As part of our general work with systems and possibilities that are resilient, local, human and humane, we have become involved with a group running a solidarity gardening system (Solidaritätslandwirtschaft, often abbreviated as SoLaWi), along the lines of a Community Supported Agriculture. The group, 3-er Hof Gmias, is using the fields from an organic small farm in Leonding, a town that is essentially a suburb of Linz. While about a quarter of their supporters are in Leonding, three quarters are in Linz, so there will be anywhere between 6 and 16 crates of vegetables to be delivered to Linz for distribution each week.
One of the claims we have encountered is that the current networks of logistics are so well organised, that it is worthwhile taking better production from further away. So rather than buying local produce that is a bit organic, it is better to buy something more organic (if that is meaningful) because the additional “problem” of transport is such little issue. These figures are supported by the understanding that it would cost you about $600 (US) to send a container shipped from Asia to Europe, while the actual costs of transporting that container (to the shipping company) are more like $1400. But this does not necessarily mean that the logistics “problem” has been “solved” but more that the real costs have been somehow externalised. When we look at the treatment of transport workers, whether truck drivers or deck hands on ships, there is a definite lack of fair pay and fair conditions are also largely absent. Not to mention the cheap, polluting fuel used and the other follow on effects.
So perhaps it is still relevant to get locally produced, organic, well handled produce. And to think about the logistics of getting it from the field to the fork, or at least the farm to the distribution point in the city. For it remains possibly the hardest part, the “last mile” to our kitchens and plates. More on that in a later reflection. For now we are happy to get the produce to a distribution point in the city.
The obvious way to do it is to use a van. But as we all know, vans for delivery are messy, polluting, hard to maneuver and park in the inner city and perhaps not the most future proof of solutions. Also, there is a strong group of bicycle activists close to the project and a relatively flat route between the garden and the distribution point.
Based on our work with sail and clean cargo, the river Danube could be an option. Sail, electric motors and human power would be clean options. However, delivering the crates to the river (over a hill), loading them onto a vessel (no landing site available, so complicated loading from beside the road) and then unloading them again onto some clean transport in the city seems a bit over the top and hard to organise.
So there have been some loose discussions around the topic that came together with a group from the SoLaWi on Saturday. Cargo bikes, trailers, motor assistance and braking systems all play a role in keeping the loads safe and easy enough to transport. The sharing around of who would take turns to do the ride is a matter of fairness, what to do in freezing snow or pouring rain is another question. Who already has a suitable trailer, who could build a custom version, should is the route possible with a giant trailer: so many questions arise. But they all seem solvable.
The current version of the plan remains flexible. The SoLaWi will start operating properly in March 2020. For the initial 4-8 weeks, we will operate with smaller trailers in order to test the route, the logistics of delivery and distribution and scheduling of riders. This is the early part of the season and it is not expected that there will be too many deliveries in this time, perhaps 5-8 standard 40x60cm produce crates. By the time May comes around, we will know enough to decide whether we need to build something like the Carla Cargo motor assisted trailer, something smaller or whether existing resources will be enough.
Reducing the abstractions and exploring the actualities of what it could, would and does mean to live small, resilient, reflected lives as a fragment of a possible future is another way to explore what kind of world we want to live in. And that is perhaps the most relevant question of all.
“Exploring possible futures for transport and everyday life” is part of Curiouser and Curiouser, cried Alice: Rebuilding Janus from Cassandra and Pollyanna (CCA) – an artbased research project from the Institute for Industrial Design 2 at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Time’s Up. It is supported by the Programme for Arts-based Research (PEEK) from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR561