Despite Current Dysfunction in the Food System, Renowned Agroecology Expert Holds Out Hope for FutureMay 10, 2016 | AJ Hughes
What is the state of the nation’s food system? Is it fundamentally broken and beyond repair? Does it need to be changed, and if so, how? What is it doing right?
To address these questions, we reached out to Stephen R. Gliessman, an internationally recognized leader in the field of agroecology, and the Alfred E. Heller Professor of Agroecology in UC Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department, where he has taught since 1981. He was the founding director of the UCSC Agroecology Program (now the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems) and is the author of the renowned and pioneering textbook Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems. In 2008, Gliessman became the chief editor of the internationally known Journal of Sustainable Agriculture.
Here is what we learned:
What is the state of the food system?
The current state of the food system is unhealthy. There is too much emphasis put on the business of growing food rather than long-term stewardship, care for the earth, and the people who grow food. That, I think, is a more important part of what’s going on. It’s amazing what the current food system is able to produce in terms of calories, but it’s also amazing in terms of what it doesn’t produce in terms of healthy nutritious food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has defined food deserts as parts of the country where it ‘s hard to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods. To be considered a food desert, at least 500 people or 33 percent of an area’s population must live further than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. That distance increases to 10 miles when defining a rural food desert. Food deserts are often located in impoverished and in areas with higher concentrations of minorities; though this is not always true.
That’s the textbook definition—but to fully understand where food deserts come from, it’s imperative to examine some of America’s not-so-shining moments. Among them: redlining, a practice used throughout the 20th century (that still occurs today) to limit or deny financial services to residents of minority and poor white neighborhoods; and “white flight,” the term used to describe the departure of whites from urban areas with increasing numbers of minorities.
After several years of fundraising and planning, including a $3 million capital campaign, construction on Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands is tentatively set to start in April 2016. Seattle Tilth, the “nonprofit organic gardening and urban ecology organization” that operates the farm, spearheaded the expansion, with help from the Seattle Parks Foundation.
The Rainier Beach Urban Farm, previously featured in Seedstock, is “Seattle’s largest urban farm.” It grows fruit and vegetables that are sold at farms stands or cooked up for free community meals. Educational programming teaches volunteers and visitors about how to grow and cook fresh, healthy food. Other programs focus on the restoration of the wetlands.
San Bernardino County, the largest county in the United States, stretches all the way from Southern California’s Inland Empire to the California-Nevada state line.
In addition to numerous farms and other agricultural businesses, the county is home to Amy’s Farm, a polyculture-oriented farm in Ontario with a focus on education; Huerta del Valle, a robust community garden in Ontario; and the Upland-based Incredible Edible Community Garden.
Thanks to people like Arthur Levine, local and urban agriculture in San Bernardino County is experiencing a burgeoning grassroots movement.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently remarked how difficult her experience was of trying to rely on only food stamps for a week’s worth of food. Perhaps it would have been easier had she been able to take advantage of the Double Up Food Bucks program.
That’s because Double Up Food Bucks, run by the Fair Food Network (headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan), doubles the value of federal nutrition aid used at stores and markets that participate. Through this program, not only do low-income consumers have much greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but local farmers make more money and the economy benefits from more money spent on locally-produced foods.
Sustainable agriculture techniques like companion planting and dryland farming were practiced for thousands of years in North America by Native Americans. Today, health problems and loss of ancestral knowledge about food and farming are common in many tribal communities. Sustainable farming is a way for tribes to get back to their roots while addressing these problems.
Here are five organizations looking to their heritage for solutions to address these and other problems.
While Seedstock regularly profiles those who are taking a sustainable and local approach to creating a new food economy, the fact remains that industrial farming and distribution methods still reign supreme in America. So we are taking a step back to remind ourselves why their work is so important.
The convergence of processed foods, chemically intensive farming and a gas-guzzling supply chain have created a food system in the United States that would have seemed fantastical—and quite possibly nightmarish—to folks who lived in this country just a century ago.
Here are five worrisome facts about the U.S. food system to keep in mind the next time you go grocery shopping.
“Our challenge is not only feeding people who are hungry today, but how do we work proactively to address the causes of hunger and poverty?,” asks Kathryn Strickland, Executive Director of the Food Bank of North Alabama. “That’s why we’re interested in supporting economic development within in our local food system; to help create meaningful jobs and healthy food access to really get at the root cause of the hunger and poverty,” says Kathryn Strickland.
What started as a single volunteer sitting behind a desk in a local senior center in 1984 has blossomed into an organization that helps feed 100,000 people over an 8,000 square mile service area in Northern Alabama, with the help of 200 partnering agencies. As Strickland explains, the food bank doesn’t only want to reduce hunger; it wants to give local residents, farmers and stakeholders the tools to connect the dots of a local food system.