June 30, 2010

Developing a Commons-Based Approach to Security

Redefining security in terms of our relationships and shared resources

At On the Commons, we’re currently working on a commons-based approach to community investment that would help redefine security in terms of our relationships to each other and to our shared resources. Read on to learn what kinds of questions we’re asking as we begin to design new strategies.

Imagine this. For the next four decades, you plan to squirrel away your extra money in a retirement account on Wall Street to pay for food in late life. Yet once the time is ripe to draw from the account, you will likely face higher market rates on food. And while you might have the opportunity to purchase kale, carrots, beets, and garlic from your favorite local vendor, chances are you won’t feel that your decades-long investment helped you create a meaningful connection to the vegetables you’ve purchased, the land you live on, or your local community. Couldn’t there be a way to actively invest in your local food system as you invest in your future?

Enter a commons-based approach. At On the Commons, we’re currently working to design innovative community investment strategies that would both provide investors at all levels a connection to the land, and inspire a new way of thinking about security. Investing money on Wall Street—as you planned to do in your imagined retirement account—is the very opposite of a commons-based approach to security. Why? Security has been largely commodified and individualized by the mainstream financial system. A commons-based approach, on the other hand, defines security in terms of our relationships to each other and to our shared resources (e.g.: food, land, water, neighborhoods, time, etc.) within the context of ensuring basic needs for all.

Here are some of the questions we’re asking: Can we design a food annuity that involves direct investment in a local food network? Would that help develop an investor’s connection to both the land and her local community? Would she feel less “on her own” while investing in her future? And can the definition of a return on investment (ROI) be thought of as a tool for social change and community security instead of a specific monetary return? We think so.

We believe that we must gradually transform our thought and behavior toward land in order for a restorative economy to emerge and for local economies to flourish. Investing in sustainable land use and restoration is critical to the future health and security of us all.

To learn what led On the Commons to rethink security, check out our feature of the 2011 Farmland Commons Gathering, a national gathering of farmers, investors, and sustainable agriculture and land trust leaders.