Food Security 101: Part 6.

Food Security in Communities

By Ken Ross

The aim was to kill this story in six parts. That aim isn’t realistic unless I generalise and skim relatively lightly across the surface of this section. Given the resources that are out there for guiding this work, I’m going to try for brevity. If necessary, we can consider what ‘follow-through’ might be needed down the track. The DANZ Community Resilience Project is one possible vehicle.


We have basically established:

1        Food security, as per the UN definition, is illusionary and does not exist in Aotearoa/NZ where the boast is we ‘produce enough food annually to feed 40 million people’. Poor economic access to food, definitions and inclusions of what passes for ‘food’, ghost acreages and phantom carrying capacities, bust any myths of ‘food security’ the mass production of food might create.

2        True food security probably cannot exist for most people who live in a capitalist free
market economy that produces the bulk of its food by industrialised agricultural methodologies, powered by fossil fuels and owned and controlled by large corporations (though ironically, a measure of food security may exist for the elites who own those systems and the secret and remote boltholes they plan to run to).

3        Part 5 of this story introduced the concept of ‘food sovereignty’, and claimed that if food security was the goal, food sovereignty was the means to achieving that goal. The path therefore, lies in the pathway to sovereignty, which of course means having; power, authority and controlover your food requirements and autonomy and independence in your use of that food.

4        I am starting with the assumption that you have taken control of your own household
food security by exerting power and establishing a level of independence – and that you now wish to assist your community, or a sector of the community, to achieve the same. Hence, a community (or part thereof), will attempt to exert power, to establish its food autonomy and

5        I am also working with the assumption, that you understand our current levels of food
security are relatively low, despite outward appearances and the way most people behave. Further to that, you also have a premonition, that while things aren’t great in these relatively benign circumstances, the possibility of ‘much worse circumstances to come’, is relatively high, and so you are preparing for both situations.


Before we consider your circumstances, the ‘community’ you hope to work with and the scale you want to work to, let’s just once more consider the approach. There is a lot wrong with the ‘why’ and ‘how’we produce food, the ‘what’ that is produced ‘where’ and ‘when’, and the ‘who’,
whom make the decisions. If you think this is an issue that needs tackling at the political level, the rest of this article isn’t for you. I can’t write for you because my personal belief is that trying to fix things at the political level will take much longer than any time-period we may have left to do anything constructive at all - before a range of events overwhelm us, and our communities.


So, the rest of this article is for those wanting to consider the practical steps of food
sovereignty, from the ‘Buckminster Fuller perspective’ (“You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”). Therefore, our aim is not to take on the ‘wall’, our aim is to walk round it.



If you have started your own preparation, you will have become aware that the ‘food’ of our ‘food security challenge’ can be considered in three simple categories. How simple the rest stays, depends on our circumstances, our ‘community’ and the scale we wish to build to. The categories I allude to are:

1        Fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs.

2        Dry goods such as grains, spices and condiments (grocery items).

3        Animal and seafood products.

The remainder is an interweaving of these 3 categories, and the variable factors from above –
scale, community and circumstance. Bear with me.



You may have started your consideration of food security for a ‘community’ with a group of friends or neighbours. My suggestion to you for the early stages of your project, is that you keep things as local (in close proximity) as you possibly can, with a reasonably tight group who is already on the same page. Working over large distances is hard enough now, in the future it might be impossible. So, as you start to set up, don’t work over ‘vehicle distances’ – do your best to work over ‘wheelbarrow distance’. Working with people who already understand the concepts of food security/insecurity, and what the task ahead requires, means you don’t have to spend fruitless hours explaining and justifying. ‘Community’ can grow to the right scale down the track. Start with a small and dedicated team.

By ‘circumstance’ I am referring to the place where you live – whether you live in an extensive rural setting, a semi-rural setting, a suburb of a small or larger town, or in a true, built-up urban
setting. Each type of setting is going to present a different range of resources, opportunities and challenges as far as land, water and proximities are concerned. For instance, a group/community in a rural setting may be able to find a generous farmer who will lend/lease a plot of suitable land for a community garden, whereas it might require more work to obtain a plot in an urban setting. The distances that ruralcommunities may have to contend with may present more challenge than that faced with finding suitable land to garden on. However, it is truly impressive, just how many of our larger Councils are willing to help groups wishing to establish community gardens (Check out Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin City Councils, to name just a few). Smaller Councils are probably just as active and/or receptive. Figure out what is already happening near you so you don’t have to re-invent wheels. If your needs and values align with something local and already established, go join them. Schools, Marae and Church Groups, as well as Community Trusts and Community Social Enterprises also have gardening assistance programmes. Some years back, my son and daughter-in-law were renting in Onehunga and had created vegetable gardens the landlord didn’t want to see further enlarged. To gain extra garden space, they rented a raised bed from a Tongan Church Group that had obtained the use of the old bowling club, and had turned the green into raised bed gardens for the community. However, it doesn’t all happen in urban settings. One of our smallest townships in Northland (Waimamaku, nestled in a valley between Tane Mahuta and the Hokianga Harbour), has a thriving community garden and a developing, community orchard in the township, plus they have an extensive tool library for their own, and wider community use.


The above is based around the assumption that you are looking at providing fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs for yourselves. If that is the path you plan to take there are many, very successful groups already operating in Aotearoa/NZ, and thousands overseas. Most are more than willing to share encouragement and information. Some offer hands-on training. Check out:

·         Grandview Community Garden in Hamilton.

·        CanterburyCommunity Garden Association.

·        Good Foodfor Locals, Otepoti, Dunedin.

·        CommonUnity’s Urban Kai Farms in Waiwhetu, Wellington.

·        CommunityParks Team Leader at Auckland Council for an extensive list of Community Garden groups and settings.

·        Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ), ‘Community Gardens’.


Also consider looking (and learning) further afield with:

·         ‘Keep Growing Detroit, and ‘Urban FarmingDetroit’.

·        ‘Incredible Edible Totnes’ and ‘Foxhole Community Gardens, Totnes’.

·        ‘Farm to Plate, Vermont’ (this one is ‘whole of State’ based).


If you don’t intend to grow fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs yourselves, there are a couple of other options.

1        Enter negotiations with an established grower/farmer who is already engaged in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or talk to a grower/farmer/land owner who is prepared to entertain it. Don’t know about CSA? Start exploring (the NZ website has information and some contacts for CSA in Aotearoa/NZ).

2        If the community you are working within has sufficient scale but there is no potential,
local CSA opportunity, you could consider starting your own from scratch. Our Universities and Polytechnics graduate people with horticulture/growing skills every year, who generally don’t have immediate access to land. A community who set out to work with a suitable individual or group, helping them to lease or purchase land and establish a growing business, could create a neat win-win situation that is tailor-made to the community and the grower(s). If you don’t know of him, look into the work of USA based, Woody Tasch (of ‘Slow Money’ and ‘Beet Coin’ fame) and the ‘Two Forks Club’, for inspiration in this concept.


The second category of food items (dry goods such as grains, spices and condiments) requires a different form of solution, but one that has been tried successfully many times in this young country, and way beyond count elsewhere. A group of people (your ‘community’) have ‘buying power’ an individual seldom has. Use that ‘buying power’ to advantage. Italy, which has an extremely strong ‘Social Economy’ rooted firmly in its networks and federations of Cooperatives, builds its Social Economy from the actions and learnings of community ‘buying groups’ that it calls ‘gruppi aquisto’ (acquisition groups). Gruppi Aquisto start informally, sometimes working sporadically over a series of projects, but they usually morph into more intentional groups that focus on particular forms of buying, and the support of specific sectors of the business community – such as organic producers, ‘Fair Trade’ operators or the ‘ethical’
traders. Once they gain a focus, theybecome ‘Gruppi Aquisto Solidal’ (or ‘GAS’ groups), communities that use their buying power in solidarity with causes they believe in. Beyond the GAS group, lies progression to the formality of a ‘Community Cooperative’. Community Cooperatives in Italy often broaden their reach beyond just buying collectively, to engagement in cooperative housing, cooperative child or elder care, community savings pools or cooperatively purchasing a local supermarket or creating a community bank.


If you are thinking that a buying group is an option for increased food security in the community you intend to work with, you are going to need some basic resources (space, storage, measuring and accounting equipment), and some suppliers happy to work with the volumes you will first present. Out in the community, there are already many groups operating in this manner. Organic wholesale suppliers and retailers work with many of them, and that could be a good place to start exploring. However, some of these community groups call themselves ‘cooperatives’, when they should more properly use terms like ‘buying group’ or ‘collective’. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, a ‘cooperative’ is strictly a formal term, and should be reserved for organisations operating under the (7) guiding principles that define a true ‘cooperative’. It is also a legal term for a registered cooperative business entity that is legally bound by those principles. Secondly, a lot of informal buying groups and community collectives eventually fall over because of their loose arrangements and/or transient community members. If they have been referring to themselves as a ‘cooperative’, without being one, it gives the genuine cooperative movement bad press. Because of the way true cooperative businesses are organised and networked, they seldom ‘fail’ – normally, they are usually absorbed into another part of the cooperative fraternity.


For buying groups to work to the financial advantage of a community, plus contribute to its food security, you will need access to reasonable volumes of quality foodstuffs at affordable prices. Unless you are purchasing reasonable volumes, you might not be of interest to wholesalers. If you are getting to the point where you and your group need to get specific information, here are some start points:

Wholesalers for Dry Goods and General Groceries:

·         NZ Grocery Wholesalers (part of the WoolworthsGroup).

·        Stock for Shops (registered businesses only, but would work if you have registered a

·        Moore Wilson (A number of branches in the Wellington area and may have entered

·        Wholesale Foods (top of the South Island).

·        Wholefoods Market Bin Inn chain of stores (individual stores may work with community groups).

·        Food First Ltd (might only work across Auckland).

·        There are also growers of grains, providing flours direct to order. Try Milmore Downs.


Organic Suppliers:

·         Ceres Organics.

·        Chantal Organics.

·        Purefresh Organic.

·        Family Pantry.

·        Bulk Barn.


The third category of foods (meat and seafood products) presents a range of challenges. As an individual or family, it is possible in most residential areas to keep a small flock of hens for eggs, or even a few rabbits, though you should check with your local Council for specific
detail. In most residential areas, the flock size is restricted, and roosters are banned. As individuals and families, you can gather shellfish and fish, though there are restrictions on what, where and when, and how much you can gather/take. Once you start operating as a group, other considerations may come into play. It would pay to find out.


In a rural environment, individuals and families with access to suitable land are able to
keep pigs, sheep and cattle (plus larger flocks of poultry) for home meat supply, but there are rules about how those animals can be grown and slaughtered and even stricter rules regarding who is allowed to eat them. It is not entirely impossible for a group of people to run jointly owned stock on land they own or lease collectively, and to use the animals for home food supply, but the laws around the ownership, the care of the stock and the handling and use of the final product are complex. Burrow around in the Ministry for Primary Industries website and see if you can find information to fit your situation.


Food Sovereignty/Security is a highly complex issue. Defining it is easy, achieving it nigh on impossible – even with Herculean effort. You could have all the food in the world growing on your own land, and it could be wiped out by weather, insects or a hungry hoard of people. In spite of that, its reasonably obvious that we have to do something. Descartes gives way to, “I think, therefore I garden”. Put it down to the cost of thinking (‘That’ll learn ya’). For me, the most obvious place to start in all of this, is the ‘vegetables, fruit and herbs’ end of the stick, so yes, I have been doing that for yonks. I place great reliance on the plants I can grow, year after year without having to rely on external parties like seed companies. Also, by good design (not ‘luck’), we have poultry and sheep, so meat (dense protein) is relatively secure. Dry goods and groceries, far less so. Nothing is foolproof.

None of this is simple, folks. It’s not designed to be. Good consumers behave rationally, and don’t rob honest capitalists of opportunities to make a buck, so the system is designed to discourage you from doing stuff for yourself. It’s not personal – it’s just that the capitalist system has to commodify everything so it can continue to grow, and do-it-yourself-er’s (DIYer’s) like you spoil the plan. With a bit of luck, they will just be cursing you for being cussed and perverse, and it will take a lot longer for them to realise that you have seen through the whole, sorry lie. Once they catch on, they will dream up lots of new rules and it will become a whole lot harder to become independent of the mess, and to build the food sovereignty and security you are striving for. Don’t leave it too long to start. Of course, once the proverbial hits the fan, they are going to be awfully distracted, and you and your community are going to be, ……. Well, you can finish that bit.

Good luck.