The Food Balance Imperative to Sufficient Commons

The physical necessities are shelter, water, fire (fuel) and food. No one should be involuntarily homeless or lacking in necessary clothes; not have adequate clean, potable fresh water; not have sufficient fuel or means to cook, wash, bath and heat with; nor be undernourished or hungry or lack needed medical care and medicines. The major reason any of this occurs is political, not resources.

Political leaders chose to let the suffering of lack of shelter go on by applying token relief at best, in most cases, because addressing the issue does not generally significantly build their power bases. What are needed are commons where the homeless can have their needs met and have the potential to sustainably grow food and to sell some of that food they produced. This would be a pathway to a transitional economy, which is difficult to implement, but not impossible.

A transitional economy is one where a small economy-of-scale and small amount of capital can be competitive in the current global economy. An example would be from the food production world. You can grow potatoes, however in the current economy you would have to grow a plethora of them to be possibly competitive economically. The solution would be to grow tomatoes and/or peppers, where one could have a chance to make money on a much smaller scale and lower capital investment. Cannabis and wine grapes will not build more equitable and stronger communities in the long term.

It would be daunting, if not defeating to try to achieve such commons all at once. I start with being a new volunteer this last year to sustainably produce food in the Garden of Grace, which is a project of the nonprofit Fertile Ground Works ( at the Asbury Methodist Church in Livermore, CA. The food produced from this garden goes to the nonprofit Open Heart Kitchen ( to be prepared into meals for the homeless and the hungry. Open Heart Kitchen serves 350,000 meals a year. In 2016 the Garden of Grace produced 20,200 pounds of food and has been continually expanding the food produced over its six and one-half year history. By this action Fertile Ground Works is fostering constantly improved cultural conditions; however we are only addressing a human condition symptom, not its causality, which would best be done by sufficient commons. We can produce more food, make the soil healthier, practice cultural methods that do not use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and/or pesticides, but how do we provide a pathway out of homelessness, hunger, addiction, mental illness, physical illness and loneliness amongst other social ills? It is not enough, but we have to start somewhere and that is by our food culture.

From a legal standpoint we cannot have a proper commons on church property. Churches are nonprofits that cannot make money and thus violate their organizational definition for their tax statuses. We need land for proper commons from a government entity or a private party. How is this to be achieved? If a private party were to provide land for such a commons there would be considerable risk with no profit incentive, though some donations from private foundations are possible. Alternative routes are through government political bodies such as city councils or county board of supervisors.

Now we enter the political arena of land-use. The proper commons are not going to yield the greatest gain in the shortest time. In no way do I cast commons as any utopian ideal for they will have plenty of awkward, uncomfortable conflicts and trying governance issues. What is important is that they are safe, non-violent environments free of violent speech. Commons are necessary to prevent our communities
from continuing their accelerating deteriorations at their very foundations. In fact, in time, these commons should thrive. We simply cannot expect satisfactory results from current disjointed, inadequate efforts of empathy and compassion and haphazard distributions of resources – admirable as they may be.
There is also the question of location. Many jurisdictions are too developed to locate such commons, unless they are co-housing situations with potential for urban garden food production. Otherwise the location would have to be outside of such developed jurisdictions, most likely accomplished by private-land purchases. This could be an opportunity to reinvigorate rural America. Transportation logistics would have to be solved with the least amount of motor vehicles and other resources as possible to also facilitate the distribution of food for sale.

It is one thing to sustainably grow healthy food for the homeless, but it is insufficient. We need a transitional economy where the broke and the broken can turn their lives around with a commons that has adequate shelter, water, fire (fuel) and food – including the ability to grow some food in a healthy, ecological manner. The commons need to be places of some joy. A proper commons can accomplish this. My goal is to achieve this through collaborative political-means and cooperative practical-steps where a healthy food-production culture is the beginning.