Years ago people sought help from families when they were in financial crisis. Now families are splintered and the economy fragmented, so that there aren’t family members to turn to during downturns. But that’s not the worst of it. The culture has changed, and folks no longer know how to farm their own forty since they are used to buying everything they need and then some. So the future will mean more of a change than many people have ever imagined, as authorities have determined. This will be especially true of people in cities, whereas it will be relatively easy for the people in small towns like Natchitoches, Louisiana. Economists and financial advisers maintain that local communities will likely fare better than large cities for a variety of reasons.
The use of land to plant corn to make ethanol for fuel as opposed to cultivating properties for food production has driven up the price of food. As the United States finds itself in need of alternative fuels because of the radicalism found in the oil-producing countries that could influence the sale and distribution of oil, food prices are likely to continue to escalate. A new study by Popular Science indicates that food shortages may result from this
Food shortages have already produced riots in different places in the world, most notably Haiti. There are no easy answers to the problems of the food supplies which are at historic lows, even in the United States. High food prices are predicted to continue, a fact that will risk the lives of billions of people who could die from the effects of hunger and malnutrition.
Add the problem of food with severe weather, immigration problems, border security issues, and energy crises and the immensity of the national problems appear overwhelming and without an early resolution, according to those who have studied these problems. Because America no longer has the self sufficient farm units it once had and the population of self-made, self-directed, family-oriented groups and communities, instead expanding to urban communities where people are dependent upon commodities that can be purchased, people will be unprepared to deal with overlapping crises, experts say.
So what can people do? Paul Strebel of the Sandoz Family Foundation Professor at IMD and Director of the High Performance Boards program and instructor on the International Seminar for Top Executives provide information to help the business community. Strebel suggests the following: (1) liquidity planning which means making sure that one has sufficient cash reserves. (2) reducing fixed costs and scaling back, (3) restructuring to reduce the parts that aren’t profitable, (4) supporting business partners such as critical suppliers and customers, (5) taking advantage of new opportunities to acquire talent and assets, (6) maintaining calm and credibility. At the local level these suggestions manifest themselves in businesses working closer with each other, meeting, planning, making suggestions and taking advantage of overlapping needs and issues. The goal is commitment to the community as opposed to making a competitive edge.
It is at the local level where scaling back and utilizing the best resources for management will make a difference, Reverend G. Stanley Lewis of Natchitoches, Louisiana maintains. Using the same principle neighborhood communities can restructure themselves like small towns do with connections of support and involvement in the community that allows them to survive through hard times. During the depression of the 1930’s community connections and group support made a difference between those who fared well and those who did not. Because the country has moved so far from interdependency in the way people in small towns have done, people will find it a real change to return to grassroots, neighborhood organizations. But these organizations can create community gardens to cultivate food, share resources and support the elderly, the disabled, the children and those who can’t help themselves as Natchitoches, Louisiana is presently planning. Lewis is a member of a community effort to do just that.
Natchitoches, Louisiana is an example of the small town where interdependence and community contacts have made a difference. So far it has experienced very little economic setback, even while its downtown main street was under construction. The Christmas Festival that ordinarily brings thousands of visitors into Natchitoches is receiving reservations at about the same rate it always has, and as usual motels, hotels and bed and breakfasts are booked to capacity. Businesses in Natchitoches incorporate the principles that Strebel pronounces while the community of folk that support these businesses create continuing interdependence that allows for the survival of the whole. Through downsizing its small town into even smaller neighborhoods for gardening and recession proofing activities Natchitoches is planning to make it through the economic downturn and out the other end successfully. It has recently started to form small neighborhood entities where two or more neighbors may share a garden and where experts from the community will be brought in to share their expertise. A town-wide event is being planned to offer suggestions for recession proofing, where experts from the whole community will give an overview of basic information on everything from canning, to farming to sewing one’s own clothes.
Natchitoches has survived economic hardships before during its nearly 300-year history. A handful of citizens at the grassroots is making serious plans to help the greater community through the recession. This venture may eventually serve as an example for cities to organize into small neighborhoods as well in order to emulate the principles of survival manifested by small towns. That is another anticipated outcome of the Natchitoches plans to date.
1. “Is America Headed for a Food Shortage,” Popular Science, http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2007-06/america-headed-food-shortage
2. Strebel, Paul, “How to Deal with Recession,” IMD, November 2008,http://www.imd.ch/research/challenges/TC101-08-cfm?bhcp=1
3. McKeown, Max, “Innovate Your Way Out of Recession,” Management Issues, September 2008, http://www.management-issues.com/2008/9/15/opinion/innovate-your-way-out-of-recession.asp