System failure – reboot

January 31st, 2009

I have noticed on my travels around Britain in the last year an interesting the increasing presence of farmers markets and small food co-operatives on the high street, or established in farms or in villages.

The Food Barn

The Food Barn

Here are a couple of guys running their local shop in Willian Hertfordshire. But why do we see such a trend and what does it tell us? In Supermarkets No-thanks Tom Moggach writes

The motivations are many: fears about food security; food inflation; the power of supermarkets; the bruised image of capitalism; a lost sense of community. Across Britain, food co-ops are sprouting up in school halls, community centres, farm sheds or even your neighbour’s front room – anywhere, in fact, where rent is free.

Communities Dominate

Dan Dempsey, manager of a project establishing food co-ops in Wales, uses the term ‘trust trading’ and that ‘Supermarkets don’t have to dominate.’ He believes, that it’s about the return to traditional routes of trade: reconnecting farmers with communities, and countryside to cities; paying a fair price and avoid markups by middlemen.

Moggach reports that with strong backing from the Welsh assembly, his team has helped to launch 180 food co-ops in the last three years, supplying 6,000 families and turning over around £1m.

Yet Farmers markets are smelly, noisy things, not like the lovely sanitised isles of the super tanker supermarkets.

Dr Martin Caraher of the Centre for Food Policy said, “They’re untidy, they’re messy, they don’t fit in. It’s easier to deal with one superstore than with dozens of individual stallholders.

System failure

Well of course it is you dumb arse. This is the perfect example of what I describe as system failure. Caraher is unable to empathise with the needs of people, he misunderstands how real markets thrive, he misses the point that post-modern men and women, are craving human connectedness. Yet he would happily serve the needs of ‘the system’. And there is a reckoning for that.

Whether its the tools and technologies of cooperation, what we label 2.0 or, the physical ‘smelly’ farmers markets they are revolve around the fundamental need for us to commune and find shared meaning. John Cacioppo and Patrick Williams argued that without such communal meaning or belonging social isolation deprives us of both our feeling of tribal connection and our sense of purpose. On both counts, they say, the results can be devastating, not only for the individual, but for societies as well. Farmers’ markets are successful because people want them: consumers want them; farmers want them; producers want them. They are a demonstration of people power. No wonder increasingly enlightened local authorities are looking to farmers’ markets as engines for urban renewal. Says, Matthew Fort. Personally I dont want to live in a shopping mall or between the isles of a supermarket.

The Unicorn Grocery in Manchester. Photo: Murdo MacLeod

The Unicorn Grocery in Manchester. Photo: Murdo MacLeod

Matthew Fort baldly states

It seems to me that Lord Rooker and the rest of the drones at Defra have missed a trick. Given that they badly need decent publicity, he could have announced a brilliant new initiative. He could have said, “We love farmers’ markets. We are responsible for them. We will do everything in our power to help them grow.” But, with the wisdom, prescience and competence for which Defra is famous, he didn’t.

But don’t worry, we are actually in the early phase of rebooting the system. And in fact, one wonders whether this could be the age of the return of the co-op?

Vivian Woodell, founder of the phone co-op says

“There is no reason that co-ops have to be small there are a lot of givens that are no longer givens. The root of how the economy works is trust, and we’ve seen people push that to the limits. So let’s get back to first principles and ask ‘What is business for?’”

His last point is the question we are all asking. The strikes in the UK, friction, and social strife across europe created by the system failure of banking, is the answer to that question. In that it says, not this. When ordinary peoples lives are sold and traded by those they nothing about, they have, in my view, become slaves of a different type.

I wonder where the real toxic debt lies?

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