Can Participatory Food Make Local Food Abundant?

I love the idea of participatory food.    In fact, participatory food may be the way we achieve better and more abundant food in the future.

What is participatory food?  It’s when an entire community participates in the growing, preparing, and eating of food.

Participatory food isn’t new.

We enjoy many the benefits of participatory food at home when we cook, eat, and clean up meals as a family (intentional communities that share meals are an attempt to replicate this experience across a larger “tribal” group).

However, the big question remains.

How does participatory food work in a larger community?

I’ve identified three ways this may work.  All three are based more on the production (growing and raising) of food than on the consumption of it.

However, all three include celebrations of preparing and eating great food.  Celebrations that turn eating into the social experience it has been since time immemorial.

Ad Hoc Food 

This is an open approach to participatory food formulated by the Incredible Edible in Todmorden (the UK).  This approach doesn’t have a leadership cadre or a formal plan.  It doesn’t focus on the negative.

It merely encourages community groups to innovate on ways to increase food production.  So far, this ad hoc approach has led to food gardens popping up all over town.  From a garden outside of the police department to raised beds for each class at the local school.

People were encouraged to participate in the care of the gardens, on and off public land.  There was even a campaign to increase local egg production that taught people how to raise chickens and helped them sell the excess.

Gardens were even put near bus stops so that commuters could harvest fresh vegetables for dinner on their way home, or do some weeding while waiting for the bus in the morning.  Since so much food is being produced, even some of the private gardens put up signs encouraging neighbors to help themselves.

To tie it all together, Todmorden has an annual harvest festival that celebrates the preparation of foods grown in local gardens and the skills of local chefs/cooks.

Required Production

This approach is still in its early phases since it requires new development to be fully realized.  However, bits of it are being pursued in many communities already.

In this approach, every apartment and stand alone home has a garden allotment.  By community charter, in the very same way community dues are assessed for golf course maintenance in retirement “communities,” every owner is required to grow food on the allotment.   They can either do it themselves or contract with the community to do it.

Instead of a golf course, the community would feature a community kitchen (with professional grade equipment) and services to help people prepare, can, preserve, or slaughter (per health code) their food.  The community kitchen would also serve as the kitchen for a community restaurant featuring locally grown foods prepared to the highest quality.

Finally, the community center square would feature a permanent facility, able to support regular farmers/artisans markets.  The place where food could be routinely sold, showcased and celebrated.

Integrated Food

The final approach is one that is popping up all over.  It integrates professional food production into the community.

So far, the majority of this integration has been done through CSA (community supported agriculture) programs.  These farms make weekly deliveries to their members (and in some cases owners), invite members to participate in the harvesting process, and often hold feasts to celebrate a successful year.

Increasingly, we are seeing these farms move closer to the communities they serve.

In built up areas and as a way to provide year round production, this is likely to take the form of aquaponics CSAs (see the effort by Portland Purple Water as an example).   Another form is foodscaping lawns into farms.  In this situation, a professional gardener that helps you plant and maintain your food garden on what was formerly your yard.  They help you select the vegetables you want to grow, help you maintain them properly to get maximum yield, and give you ideas on how to best to prepare the food you grow.


As you can see, there isn’t a lack of innovation out there.  It’s really only a question of finding a model that works for your community and moving forward with it.

Your coach in all things resilient,




PS:  Remember, don’t just focus on personal production and self-sufficiency.   That approach is fragile to disruption.

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  • michael

    My kids school had a project that was funded by the local community. We built an edible garden that has 14 raised beds. The kids are learning a lot and the local community can stop by and pick whatever they would like to eat.

  • John

    For the “participatory” part many CSAs have a participation requirement or a reduced cost for members who commit to working during the year. This is the membership I have had in a CSA. I ended up learning quite a bit the first year and was able to apply it to my home garden with improved results. I have no doubt that if the calling for CSAs keeps growing, we will see more with many being closer to people since there is no size requirement.

    I wouldn’t want to be a part of any HOA (community charter) even if it did have a useful requirement. But that’s just me.

    Ad Hoc is an interesting idea. It would be good to see dirt containers scattered around just growing random food.

    A professional gardener (or “food production specialist”) may be the next wave of consultants to find a calling. Hmm, something to consider as a side job?

  • David Braden

    Our gardening team thinks of participatory food production as “co-ownership of the capacity to produce for our own consumption”. Every dollar our team saves producing something for ourselves is a dollar that can be invested in developing more capacity. As our capacity to produce what we need for ourselves increases so does our resilience.

    We call it Community Sufficiency Technologies . . . the know how to organize ourselves to provide for ourselves:

    • John Robb

      Thanks David. Lots of different models out there. Not many people think of it as a way to bootstrap prosperity though like you do. It is.


      • John

        That’s a good way to phrase it. Whether you do it alone or with your community, anything you do to improve your situation and depend less on someone else and other systems, the better off (more prosperous) you are.

        Food is one of the few things we must have (food, shelter, security, etc). The more “must haves” that we can provide or maintain for ourselves, the less we are affected by outside influences and the more resilient we are when outside influences do affect us.

        Besides, if you have seen any of the many documentaries on the modern food system and conventional farming practices, you are likely to want to produce your own food anyway.

  • child of Odin

    Is there a directory or other resource for finding CSA’s in my area? I love the idea, and would like to find one near me.

  • child of Odin

    Thanks for the link, and the quick response

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