How to critique an Australian Community Managed Food Distribution System, Food Connect

Nina Anne Stephens

Abstract


Food Connect (FC) is a food distribution company operating in Brisbane, Australia. Within the contemporary business paradigm it might be described as a company that is growing, to make a profit, receiving, packaging and distributing organic and eco-efficient food products to Brisbane's suburban homes. However, FC has brought together, through deliberate relationship, two significant and large systems; primary producer networks, and consumer networks. FC generates social and economic benefits into each system. The involved communities have identified a range of values, principles and concepts that inform the structures and decision making across many scales of practice. These enable a community owned and managed business structure to meet social, environmental , economic, education, health and wellbeing goals for individuals, households, farming systems, the environment and our localised economies. Quality of food, reliability of supply, value of supplied food and opportunity for enhanced social and community relationships are all benefits derived by consumer groups, while producer groups gain reliability and predictability of income, enjoy enhanced and direct feedback from discerning consumers and participate in local and extended communities. It is spiritual, practical, ethical and profitable. FC's existence can be understood as a set of political aims about the relationships between urban communities and primary producers; the treatment of animals and the environment; workplace relations; and the spiritual and ideological importance of clean, nutritious, quality food produce at accessible and equitable prices. However a threat to the achievement of these aims is patriarchy and associated positivist behavioural and social science ideologies, despite FC's development based on systems thinking. Defined gender role stereotyping, sexist assumptions and oppression of women in the workplace, prevail in all sectors of Australian culture and society. If reflective and purposeful processes to value and encourage the effective and safe participation of women is not fostered throughout FC's systems, FC is not likely to achieve its potential.
Eco-feminist goals suggest that it is imperative for local communities to harness and engage the responsiveness and energy of women to ensure social and ecological diversities survive. A merging of systems theory and non-assumptive, eco-feminist critique of the patterns and contexts, will reveal the prevalence of patriarchy which may be undermining FC's systems, and make suggestions as to how FC can use the knowledge generated from the evaluation. Feminist engagement in FC's continued evolution ought create future actions aligned with democratic, participatory and communitarian principles. This is a practical, real world example of systems and feminist theories grounding action in and for community wellbeing. Our experience has shown that a deliberate (eco)systems based process do not negate gendered structures and practices.

Keywords


local food distribution; organic; eco-efficient; eco-feminism; community; business systems

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