Local food is a strategy that appeals to nonprofits, charities, co-operatives, and other social economy organizations. It addresses the challenges of Peak Oil and climate change. It creates locally-controlled enterprise. It literally puts food on people's tables.
But local food strategies are difficult to pull off. Most are concerned with increasing the demand for local food, or with corralling low-cost food for low-income families. Mistake! To make local food work, an enormous investment must be made in revitalizing the food supply - in facilities, equipment, and contracts for processing, preserving, and distributing high volumes of locally-produced food, year round. This regional food infrastructure must also be commercially viable. It must fully engage a region's farmers by ensuring them a substantial increase in business revenue. Without them, there will be no community food security.
Social enterprises could be very important to this development, combining as they do community interests with entrepreneurial initiative. But project financing presents a big problem, as the Vancouver Island Heritage Food Co-operative (VIHFC) discovered. VIHFC's members, a mix of community organizations and farmers, want to supply processed and preserved vegetables, fruit, and meat to hotels, restaurants, and institutions on the island. But even "friendly funders" expect farmers to invest a lot of equity in the business first. If farmers had that kind of money (and they don't), should we expect them to risk it on what is essentially a community asset?
Financial institutions within the community and agricultural sectors must take co-ordinated, concerted action to close this equity gap. But so must the community sector as a whole, by means of broad-based equity drives. Regional food infrastructure, like other aspects of the core economy, should be financed by the whole community.