Dispatches from Ireland: Exploring What It Means to Be “Locally Global”

Guest blog post from Paeder Casey, who has worked in the food industry since 1988, at Kerry Group, a global food organisation, then, at his own niche consulting business focused on business and organizational development of SME food organisations. Since 2004, he has worked with a diverse range of clients throughout the food industry, from agricultural seed supplies to Michelin star restaurant owners. Having grown up on a family farm in Ireland and working in the food industry for over twenty years, his experience stretches from farm yard to financial year end of a multinational food organisation. Peadar has a passion for food culture, history, authenticity and sustainable food systems.

Having worked in the corporate food sector for sixteen years until 2005, it was not until I became an independent consultant to small food companies that I reconnected with my food roots, having grown up on a small farm in Ireland. My consulting services are primarily focused on innovation; business development and entrepreneurship, the nature of such services mean I am mostly working in a “pioneering” environment.

Over the last seven years I have progressively grown more attached and in tune with the local, authentic and sustainable food agenda, reconnecting with my food roots.

Since establishing my own business my journey has taken me on many unplanned routes, mostly guided by gut feeling rather than strategic direction, a culture which took some getting used to. Within a short time of getting involved with small food businesses I began to realise how (almost) impossible it was for such organisations to survive in a food chain dominated by multinational retailers and industrially produced global brands. Such a commercial reality put me thinking about how best to assist in solving the problem?

My first reaction was to think of a cooperative and shared resource approach to building a sustainable food system. Having come from the corporate world and industrial food culture I could see why efficiency was so important in the large retail driven food chain. Within the environment of the small food company the people, products and process all came before profit, a fact which the industrial food chain at times have difficulty appreciating, which can lead to a lack of adequate return for the conscientious producer.

The journey as an independent food consultant has brought me across a diverse range of food companies from a seed supply company through various food production businesses, to a Michelin star restaurant. While the organisations were diverse, the overriding passion for food was self evident in all the organisations. The evidence of such a common passion for food made me wonder, what if one could get all these individuals and their food organisations connected? , the vision which started back then is what I now know to be a “food hub”.

With the benefits of an academic platform and hours on the internet I became aware of the growing revolution in US/Canada around local food, sustainable food systems and the commercial workings of food hubs. The more I understand the existing and evolving food systems the more it is analogous to the development of a transport infrastructure.

A food hub, I believe, is in someways like a bus terminal, the bus terminal facilitates the transport of people, while the food hub facilitates the safe and efficient passage of food from producer to consumer. While food hubs to date have helped established “local” food chains, the challenge still exists to bring “locally global” while retaining the authenticity and affordability of food is a sustainable manner for the producer, the consumer and the environment.

Now I have started to think again, can we link sustainable food regions around the world through a network of sustainable internationally focused food hubs? The proposed network would be a sustainable food system, transferring culture, heritage and taste around the world through the efficient transfer of recipe, skills and technology.

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