Resilience comes in two main parts: food production andindustry, supported by two underlying infrastructural elements: smart local information networks and local money systems.
1. Agricultural and food resilience
As the first solution for farming, John Robb proposes subscription farming:
“In addition to entrepreneurial mini-farms, local farming can also be supported through subscriptions (aka Community Supported Agriculture). These subscriptions entitle the buyer to weekly deliveries/pick-ups of fresh produce. Subscription farming grew from 50 farms in 1990 to over 2000 today.
What makes this interesting to our exploration of community resilience is:
* Subscription farming (like mini-farming on small plots) spreads the risks (if you know farming, then you know that it is a VERY risky business) among participants and smoothes cash flows.
* It’s a model that communities can implement on arable public land, where the rent for the land is provided as a share of the crop to the community.
* If you combine both models (subscription and mini-farms), you can develop hybrid models where individuals rent/manage small plots on a larger parcel and purchase services (from weed/pest control to tilling) from the land’s manager.”
The second solution is SPIN, Small Plot Intensive Farming for the cities and suburbs.
“The a return to local agriculture within suburban and urban environments won’t be a redux of amateur gardening nor will it be done on local traditional farms (mostly, long since paved over). Instead it will feature high tech, intense, and energy efficient efforts on clusters of small plots. In short, it will buffer families from the risk of soft and hard disruptions as well as provide an opportunity for income generation. In fact, we are already seeing signs of resilience entrepreneurs in this space. One example is SPIN (small plot intensive) farming, a company that has optimized/packaged techniques for suburban/urban farmers.
* The aggregation of plots near demand. SPIN farmers cut deals with the owners of suburban yards and/or unused spaces to put together viable acreage for farming. Local landowners are paid in kind (produce).
* Intensive utilization of plots. Optimization of plots to generate the highest possible yields depending climate, sun, and rainfall. Low energy methods are preferable since they maximize profitability. There is also an ability to leverage local utilities for water and electricity without any infrastructure expense.
* High value products. A focus on products that cost the most and are the most valuable to local buyers (restaurants and farmers markets). Freshness premiums and fuel cost ratios are important variables.”
Does a SPIN-like approach work?
Early indications are that it works. An interesting study done by Urban Partners for the city of Philadelphia indicates that a fully ramped up effort can generate upwards of $120,000 a year in sales and $60,000 in net income.
How it Will Accelerate
Factors that will accelerate local farming include (in addition to the acceleration of effort due to negative pressure, like those listed above):
* Open source tinkering networks. Everything from the optimization of crop layouts to low cost DIY farming equipment.
* Clustering. Shared equipment, insight, etc. While some of this can be achieved via online connections, local physical connections improve productivity.
* Community support and demand. Relaxation of zoning/community regulations against yard conversions, support for a farmer’s market, etc.”
2. Local industrial fabrication networks
For industry, what is needed is the creation of fabrication networks:
“Already, the fabrication equipment necessary to build complex objects/products costs only $20-50 thousand (some systems are in the hundred dollar range) and the costs are plunging. Given the technological trends, it will be possible in the next decade or so to produce nearly any product locally through these local fabricators in a cost competitive way — some at home and the rest at a local shop. The system like the one I built above would make it possible to take designs you purchase or acquire on a Web site, modify them as you see fit, and then send them to a local fabrication company (or your desktop) nearby for production.
So What Does This Mean?
The shift towards local fabrication and fabrication networks, added to local food/energy/security/etc. completes the transition of barren bedroom communities into resilient communities. It’s a 90% solution for communities, where only the most complex and difficult items are globally sourced. It also enables:
* A torrent of crowd-sourced improvements. Rather than a small design team deciding when/how a product is improved, products can be improved by vast global tinkering networks. Further, you can modify it yourself, if you are so inclined. In the not so distant future, buying a mass produced or unmodified product will be seen as a buying a broken/used/antiquated item.
* Self-supply. 21st Century military units (like Marines in the field), with a trailer full of fabrication equipment, will be able to produce nearly anything they need — from parts to DIY weapons. It takes “make do” to a new level. Capturing and sharing (in real-time) the innovation produced here is going to be a challenge.
* Comparative/competitive advantage. Communities that shift to self-production early will benefit from an ability to not only deal with shocks/disruptions better than global competitors, they will be able to generate wealth faster through cost reduction and commercial exploitation of innovations.”
3. Smart Local Information Networks
All this need to be tied together through smart local information networks, you can’t just rely on the international infrastructure, he insists:
“Most of the local loops (from telco fiber to cable company coaxial) currently in place and/or being installed in the US are dumb (I suspect it is the same globally). They simply route data from local customers to regionally clustered corporate server farms and then outwards/back. This means that any disconnection (physical or logical fault) between local customers and these remote systems will result in a complete cessation of service.”
They have 3 characteristics:
“* A high availability local network for emergencies. A local emergency network that connects all homes and business in the area by accessing the local aggregation nodes of cable/telco operators (which is actually a relatively trivial/inexpensive network exercise). It should become the default network if access to the greater Internet fails. Optimally, the network should sit astride both cable and telco services to provide a seamless community “footprint.”
* High availability servers (computers that host Web sites) in the local loop. Servers that are on the community network and located within the communities environs. Back-up power should be provided to ensure that these servers maintain high up time.
* Community coordination software to sit on these servers. Easy to use and edit social software: blogs, wikis, etc. If the market is large enough, there will be software packages (hopefully open source) that replicate the functionality of a fully functional emergency response system (i.e. locally cached Google maps, etc.). In terms of operating this software, most communities could ask schools/boy scouts/etc. to maintain the software, even during an emergency (young people are much more likely to have the skill sets to do this w/o specific training).”
4. Local monetary systems
“despite spotty record so far, scrip is an extremely powerful means of accelerating local economic activity when nothing else seems possible (in economic extremis).
Past experience with depression era scrip Abschein_vornelike Austria’s Worgl indicate that the following will accelerate scrip adoption, velocity, and robustness:
* Allow community members to use it to pay all or part of their tax liabilities to local governments. This instantly establishes a market for the currency. Also, pay local government employees a portion of their wages in scrip.
* Deflate the value of the scrip (optimally, one percent per month) to promote immediate use rather than hoarding.
* To the extent possible, connect scrip to local production rather than retail. Locally produced food (farmer’s markets), energy (via local microgrids), products (personal fabs), and labor/services. Further, work with local banks to establish checking accounts for scrip and to enable conversions hard currencies (at a slight discount).
There is one element of the above explanations that strikes a doubtful chord, i.e. the jump from present 3D printing of simple molds, to complex personal fabrication networks, in just a decade. I may return on that topic after consultation with our own network.”
Here’s another commentary, from Sam Rose:
“Robb recognizes the technology and infrastructure systems that we need in place for resilient community. “SPIN” ventures are a definite focus on Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative.
I think Robb is also on the right track in thinking about people pooling resources to create “coworking”-style facilities (the local place-based “clustering” that he talks about above)
One of the items missing from Robb’s outline, is a general Literacy of Cooperation. People will need some real insight into the gravity of the situation we are in as a world, and into their local situations, to help motivate them to adopt what Robb is talking about. People will also need to learn to volntarily collaborate together effectively, which is something that has for a long time been suppressed in industrial cultures. People without this literacy will want to understand how these choices are better long term choices for themselves and their communities, and this boils down to understanding the core concept of the “commons” (and the “tragedy of the commons”), and the realization that there is a good chance that adopting what Robb is talking about will help people live effectively within a commons, and avoid the dystopian outcomes that so very many people wake up every day and march about the face of the earth believing to be inevitable.
I think that Literacies of Cooperation/Collaboration, participatory culture, human nature, and foresight must go hand in hand with systems that leverage people’s ability to work together. And so, education systems, local money systems, local production systems should also provide infrastructure and support for people who are learning to transition away from unsustainable unlimited growth systems.
For instance, a person new to these ideas could follow a “plan” that would help them become self-employed, voluntary network participant withing 3-4 years time. This is similar to general plans that show people how to plan/save for retirement, how to buy a home, how to be more energy efficient, etc. It’s just that in this case people would be learning how to change the way that they procure food, technology, etc …