Below are 10 suggested steps for setting up a community food project, and ways of sharing and linking it to others within your community and beyond:
1. Form a group
There are a number of ways you can drum up the company you need for forming a group and starting a community project. Begin by looking in all the likely places for fellow or potential local food supporters -
a local Transition initiative, its food group, other food-focused groups, environmental groups, food co-ops and box schemes.
You could put a call for group members out on their mailing lists, chat to others at their meetings or events, put an ad in their newsletters or magazines, or pin up posters on community noticeboards in your area.
If you already have a clear idea about what kind of project you'd like to get stuck into, and what skills you need to make it happen, you can of course be more specific about who you direct your ads and call-outs to.
2. Find out what's out there and forge links
If you haven't already built up a good understanding of existing food-focused groups and initiatives while seeking fellow cohorts, this is an important step in seeing how your project will fit into the existing local food network - or indeed, in identifying exactly what types of project are needed in your area.
Through networking you can develop contacts that may be an important source of support, sharing and inspiration once your project is fully fledged and kicking. And, when you are further down the line, you can make your presence and aims known to others through articles in local papers, giving presentations and attending food-related events in the community.
Other than those groups mentioned in Step 1, you can build up an idea of what is happening in your area through looking in local food guides, doing web searches, and chatting with people who run health-food shops, farms and other food schemes.
3. Identify what type of project you want to work on
- Why do you want to set up a community food project? Give each group member the opportunity to express why he or she wants to be part of such a project and what he or she hopes to get out of it.
- What areas of local food interest you? This is an obvious question but one that it can be easy to overlook in a group context.
- How much spare time do you have between you to dedicate to the project?
- How many of you are there? An easy enough question to answer, but try to take on something that is appropriate to the amount of shared work you can all handle.
- What knowledge and resources do you already have between you, i.e. land, skills, tools, gardening experience, etc.? List all of these during a group brainstorming session and see if there is an obvious food project to match them with.
- Do you have any access to funds? If you have funds from the outset (from other group funds, personal savings or other means), then you may want to shape the project in accordance with how much you already have to spend. Having no funds at all is by no means a reason not to go ahead. In the UK we are fortunate to have a number of funders keen to support local food initiatives - there is money there for the taking.
4. Conjure up positive visions
Visioning is an integral part of the Transition process that can be usefully applied to the set-up of any community food project, helping to define the group's hopes and goals for the path it is about to embark on.
5. Get planning
At this point, it might be a good idea to do the following.
- Identify a list of agreed principles to guide the project - including how, as a group, you define healthy, local food and sustainable food production.
- Consider your group's structure. How will decisions be made? What roles and tasks are members to take on? See the Transition Primer (available as a free download at www.transitionnetwork.org) for more information on the Transition model.
- How will you source all the tools, land, voluntary assistance, etc. that you need to get the project going? Plan and draw up a timetable you hope to work to.
- Will you be going for organic certification? If so, you can seek assistance from the Soil Association, the Wholesome Food Association or other accreditation bodies (details of both are given under ‘Local food - general' in the Resources section).
- Are there legal regulations that relate to your project? Make sure you are aware of all the relevant health, food safety, planning and trading standards from the outset.
6. Enlist help
A good way of firmly embedding a local food project within a community is by giving other community members the chance to contribute in some way. You may even find that people are willing to offer their professional services (such as marketing, web design, bookkeeping and legal work) at reduced rates if they are supportive of your aims. Lastly, make good use of the many local, regional and national organisations that are doing work around local food.
7. Honour the elders
As we move down the slope away from a peak in oil production, the elder folk in our communities will be a valuable source of ideas, skills and knowledge on how to feed our families without the help of cheap energy. The farming community is a good place to look for this expertise, not least because the average UK farmer is approaching retirement age.
8. Let it go where it wants to go
Resist the urge to be rigid about your intentions for the food project at the expense of implementing necessary changes or letting others have a say.
9. Make your project known
Publicise your efforts and make others in your community take notice of what you're up to.
10. Harvest your data as well as your food
Whether you are growing food in your own garden, running a food co-op or setting up a community forest garden, collecting figures on how much you grow and trade can be an invaluable source of information for your local food network and the wider movement. This kind of data can also be of great value when applying for funding or in promoting your project.
This is an edited extract from Local Food: How to make it happen in your community by Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins (Green Books, £12.95)
For more information:
The Transition Network - www.transitionnetwork.org
‘Transitioning our food - strategy & ideas' - a subject posted on the Transition food forum