Several people in the Open Food Network (OFN) have been drawn to support the Extinction Rebellion (XR) in recent days. They are joining thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who are taking the extraordinary (for them) step of taking to the streets and risking arrest because they see the established systems failing them and their future.
But if XR is to succeed in its aims, there is an urgent need to build better systems that can evolve to take the place of the failing systems. New systems which ARE responsive to the needs of people and all other beings. This blog hopes to open the debate about the role that OFN could play in supporting some of the forward-looking aims of XR. It draws on the experience of local food hubs like this one in the Tamar Valley which are starting to build a viable, community-led alternative to the supermarket system for its local shoppers, farmers and growers. Over the last 12 years, these projects have been started by ordinary people who are achieving extraordinary things.
To explore the ways in which OFN addresses some of the forward-looking aims of XR this post draws on the published principles and values of XR (in italics).
XR states that we are based on autonomy and decentralisation and that we must self-organise to meet our own needs. What is happening within OFN is that:
- Farmers, growers and others involved in food production at all levels are setting up online shop fronts to sell direct to buyers and eaters in their local area.
- Communities are self-organising to set up food hubs enabling online orders from groups of local food producers
- In other towns, groups of people are coming together to buy collectively in bulk from wholesalers
- Farmers markets are using OFN to set up online shop fronts for their markets
- All these enterprises are using the Networking facilities within OFN to link up with each other; creating even more local food distribution opportunities.
XR claims that we need a regenerative culture and aims to build a culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable. We seek to find ways of being and doing that support positive change. Many of the food enterprises using OFN are designed very specifically by local communities of people to serve the particular needs of that locality. As those needs evolve and change, the enterprise changes with them and the OFN software has inbuilt flexibility to facilitate that evolution.
As these enterprises grow they build practical and social connections between eaters and growers/farmers. They build connections within communities and they give people connections to the land where their food is produced and the people who produce it. This aligns with XR’s focus on community care – how we take care of our development as a network and community, strengthening our connections and our need to reconnect with our love for ourselves, our country and our people alongside wider neighbours; people and the natural world.
In contrast to the supermarket system where power and control are held centrally by a tiny proportion of the food system stakeholders; all of these OFN enterprises are owned, organised, planned and run by the people directly involved in the local operation in line with XR’s intention to create access to the resources we need, such as democratic structures that ensure everyone has a voice and an influence. Extinction Rebellion self-organises to provide for the needs of the people participating within it, creating better accessibility, caring for our emotional needs in relation to working together, and making time for connection and fun.
My experience of the XR rebellion in London over recent days is that many of these ordinary people are protesting for system change in the face of considerable fear that they may be arrested and have their personal belongings confiscated. But alongside the fear there is an unmistakable sense of hope. Hope that together, ordinary people can build, from grass-roots upwards, better systems that WILL serve all beings including people.
My experience of OFN is that when groups of people do take responsibility for the way food gets to their plates, then not only are they empowered; they also build a strong sense of community which is deeply nurturing, and full of connection and fun.
In the words of XR supporter and OFN Ambassador George Monbiot – “are supermarkets’ days numbered?”
Drawing by Sophie Marinkov Jones