Yes You Can!

A while back I participated in a workshop hosted by St. Joseph’s Group Purchasing Association, moderated by My Sustainable Canada and their partners.  This event brought together almost 60 members of the value chain including hospital and long term care foodservice operators, food distributors, manufacturers and Ontario producers to talk about opportunities and challenges they face in getting more local food into their foodservice operations.

Something I noticed was the varying degrees of what I call the “Local Food Readiness”.  This cycle is defined by groups of people at four different stages of development.  Each stage is characterized by the benefits of local food, and each stage requires different motivations to get them to be able to evolve into the next stage.  This cycle, can be reflective of an individual’s stage or it can be a reflection of an overall company’s beliefs about local foods.

At the top of the Local Food Readiness cycle are the Beginners. These people say they like local food and they think it’s good for the economy, but they really don’t know how to buy it, where to find it or how it fits with their job. Local food is a “nice to have” but not a requirement for them to pursue.  For the Beginners, unless something happens to either a) force them to take action or b) inspire them to take action, they will always stay in this stage.

The second stage are the Testers. They like the idea of local food and what it can do for their organization.  They ask questions and test the waters by taking small actions.  Testers will find easy things to change and wait to see how others react. This group is looking for reinforcement that they are doing the right thing.  In order for them to move to the next stage they either need direction from above or someone to recognize the work they are doing to justify the added effort to change how they do things.

The third stage I call the Converted. These people get the importance of local food, have invested time and energy to start changing what they are doing, but are working alone.  The people around them are in the Beginners phase and the converted have yet to find a way to connect to them.  This group needs to share their enthusiasm and passion in order to get others interested.  Alternatively, they could retain support from the top to direct people to become interested.

The last group are the Champions.  They will extol about the benefits of local food and get other people from inside their organization involved, enthused and excited.  Once you’ve achieved this position, there is nothing left but to help others until it becomes a standard for everyone.

As mentioned earlier, not only do individuals go through this, but so do organizations.  Organizations get their inspiration from their customers, observations of what their competitors are doing and through government led initiatives like the Broader Public Sector Investment Fund.  By providing incentives for a few companies to change, we can inspire the rest of the industry to follow, creating great economic return for our community and local food for consumers.

- Franco Naccarato, Program Manager for Greenbelt Fund