There have been no posts for a while due a a week holidaying in the Lake District (weather: bad; scenery: wonderful) and a busy-ish week last week. This has meant that I’m only a few chapters into Mustard Seed versus McWorld – a ten year old book by futuroligist Tom Sine which attempts to predict challenged for the church in a rapidly globalising world.
It’s alarming to think how much the world has changed even since 1999 when the book was published, and already the chapter on a ‘cyber-future’ is starting to sound a bit dated. But he was not too far wrong in his predictions about a perpetually on-line world and computer technology at everyone’s fingertips. Some of his warnings even reflect some of the conclusions drawn by the much later set of documentaries that aired on the BBC last year, The Virtual Revolution – particularly the predictions about only a very few people controlling the political climate. Corporations have money and people lobby on special interests and a small number of media companies control a lot of the information which is printed and broadcast (Fox News anyone?).
Not much of this so far is directly relevant to suburban pioneer work such as I’m doing here, although it affects all of our lives. Sine’s suggestions and illustrations are great but often they deal with the problems on a much larger scale than a local community can.
However, he does give examples of how globalization can affect food. Now we have the luxury of fresh tomatoes and raspberries all year round, but what affect is it having on the consuming and exporting countries. Many farmers in the developing world would be better of growing food for their families rather than for the global market. It also places the consumer in thrall to the process – if something goes wrong, the supply can be cut off – and the producers in bondage to the market and getting the best crop. Sine says this encourages many to place morals behind profits in importance, and leads to bad practices such as GM tinkering which in one case led to a particularly virulent strain of E.coli which was resistant to antibiotics, and in anther led to a company threaten to move its factory rather than comply with new safety proposals. In this case, the developing world government backed down rather than see the business move to another nation.
Again, Sine’s suggestions include global forums to discuss ideas as well as local campaigning. But he also highlights local food production, which can be done in community. There is one example of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group near Hadley, Massachusetts. which owns a large portion of land an sells a yearly share for $45o to provide that shareholder with their fruit and veg – very cheap for a years produce even at 1999 prices.Members donate a little of their time to keeping the farm. In ten years the price has gone up… to $495!. They always grow more than they need so they give the extra to charities such as soup kitchens.
As the price of food rises, this sounds like a good way to reduce costs, grow community and reduce the impact of unforeseen crises in food production or transport.
This kind of arrangement might work in small local communities where allotments might be formed. At the centre of our development is an area of unused land which is designated to be ‘public open space’. It can’t be used to build anything on and must be used for the good of the community. The development will already have a sports pitch elsewhere so it has been suggested (but not decided) that this space could be allotments. It wouldn’t be much good for much else as the land is hidden between a retirement village, a cricket club and the back of some houses. Allotments might be a good use for these if there is the desire. A number of residents could pool their allotments in order to proved all year round vegetables for a number of families.
Update: there is now Community Supported Agriculture in the UK too.