Abundant Community: Local Food Alliance in Placer County, California

PlacerSustain is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Placer County, California, that stewards the creation of social capital at the grass roots level to create a sustainable future—helping people help themselves through sharing, connecting, collaborating and taking cooperative action.  PlacerSustain at present is an all-volunteer effort. We support a social network dedicated to sustainability that is grounded in a number of the basic principles found in John McKnight and Peter Block’s Abundant Community—open, transparent, peer to peer, self-organizing, focused on possibilities, responsible citizenship and an appreciation for each other and what we can create together.

PlacerSustain is dedicated to sustainablity and grounded in Abundant Community principles.

PlacerSustain operates a social networking website, PlacerSustain.org.  We also conduct periodic meetings around the community that are educational, but more importantly, provide a venue for people and organizations to share about what they are doing, learning, and wish to create.  We facilitate Working Groups that take on particular interests and projects.  Thus, we conducted a number of sessions devoted to the Local Food Movement, which is robust in our area.  From those sessions a group of people and organizations emerged that were interested in bringing together all the various community interests that have a stake in local food—essentially expanding the local food movement network.

Placer County has an active small food grower and producer network.  The Extension Service is very active in support of small growers and producers and, especially, in training support for new farmers.  We have a robust Master Gardeners program and community organization that is working with people interested in healthy food.  There is a network of health related organizations, mostly governmental and related non-profits (e.g. County Mental Health, Headstart, etc.).  Various public recreation districts are conducting health related classes and programs.  The schools are creating school gardens.  Community gardens are springing up.  There are a number of private health clubs, an Alternative Medicine/Holistic Health association and a growing number of restaurants interested in serving healthy local food.  And more!

We saw a great opportunity to create a robust local food and health culture.  

Having said all this, an opportunity exists to create much greater intentionality, communication and collaboration to bring these various interests together to a critical mass that engages the entire community to create a robust local food and health culture.  In particular, there is a great opportunity to bring local food and health interests together.

A core group of local food activists decided to create the “Placer Local Food Alliance.”  The Food Alliance is an informal network (i.e. an association) of people and organizations.  In November of 2011 PlacerSustain and the Local Food Alliance hosted a meeting at one of the local schools.  Approximately 50 people attended. Anyone who wished was provided 3-5 minutes to share about what they care about, and what they are doing.  All of the presentations were captured on video and posted on YouTube.  A core group has been meeting twice monthly to coordinate action on developmental work—e.g. Mission, Desired Outcomes, Partner Outreach, Community Events.  Out of these discussions, a group has emerged that is interested in creating a Food Co-op.  An on-line Discussion Forum on the Local Food Alliance was created on the PlacerSustain website.  All this is in the very early stages of development.

Some thought was given to conducting a Local Food Summit that would include all the various Stakeholders to get buy-in on missions, outcomes, and solicit partners––in other words, the standard organizational development approach.  Instead, the group decided to proceed less formally, more slowly, and co-host a local food event where we break bread together and provide an opportunity for people to meet and share.

We encouraged peer to peer leadership, based on the belief that common interests are best served by building relationships, learning from one another and creative partnering.

There is a natural resistance to expend effort to cross organizational and subject matter silos.  Many of the existing community leaders that have been dedicated to local food and health matters are over-extended, experiencing a lack of sufficient energy and resources to take on new actions. As noted by Peter Block and John McKnight, our culture tends to view sharing and communication with some skepticism. It is possible that the existing landscape is experiencing “Scarcity.”   What we encourage is the emergence of a energized peer to peer based distributive leadership composed of people and organizations that believe their interests are furthered by working together to build the relationships, learn from each other, and partner creatively to take action.  Peter Block and John McKnight’s Abundant Community framework greatly informs this effort.




Home page photo: John-Morgan

About the Lead Author

Jeffrey Bordelon
Jeffrey Bordelon is a founder and director of PlacerSustain, a nonprofit organization in Placer County, CA dedicated to "connecting people and inspiring collaboration to build healthy communities and thriving local economies." He has been a practicing attorney and land use planner for almost 40 years. His specialities include real estate, business, construction, land development, and resource conservation.

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