
Obviously, an efficient and reactive platform of exchanges and solidarity would be a fantastic thing to offer any project, but who has time to identify, reach out and negotiate these exchanges when they are also literally building something from the ground up? The key here is remembering that many networks and local groups are doing this in some form as a matter of principle anyway, and this includes vital mapping of projects across diverse types and sizes.
I will be spending the summer reaching out to relevant projects and networks to carry on this conversation, so if you have a project, a platform or simply an idea you can reach out to me at @akingprogress on Instagram and I would be happy to hear from you.
So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.
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