The Ending Legacy of Centralization

Serving people's needs is the main purpose of building shared infrastructure. This is equally true of cooperative agricultural infrastructure such as granaries, mills or silos; or of the system of aqueducts and reservoirs that provide our cities with water; or of the power grid and generators which provide our power.

And so, shifting consumer needs should cause shifts in infrastructure deployment. In America, particularly on the West Coast, legacy infrastructure patterns lag our human needs.

Why? One reason is that patterns of cultural evolution appear to be accelerating on the West coast. Change in our habits and desires have accelerated at a rate which incremental change in infrastructure can not keep pace. And secondly, particularly for agricultural infrastructure, we have gotten caught at an enormous scale and high centralization from which it is very difficult to back off from incrementally.

The centralized food systems matched consumer preferences back in the 1950s. The sameness of centralized food production represented quality, reliability and purity. And the purveyors of this companies that provided this all the same food retained widespread trust.  Back then, local food - with wide variation and uncertain provenance - was feared; it might make you sick.

A byproduct of centralization is commodification. Every attribute is specified, no variation is allowed. This yields mono-cropping in the fields as we have become reliant on just a few varieties for nearly all of our food. This sameness in cultivation then requires high levels of soil additives and pesticides. And it yields a system prone to catastrophic disease. Our food supply is less resilient because diseases spread much faster through the same species of plant or animal. And in the centralized  processing of food, we increase the distribution of any contamination. And the diets we eat, made up of all this stacked sameness, are likewise narrow, composed of little variety and not very healthy. All of this leads to a system that is brittle and is not very resilient in the face of change.

Fortunately, consumer needs have changed. This year, the price per pound of Avocado hit a record high. Consumers are eating more local, varied, fresh food than ever. That said, the agricultural infrastructure lags far behind.

Food that preserves its identity, at its core means that the food being processed, in this case grain, is processed in its own batch and packaged without being mixed with other grains from other places, so its origin and the variety can be preserved. The same idea has created things like single origin coffee, which continues to be one of the most appealing consumer choices in terms of coffee; likewise wine from single estate is now prized. The localized infrastructure we are creating with Salish Growth is designed to be able to process each farmer's grain in its own batch, which not only allows us to meet consumer preferences, but also to gain flexibility and resilience in its production.

End of Part I. See Part II.


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