Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bob Waldrop's Call to Action on Local Food Systems

Bob Waldrop is one of my heroes. He knew about peak oil before most people, and has been moderating the RunningOnEmpty2 group forever. But the fact that there isn't an existing system or magic solution just seemed a challenge to him. So he started the Oklahoma City Food Coop, about which you'll hear below. He retrofitted his house to reduce his energy usage, and he's making plans for his whole city, including for the bicycle powered transport of food from farmland outside OKC inside. He's a one-man transition town.

This is what he sent to his food coop newsletter readers. I think it is damned good advice for nearly everyone, and deserves a wider audience. And as always, Bob puts his stuff in the public domain, because he just wants everyone get a "local food and energy system." So listen to the man.

Let's just cut right to the point:Growing vegetables in your back yard (or your front yard) is an excellent way todevelop some part-time income and provide your family with great food.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard will increase your quality of lifeand your economic security and your physical and mental and emotional health.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard provides exercise which is important for good health.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard provides food that tastes verygood and is full of nutrition.

We need people willing to start part-time, micro-businesses, growing food and distributing and selling it into the local market.

Lately there has been a lot of news talk about economic uncertainty. Entire sectors of the debt industry are in near-melt-down mode. The economic chattering class is going on and on and on about The R Word (recession).

Our government says the 2007 inflation rate for the year was 4.1% and energy price inflation was 17.4%.But in the last quarter of 2007, inflation took a sharp turn up.The inflation rate for all items Oct-Dec 2007 was 5.1% -- and for energy it was37.1%. Primary data is at .

The globalized economy means that when Shanghai, or Hong Kong, or Washington, orLondon, or Moscow sneezes -- everyone gets a cold, even us'ns here in OklahomaCity.

Just as we are not in complete control of our food destiny right now, we are not in complete control of our economic destiny. Changing our food destiny is what the Oklahoma Food Coop is about. And economic viability is as important as social justice and environmental sustainability.

By working together, we can change our food destiny and our economic destiny and our environmental destiny.

Given how important "economic viability" is to most of us, now is the good time to explore creating a part-time business that produces something for the local market. Consider it a hedge against the possibility of economic and food disasters.

Local food production grows in a very sustainable way -- many small enterprises, spread over a large area, cooperating with each other in a local circle of trade and enterprise. No "one big operation" that monopolizes everything.

Nobody should quit their day job. I'm not. But within a month or two, I plan to bring to the coop market my product -- bulgar wheat, made with certified organic wheat bought from another coop producer. And also Hotter Than Hades Homemade Habanero Sauce. (HTH3.)

I recently pointed out to the producers that we may sell a million dollars of local food products in 2008. I asked them, "What are you going to do to make sure you contribute to that million dollar in one year bench market?"

Now I would like to ask our general membership -- "What could you do --something new -- to increase local food production while at the same time creating yourself some part time income?"

If you don't think you can make money out of a relatively small plot in your back yard, go to and read all about how these folks in Canada gross $50,000/year on one-half acre in a city -- and its not even one contiguous half acre, it is scattered around town in 20 plots.

We have their guides. There's a lot of expert advice available. You're not going to make $50,000 your first year, or even in your first several years. But you will earn income and as your skills, production, and customer base increase, you will earn more economic and food security. We even have a structure handy and already operating to help you market. You can become a coop producer yourself, or you can hook up with the City Farms Coop founded by food coop member David Rushton, and sell through the network they are establishing, which includes a producer membership in the Oklahoma Food Coop. Check out their producer info at .

In an economy as uncertain as the present, diversifying your income sources is more than a bit prudent. The Oklahoma Food Cooperative can help you do that. By2012, we could be selling a million dollars of locally produced foods every month. But to do that, there must be a million dollars of locally produced foods available for us to sell. So we're not talking "we need five or six", I'm saying we need hundreds, and then thousands, of new local food producers (or existing producers who re-orient their focus). In the next 4 years.

This month, 63 producers have something to sell through the coop, and many of the more in demand products are already sold out. 82 people opened baskets in the first hour of today's order (I call this the Oklahoma Food Coop Land Rush, although it's really an Egg Rush.) 258 people have ordered thus far today. Four years from now I bet that thousands of people order on the first day of theFebruary 2012 order. And in 2016? We will be even more popular.

If you're going to bet, this is where you should lay your money. That's where this train is headed. I hope we're all on board for the ride. I am sure it will be bumpy at spots, but the food is something to write home about all along the ride.

So ponder those apples in your cider and see what you come up with. (That's an official directive from the head office, so I hope everyone is paying attention.)

Y'all have a bon appetitin' good time ordering these 2,461 great Oklahoma foods and artisan products that are on sale this month.

Bob Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative

PS. One final note. Every day people are dying in wars in Iraq and elsewhere. Ultimately, they are fighting over oil. Thus far, in the midst of our global troubles, we tend to forget that there are things we need to do here on the homefront to contribute to a world of peace and justice.

During World War I and II, "Victory Gardens" made an important contribution to local economic and food security. In those days they remembered the truth of this children's rhyme:

Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
and the pleasant land.

In 1918, 1/4 of the US population was cultivating a Victory Garden.

Ninety years later in 2008, we here on the home front send our petro-dollars to pay for the bombs and bullets that terrorists use to kill civilians and our soldiers. The more money we send to OPEC, the more death and suffering there will be.

That's obviously not our intention, but that is the unmistakable and unavoidable consequence. It's a bad picture, and we need to get a better one. And everyone needs to contribute something, somehow --producer, customer, advisor, teacher, cooperator, entrepreneur, researcher, distributor, investor.-- all these are necessary for a functioning local food system that rewards environmental sustainability, supports social justice, sustains rural and urban communities, and is economically viable.

More local food production helps break our destructive petroleum dependence on the good graces and "friendship" of OPEC et al. It positions us to meet the energy realities of the future (higher cost, less availability) and thus insulates us from potential economic shocks. It reduces the flow of money to the enemies of peace and freedom.

It's really unlikely that the complex world situation is just going to muddle along for the next 50 years the way they have for the last 50. We're building towards what the sociologists call a "punctuated equilibrium" -- that is, big fundamental changes.

During all of my lifetime until recently, gasoline has been cheap. My first car, a 1960 Ford Falcon, I could fill up for 23 cents/gallon, and like all of us, I just got into that car and went anywhere I wanted to go. One gallon now costs the price of a fill-up in 1964.

That was then, this is now. The tank is much more empty than it was then. The price of fuel will continue to increase. Meanwhile, back at the drawing board, our entire built infrastructure, agriculture, and transportation systems are predicated on cheap energy. Oops!

We need built infrastructure, agriculture, and transportation systems that can cope with future energy realities and we need that sooner rather than later."Not meeting this challenge" is not an option. The only thing we can do to moderate the price of energy is to use less fossil fuels and more renewable energies.

Growing a local food system is an essential aspect of our region's energy transition.

Procrastination is the thief of time.


Robyn M. said...

Thank you for this. I've sent out a copy of it to our Steering Committee for our local co-op startup, and may well reproduce it (with credit, of course) for our co-op newsletter. It's things like this that remind me (when I'm into hour #25/week of unpaid volunteer time starting up this bloody thing) why we're doing it at all.

Cindy said...

Robyn--where is your co-op? I volunteer with a co-op similar to the Okie one in Nebraska.

Robyn M. said...

Hehe... um, right now, our co-op is nowhere (or, maybe, in my living room?). We're at the beginning of starting one, and it's probably about a 2-year process from now until doors open. We just had our first major community meeting, where over 100 people showed up (!!!), plus lots of media and such. We're certainly modeling our efforts on co-ops like the Oklahoma one, as well as a great one just south of us called Bloomingfoods. You can check out the website for our fledgling effort at =)

LisaZ said...

This post is timely! I just posted about Victory Gardens on my blog yesterday, hoping to influence my friends and family and whoever else happens to come by.

We have this great concept, done in the past, of the Victory Garden. Since our government isn't calling for it this time, we the people need to get the word out. A true grassroots Victory Garden movement...

We mainly use the Square Foot Gardening method in our tiny city lot, and some principles of permaculture (of which I have only a little rudimentary knowledge). If we can do it, anyone can!

Thanks, Sharon, for your great influence.

jewishfarmer said...

Robyn, I'm really excited to hear about your coop - they are such an important part of our food systems. I can imagine that starting one up is a huge endeavor. The only reason I haven't tried to get one going here is that there's a farm that does something similar - they sell their own products and local producer's. I don't want to compete with them, since they are such a huge part of our community. But there's a terrific one in Albany that we're members of.

Lisa Z, the good thing about the Victory Garden movement is that it was *always* a grassroots effort - the WWI Victory Gardens were never a government institution, and in WWII, the Victory Garden movement was eventually taken under the wing of government agencies, but again, started in people's yards as a grassroots organizing. So we're following the classic tradition - and we have living proof that such a movement can be enormously powerful.


Robyn M. said...

Cindy--whoops, maybe I should've answered the obvious question you intended: Terre Haute, Indiana. Sorry, I'm just so used to people in town asking "Where's the co-op/where's it going to be?" that I have a default answer that perhaps didn't work so well here!

Leila said...

Hey Sharon, Mark Bittman likes this blog! My favorite cookbook writer and Times columnist. He had a post about biofuels in his new blog today; I posted the link to this article and talked up Bob Waldrop; clearly Mr. Bittman visited D&A because he added this comment:

Well maybe you don't feel about Mark Bittman the way I feel about Mark Bittman, but if he had said such a thing about *my* blog I would be fainting with happiness. Whether you're fainting or not, I am just happy to take credit for introducing you two. I love being a yenta. (an Arab yenta).

jewishfarmer said...

Leila - Thank you!!! Wow, Mark Bittman!!! You aren't a yenta, you are a fairy godmother! And I am indeed very, very happy.


Markus said...

Good Job! :)

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