Sunday 18 November 2012

A Growing Trade

The expanding Big Dig organisation has a new 80-page report, A Growing Trade: a guide for community groups growing food to sell in our towns and cities (sort-of free: a £10 donation is expected).

I'd like nothing more than to visit a quarterly allotment holder's market in Stoke's town square, or to read of a profitable local cider-press in Hartshill getting an award for its beautifully bottled micro-brew cider. But looking twice at the report's table-of-contents, there seems to be something missing. Like a section containing a basic economic analysis of the profit and loss of such growing.

Because if the aim of the A Growing Trade report is indeed to show how to... "add economic vitality to your neighbourhood", then perhaps talented people should think more rationally about that. About exactly where they can and should best put their time and talents into, to actually achieve that goal. The case for growing and selling veg as a major contribution to the hyper-local economy could perhaps be made, based on data and proper calculations, together with a sharp-eyed appraisal of intangibles such as well-being / local pride / inter-generational contacts — but I'd want to see the sort of robust calculations which would nail the case for it to a government minister's desk.

If the eco-worriers are just doing it as a hobby business, fine. Most of the 1980s hippies and punks actually turned out to be closet entrepreneurs of one sort or another, after all — even as they ranted impotently against Thatcher. The historical example of those groups suggests that the renewal of capitalism may come from precisely those who consider themselves in such over-heated opposition to it (such as the current middle-class eco-worriers and Make-reading hackers, etc), rather than those who consider themselves in so fervently in favour of it (the Tea Party in the USA springs to mind).

And Lord Heseltine's 1980s quote about (I paraphrase from memory): "we'll never have big exports again if all we do is sell our hand-made nick-knacks to each other" is rapidly being proven false by the amazing boom in Internet crafts and 'designer' virtual goods. Which shows that you never know if some new innovation will suddenly make an 'impossible' method of economic production suddenly become viable. We may, for instance, yet see some amazing universal gene-splicing breakthrough which makes garden food plants twice as disease and drought resistant as before. Such a breakthrough may well happen. Science has already done it for us many times before.

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