Australian Fair Food Forum

What does the Commons look like?

These notes were taken from a group discussion session at the Food Sovereignty Convergence in Canberra 23rd November 2017.

The Commons

  • What does the commons look like? How can a farm support a community rather than just one family?
  • How can we collaborate with the local indigenous community? See Charles Massy “Call of the Reed Warbler”
  • Cooperative discussed as a possible model for the commons but it has its own purpose which is not necessarily commons
  • So what is the Commons? When the community owns the infrastructure or land
  • What are the different ways we can share resources without using money? What ways can we create social capital so that this can happen?
  • Serenity is in the process of dividing the family farm with her brother and is looking at different governing structures like a trust. Conflict between her idea of what governance should look like re: the farm and the current systems of governance already in place.
  • Robert has used Asset Locks to protect his Food Connect enterprise from being sold.
  • More questions than answers!
  • eBook by the P2P Foundation “Commons Transition: The Book”
  • Serenity spoke of the inverse relationship of Trust and Scale. When things get too big they fall apart. Whilst there has been some headway in the use of Blockchain technology to mitigate this, it’s still in its infancy and it’s questionable that trust could be outsourced to an app rather than generated through human to human interactions.
  • Walter: spoke of other things that might put a spanner in the current systems of capitalist exchange where governments could issue “tax credits” to citizens thereby sidestepping the banks to a large degree.
  • Transparency is always important, particularly as things grow bigger.
  • Robert: cited the farming and hospitality enterprise called L’Aubier Switzerland as an example of radical transparency. He noted that in his own enterprise he faced challenges with scale and scope.
  • Pi Wei: spoke of her newly launched 1x1FARMER project that has spring boarded off her longer running 3 year old Crop-Swap community. 1x1FARMER gets participants to grow a 1x1 garden bed of just one crop so they will have enough for themselves plus a surplus for crop-swap. It asks the domestic gardener to grow an intentional surplus for his or her community.
  • Kathy: offered her idea of landowner who has land to spare to offer it to artisan producers on a free lease arrangement. Fraser was worried about security of land tenure in this arrangement.
  • David: pointed out that there are possible unexploited opportunities on Crown lands under land claim that present ways for a Commons that includes the involvement of Traditional Owners at its root.
  • Serenity: see David Graeber “The first 5,000 years of Debt” which talks about community and exchange.
  • Libraries as possible locations of a new Commons


  • Whilst we were unable to come up with an “answer” we did come up with lots of questions and possibly a way of working towards an answer. What is a Commons and what could it possibly give us? How do we create value and reticulate this value through the Commons? Perhaps we could have a system that creates value rather than burdens its participants with debt.
  • Necessary to imagine the commons in real life situations and scenarios. To keep finding situations or environments where we could grow a nascent Commons.
  • How does the commons operate within a neoliberal capitalist system? Are we to transform these systems within or are we to grow in the cracks between the concrete?

There’s a really fantastic looking book coming out early next year, the Routledge Handbook of Food as Commons:

It’s edited by Jose Luis Vivero Pol (I recommend following him on twitter!), Tomaso Ferrando, Olivier de Schutter, Ugo Mattei

The Intro and Conclusion & Way forward will both be open access, and there’s a discount code for purchase of the other chapters there.

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@serenity- Would you mind outlining what you guys are in the process of doing with your family farm?

Not sure how useful this is but it’s a start to telling the story of what we’re doing - this week’s blog post is a little summary of some of the steps we’ve taken so far, to record the process for ourselves as much as anything. We’re finding it incredibly complex, time-consuming and detailed and I don’t think we’d have the wherewithal to see the process through by ourselves, if we weren’t working with a consultant to keep track of the whole process - not while we’re still running a farm, anyway (and it’s spring!!! we should be out thinning, not having meetings and filling out funding application forms!!!)

Anyway, here’s the link - happy to answer questions.

Cheers, Katie

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This is great, Katie! Thanks so much for sharing.