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8. Building a Strong Community

How can businesses put social purpose before profit?

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Food and community are inseparable.

As we all need to eat, we rely on a series of relationships to keep us and our families well fed. How our food is grown, distributed, shared, exchanged and eaten can both build community, our own happiness, and shape our local food cultures.

Organisations, whether a food business, food bank, school or charity, can be designed in such a way as to increase the capacity of the communities they work with and operate in. For example, they can strengthen local economies by trading with other local businesses and by creating secure, well paid and fulfilling jobs. They can create spaces for skill sharing and knowledge exchange, and offer opportunities that build connections between eaters and farmers. They can also involve all sorts of people in the production, trading and celebration of food by designing equity into how they operate and develop.

So how do we build communities of support?

Different theories of change try to answer this question, but some common themes emerge…

Having a clear sustainable food vision that people can unite around seems important, as does raising awareness of our current food systems issues. To complement this, different opportunities need to be created that allow for people to experience and connect to the issues and inspiring examples of sustainable food models in action. In doing this, direct relationships are built between ecological farmers, consumers and the landscapes they live in, which in turn increases the likelihood of long term support.

Sustainable food partnerships – made up of citizens and key stakeholders from across the food system – also seems key for creating all the above democratically, whilst fostering collaborative and joined up food work.

‘The daily choices we make about our food means that everyone who eats is a constituent in our food systems. But to truly create an equitable, inclusive and sustainable food system we also need to participate in shaping the policies and strategies that affect our food. That is the real food revolution: to sit at the democratic table, as ordinary people and active food citizens.’

Dee Woods, Granville Community Kitchen and Community Food Growers Network The Sustainable Food Places network is full of examples of this work happening in action .

‘Collaborative partnerships are alliances [that aim to] improve the health [and resilience] of a community. They encourage people to get together and make a difference. For example, an effort to improve education might involve school officials, youth, parents, teachers, business people, and non-profit staff and volunteers. Because these partnerships bring people together from all parts of the community, their efforts are more likely to be successful’ .

In order to develop the above, taking a place-based approach also seems key. In Growing Communities words:
‘As communities we can step up and become the middleman (and woman). We can reclaim the space that has shrunk dramatically over the past few decades as the supermarket model and the forces of globalisation have squeezed out local, independent traders and producers’.

Building your community of support

Think back to the last meal you ate.

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