Why is Food Connect taking off?
…by Russ Grayson.
FOOD CONNECT… it’s a bit like a contagion really, something that is rapidly spreading through viral replication.
The contagion has now spread as far as Adelaide and it’s sure to replicate its way further along the coast, perhaps making the hop across Bass Strait to Tasmania and to inland towns and cities as well. It’s a contagion of the positive type and it is evidence that a good idea can move quickly.
For some reason, Food Connect has that elusive quality of stickiness, of being able to lodge itself in people’s heads, and it’s that which drives its spread through our networks of digitally and personally connected people interested in doing something new and exciting about our food supply. This is still the territory of the innovators and the early adopters, however it is soon likely to spread into the lands of the early mass adopters.
These new iterations of Food Connect are not branch offices of the Brisbane operation. They are independent social businesses. A social business, whether for- or not-for-profit, has social rather than profit-making goals and returns any operating surplus (as return on investment or profit is called by not-for-profits) to the business.
The Food Connect Foundation — set up to service the growing interest in the model — assists Food Connect replications by providing advice, planning, software and branding to support the replications to become established and to create a unified visual presence for Food Connect start-ups through the states.
Not all of those inspired by Food Connect set up a direct replication. Some take the model, adapt it and give it their own name, like the replication soon to start in Coffs Harbour
Why the rapid replication?
The question is why, seemingly all of a sudden, has the Food Connect model taken off? Why do we see Food Connects in Brisbane, Sydney, Coffs Harbour and Adelaide, with strong interest in Melbourne, Newcastle and the Illawarra?
Let’s use Chip and Dan Heath’s formula (see Made To Stick; Random House 2007) to look at the catchiness of an idea, for the needs for an idea to become sticky enough to stimulate interest, motivation and action… to stick in the mind.
An idea first of all has to be simple. And Food Connect is simple: it is a structure through which city eaters can obtain mostly organic, fresh and local fruit, vegetables and culinary herbs.
Next, the idea has to be unexpected. For a population used to taking whatever the supermarkets say they should accept as food, the notion of sidestepping the supermarket and shortening the food supply chain from farmer to eater sure is an unexpected idea.
The idea needs to be concrete. That is, it needs to be grounded in reality and not be abstract. Food Connect has the property of concreteness because it can be examined with your physical senses.
It must be credible. That is, it must appear as very likely to be true. The presence of detail helps here as this lends credence to the idea and indicates that it has been well thought out, even tested. The details about Food Connect are available through their website, through regional organisers and through members. And… the idea has certainly been tested.
Emotion is a determining factor in what people are prepared to believe. If credibility leads to motivation, then emotion leads to caring caring about our food system and the Food Connect and other alternatives to it. This can include caring about local farmers and their livelihoods, about good, tasty food and about a low-carbon food supply.
The availability of narratives about something — stories, that is — is a means of conveying meaning in a way that will stick. People remember stories more than they remember lists of facts.
Does Food Connect have stories around it or has it not been going long enough? Yes, it does have stories… stories of the lives of farmers that supply it, of its City Cousins who serve as distribution points for Food Connect boxes (and receive cheaper food boxes for doing so), of the challenges of setting it up… and it has that grand narrative that is the story of our food system, how it is controlled and by whom and of the community-based countercurrent to it that is Food Connect.
So we see that Food Connect meets the criteria for stickiness and that this may have something to do with its rapidly accelerating take-up.
A shorter and fresher food chain
Food Connect shortens the perishable, fresh food chain… the time and distance food takes to get from grower to eater.
Farmers from the region — Food Connect’s ‘Country Cousins’ — simply deliver what they grow each week to the Food Connect depot. There it is packed into the weekly food boxes and delivered to ‘City Cousins’, the suburban collection points where members pick up their food box.
This closely-connected system can also be a conduit for information about the food, such as when Food Connect Sydney send an email message to subscribers explaining that farmers had told them that the heavy rains of February had caused some crop damage and that the produce night not be as good as it usually would be.
Had this happened with farmers supplying the supermarkets, the outcome might have been rejection of the crop and consequent wastage. Why? Because it did not look as good as supermarkets demand — let’s call that veg and fruit cosmetics — despite it still being quite edible and nutritious. As for farmer-to eater-communication, well, there’s lots of things to be found in supermarkets but that sort of communication is rather hard to come by. All you seem to get there are marketing messages rather than hard, verifiable information.
As an adaption to the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, Food Connect provides farmers with those skills they are less capable at, such as communications and building relationships with eaters. It also solves another dilemma inherent in the traditional CSA: by sourcing their food from a larger number of farmers, Food Connect is not vulnerable to a single farmer going out of business. An additional benefit is that a larger number of farmers can supply a larger range of foods.
It’s still early days for Food Connect beyond its Brisbane homeland. It’s prospects, however, are growing as fast as it it replicated.
Find out more:
Food Connect Brisbane
Food Connect Sydney
Food Connect Adelaide
Food Connect Melbourne