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Why the Commons

 

In general, the commons are a form of wealth that we inherit or create together, and which must be shared. Examples include water, biodiversity, clean air, community organizations, libraries, parks, traditional medicines, and more. They provide the foundation of our social, cultural, and economic life. Increasingly, we are beginning to understand that our health and healthcare is a commons, dependent on the commons. For example, we know that good food, clean air, and clean water are the foundations for good health. 


At 18% of the GDP, healthcare spending has  been described as a  "Tragedy of the Commons",  through a healthcare spending "arms race" focused on treatment negatively impacting local economies, the environment and investments in health and well-being. Yet, a variety of communities across the country have been identified as having quality health systems relative to the national average. Unique to these communities was a shared process through which community organizations, competing hospitals and businesses came together and developed shared rules and a common vision for the health of their community. These informal rules and process follow simple rules developed by economist Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom.


Stakeholders within these health commons recognized that it was in their shared self-interest to limit an overabundance of certain treatment modalities and develop a locally based community vision and solutions. Moreover, that it is communities with a shared sense of place, that are going to need to take collective responsibility to define their health commons, set goals, develop metrics, and establish place-based solutions.

Health Commons Food Commons

A key focus for our work involves food and health, as we not only recognize the significant influence of food systems on health, we also recognize the many parallels between the food and health movements. Each of these movements is anchored by a systems worldview, is connected by humanistic values, highlights the significance of place and identifies the importance of local decision making and empowerment.


While both these movements are independently actualizing their interconnected movements into functional models, with a new lens we can see how closely these movements are aligned.  In so doing, we can purposefully cross leverage approaches and thereby accelerate new model development for the collective benefit of individual, community and planetary health and well-being.

A food commons encompasses all components of a local food system from food to fork (or a significant enough portion, within a geographic boundary, to comprise a functional system). As both a food commons and a health commons are connected through defined place, they have the unique opportunity to reinforce shared principles and values such as cooperation, ownership, local decision making, equity, access, relationship and transparency. As food production, distribution and consumption are intimately linked to health through healthy eating, socio-economic health, worker health and safety, healthy ecosystems and communities, living wages and fair jobs, community empowerment, and local control, empowerment and purpose, a food commons has an added importance by functionally supporting and promoting the health and well-being of a community within a broader health commons.


The Food Commons (FC) concept is now a viable legal networked organization with a functioning prototype in Fresno, CA. FC is gaining significant national attention, offering a powerful template with the ability to catalyze health commons models as transformative health and wellness vehicles.
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