Designing for local food distribution and production (1999) | Brussels Blog

Designing for local food distribution and production (1999)

posted by on 3rd Nov 2015

This proposal was written for a friend interested in contributing to
Derwenthorpe, a development in York. I have criticised this development in
How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor

A proposal for action research

The food distribution chain is getting longer and food production is becoming more industrialised. The food we eat travels further from the grower to the consumer and goes through more stages of processing.

This distribution chain is an increasing source of global pollution and modern food production has dietary dangers. Both, however, have great advantages to the consumer: convenience. This is common with market driven activity: the immediate benefits to the paying customer are paramount but longer-term problems and detrimental effects caused to non-customers (external costs) are given less consideration, usually left to consumer education or the less reactive regulatory system.

There is a DIY alternative to global food distribution and manufacture: gardening and home cooking. This alternative creates less pollution and, in general, produces healthier diets. And the market activity that supports DIY food (cooking apparatus and garden utensils, books, magazines and TV programmes) is relatively free from environmental problems and increases consumer knowledge. This proposal is to look for possibilities for using the buying power of the consumer on a more local level. The object is to find a place in the market for environmentally friendly and healthier alternatives to the global food delivery system, which deliver convenience as well.

Because of economics of scale, market driven economic activity has been able to plan a distribution and manufacturing infrastructure, which delivers the goods. This proposal is for action research to see if a more local approach to food consumption can be planned into new built housing allowing for the creation of local economic activity that will bring to the consumer good quality food through a much shorter distribution chain.

Planning for food distribution and production on a local scale has been successful in the past. The gardeners, cooks and servants working the gardens, kitchens and dining rooms on large country estates were an economic unit that delivered good food through a short distribution chain. But this involved a co-ordinated approach to designing the physical structures (gardens and buildings) and planning and managing the workforce (gardeners, cooks and servants).

There are examples of local food production and distribution that depend on lifestyles that are more or less “alternative”; co-operative housing, hippie communes and kibbutz. But the aim of this proposal is to see if planning and design has a role in “mainstream” residential development in the 21st century.

An extensive research project along these lines is not appropriate for any individual housing scheme. But it is only within a design, build and test context that these issues can be investigated. (The context does, of course, include the local micro-economy.)

A sensible start would be to identify those activities related to food distribution and production that are local and market driven (i.e. kept in existence by paying  customers). A quick check list includes the following:

• Market gardens
• Farm shops
• Pick your own produce
• Local greengrocers and food shops
• Gardeners paid by residents
• Garden centres
• Allotments

All of these are activities that are very location dependent, mostly on a scale larger than that of housing development. The questions for this project are: Can these be made to work at a smaller scale and, given the external costs of present global trends in food distribution and production, is there justification for a more favourable economic context.

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