Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Connecting happiness to our local food system (Pt. 2 of 2)

By Heather Davis, Food Systems Monitoring and Evaluation Research Associate at the Center for an Agricultural Economy

How does measuring happiness and well-being relate to the work I do at the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) and the general work of the organization?  The CAE’s mission is to, “bring together community resources and programs needed to develop a locally based food system that supports the desire of rural communities to rebuild their economic and ecological health.”  We, as an organization, must reflect on why we want to develop the local food system in the first place?  What are our intended outcomes of doing so?  We need to have a vision of the larger impacts of our work.  What benefits does our work have for individual citizens and the community as a whole?

There are four main outcomes of a healthy food system that have developed through my work here and are also reflected in other work that I have come across in my research, which also happen to reflect well-being, in general:

  • Healthy Communities
  • Robust & Equitable Local Economy
  • Food Security
  • Healthy Environment

A portion of my work here at the CAE has been measuring the health of the local food system and the well-being of the Hardwick-area.  My Master’s Thesis, A Framework for Monitoring Local and Regional Food Systems, which I worked on while here at the CAE, took a holistic approach to measuring the health of food systems and includes all the various elements that make up a food system (Farms, Food Waste Recycling, Processing, etc), as well as those four outcomes.  This also includes measures on well-being to reflect “Healthy Communities” as one of the intended outcomes of a healthy food system.  Some of the specific indicators relating to this that were developed include:

·   Percent of respondents who participate in bartering
·   Percent of farms who participate in bartering
·   # of Buffalo Mountain Co‐op members (total members & working members)
·   # of members of North Country Farming Network
·   Percent of registered voters who voted in most recent mid‐term election
·   Percent of respondents who indicated that they currently volunteer
·   Average score on community satisfaction index
·   Average score on the “Well‐being Index”
·   Homeownership rate
·   Crimes against property: Number of property crimes / 1000 pop.
·   Crimes against people: Number of crimes against people / 1000 pop.

The intentions of the above indicators (there are a total of 200+) are to get an accurate sense of community vitality, engagement, and well-being.  Other indicators look specifically at details relating to farming, food processing, etc.  The data for this portion of the larger framework is being collected from area organizations, state and federal data sources and via community survey.

In rural areas where farming is integral to the community - and even in more urban areas where we’re seeing the development of more urban agriculture and increased engagement in the production of food – we need to consider the health of the food system when considering our greater well-being, and vice versa.  Food is one of our basic human needs and for true well-being we need to have healthy food and a healthy food system.

The Measuring What Matters Conference and these conversations will be part of the ongoing process of creating the state-mandated well-being index for Vermont.  It really is exciting to see this coming together – another way that this small and humble state is leading the way!

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