The Kansas City Food Circle promotes organic local foods
by Ben Kjelshus, Green Party of Kansas City
The Kansas City Food Circle, founded in 1994 by the Kansas City Greens, links eaters with organic local food producers. It is one of the leading organizations promoting organic local foods in the heartland. Our 2008 KC Food Circle Directory lists 56 local food producers, four organic farmers markets, and 16 restaurants where Food Circle farmers supply locally produced foods. New projects include: promoting local food buying clubs (with one already established), two annual farmers exhibitions, and the 100 mile diet.†
The success of the Kansas City Food Circle is encouraging, and so is the nation-wide steady growth of organic local food production in recent years. Nevertheless, there is the stark reality of peak oil and the troubling prediction that global oil demand will exceed supply within four years. This forebodes escalating energy and food prices, and a precarious future for our food system. There is a crucial need to take decisive and strategic action to prepare for difficult times ahead.
The Green Movement is presented with a challenge – and an opportunity – to play a vital role in transforming our food system from our current vulnerable, fossil-fuel-based, corporate-controlled food system to a sustainable, regionally based, largely self-reliant food system. Greens, with their key value of future focus and their recognition of holistic systems, are well suited to be catalysts for change. The many problems in our society we see as connected and interrelated; consequently the solutions are also connected and interrelated.†
Two visionary Greens, Nancy Lee Bentley and David Yarrow, were involved in the formulation of the Food Circle, and the Kansas City Greens, we believe, were the first to apply the Food Circle concept.†
So Greens, let’s accept the challenge. Take decisive action and start Food Circles in your areas!
How to Start a Food Circle
There are two ways to start a Food Circle. One way is to start from “scratch” and the other is to begin under the auspices of an existing organization. The two approaches are not very different. In the first approach you start where you are, with the people you associate and work with, and with people who have similar interests as yours. It’s best not to start with a meeting. Instead, talk with several people you would like to work with, one on one, about the food system issue and about planning steps. Get their thinking and share your ideas. Talk about Food Circles and what they can do. Discuss who might be involved. These initial contacts might become the organizing committee. Your committee should include a person with organizing experience. The organizing committee should also do some planning before bringing people together in a larger group, especially about what decisions have to be made and how to make them. (A good resource is Si Kahnís Organizing, A Guide for Grassroots Leader, NASW Press, 1981.)
In starting a Food Circle under the auspices of an existing Green organization, work with fellow members who would be willing to serve on the project’s organizing committee. It is advisable to bring persons willing to serve on the organizing committee (and others interested in creating a sustainable good system) in touch with the sponsoring organization at an early stage. One way to locate farmers and growers is to visit with them at farmers markets and roadside stands and find out their interests (no vendors, please.) Also check out the agricultural section of newspaper ads.
The First Meeting
In preparing the list of invitees for the larger meeting, keep in mind the Food Circle approach of linking the many sectors of the food system — eaters, farmers, small-scale growers, small-scale retailers, nutritionists and others such as sympathetic university extension agents and community activists. Remember, a Food Circle is more than a means to provide fresh, wholesome food. It is a link among the many sectors of the food system with the goal of taking back control and responsibility for our food system.
Meetings should come early in the organizing effort. For a meeting to be successful it should:
- Communicate information.
- Result in at least one decision.
- Agree on who is willing to do what. (Everyone leaving the meeting should have some task or tasks to do.)
- Build a sense of accomplishment and community among those attending.
Developing a Strategy
Working strategies need to be an important part of the new organization. A beginning project could be to promote a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, such as subscription buying. This is an informal partnership between farmer and eater in which eaters support local organic farms and receive a weekly supply of fresh, good tasting produce during the growing season.
Once set up, Food Circles have considerable opportunities to take on projects and actions to advance a sustainable food system – such as starting a directory of regional organic food producers, starting organic farmers markets, and setting up local organic food buying clubs. Greens can be at the center of the movement to build sustainable, largely self-reliant, regional food systems.
Take decisive action and start Food Circles in your areas!