BY Stacco Troncoso,
Bronwen Morgan, a researcher and expert in regulation and rights related to social activism and claims for social and economic human rights, recently approached us to share the following article. It deals with sustainable food systems, the sharing economy, and the ethos of legal infrastructure by using the recent crowdfunding campaigns of Open Food Network (Australia) and FarmDrop (UK) as a window onto these issues.
At the end of the first week of August 2014, two different crowdfunding pitches closed almost simultaneously. FarmDrop, based in the UK, had raised three quarters of a million pounds, which was not far from double their original goal, from 359 investors. Open Food Network, based in Australia, had raised Aus$35,877 from 398 investors. Peering through the windows opened up by these two initiatives gives a clear view of rather different trajectories of the burgeoning ‘sharing economy’.
Crowdfunding’s heady mix of creative expression, cultivating an audience of potential investors, media-savvy PR pitch, and technical provision of ‘due diligence’ information about business plans and risk seems appropriate to the somewhat contradictory ethos surrounding the spread and growth of the sharing economy. As William Deresiewicz argued in the New York Times in 2011 in ‘Generation Sell’:
The prism of the crowdfunding ‘pitch’ refracts diverse imaginaries of scale, and of ownership and control. Yet in the pitches for these two projects, scale is highly visible while questions of ownership and control are mostly shrouded or implicit. But both are important foundations of the particular ethos of the practices that might spring up in their wake – and ethos, elusive as it is, is a vital facet of the kind of world that such projects aspire to create.
Both FarmDrop and Open Food Network aim to create and grow sustainable local food systems. Both stress the desire to create positive social change of a systemic kind, one that will disrupt the existing dominance of supermarket provision of food. They have not dissimilar structures – both provide a web-based platform that allows individual consumers to source food from local farmers, and to cut out or curtail the power of the ‘middleman’. Both emphasise the enlarged share of the final purchase price that will go to farmers as a key plank of their commitment to positive social change.
Their visions of the way in which they will grow, however, are quite different, a difference perhaps mirrored in the fact that FarmDrop’s largest investment was GBP100,000 while Open Food Network’s was Aus2500 – as well as the sheer scale of difference in the total sums raised. FarmDrop aspires to establish a standardised model that will ‘scale up’ to a mass level, citing a quantified market share target of current UK supermarket sale volumes, and envisioning an ‘exit strategy’ of a public stockmarket sale where its potential valuation is compared to AirBnB, the ubiquitous sharing economy behemoth. Open Food Network, by contrast, conveys a hope of growing by variable replication, primarily through sharing the code of its web-based platform and fostering partnerships with small community-based ventures. It has already begun such partnerships with existing local food projects in Scotland and the South-West of England.
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