With ever more passion I invite us all to consider ourselves healers of our food systems, drawing our sources of nourishment closer to home (and away from industrial, processed anywhere food) through
- buying, cooking and eating local foods,
- advocating for turning empty lots and patchy lawns into community gardens and orchards,
- advocating for local food on trays in hospitals, schools and workplace cafeterias,
- becoming informed and active about food system/farm bill issues (as hard as it is to sort out the rhetoric).
This all starts in and is sustained by and serves our love for our places on earth. The below article, written for an anthology of women in sustainability leaders book, emphasizes our roles as women in this important work.
Imagine if women focused even a portion of our innate capacity to collaborate and our natural systems thinking intelligence to restoring the abundance of local food systems.Imagine the creativity, empowerment and satisfaction we would get from reclaiming community sovereignty by reclaiming, year by year, project by project, our right to produce and consume foods grown closer to home. Imagine the grassroots power from growing food in the soils of our regions and feeding our families without always feeding the corporate domination of our seeds and food supply.
Pre-liberation, feeding the family was women’s work. Post-liberation, in the 21st century, feeding our communities with fresh, whole, natural food can again be women’s work – not just in kitchens or gardens, but in politics and social change.
In the developing world, according to the FAO, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force – likely more since horticulture isn’t distinguished as work for many women in rural communities. When claiming economic independence, women often start food businesses.
We who have benefited from development are perfectly poised to be leaders in reclaiming sustainable food systems – as farmers, chefs, heads of NGOs, public officials, corporate CEO’s, educators, researchers and innovators. As Vicki Robin, author of Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; what eating closer to home can teach us about food, community and our place on earth and co-founder of the Local Food Labs, says, “The shift from anywhere-eating in an industrial system to relational-eating in a real living community not only gives us access to more wholesome food, it restores our sense of belonging and brings us a sense of security and sovereignty. Relational eating nourishes body and soul. The fact that most of our food now comes from unknown sources beyond our control means relational eating is also an exciting frontier of change.”
Shifting from “food chains” to “food systems”
The industrial food system arises from an industrial mindset; nature as feedstock for an ever-expanding economy. Agriculture, stripped of culture, becomes a matter of inputs and outputs; vertical integration and scale are the logical path to a profitable business. Consumers are the end users – not participants in – the system. The challenges are all in the supply chain: getting product from farm or feedlot as efficiently as possible at the lowest cost possible. Farmers are simply factors of production. As are the sun, soil, wind, rain, seeds, microorganisms, and pollinators. Nature is either useful, and thus harnessed, or useless and thus ignored or eliminated.
Slowly we are emerging from this mindset. Nature is being granted rights. Species heading for extinction are being rescued.
Now it’s time to rescue our local living food systems from the grip of the industrial mindset. To understand food production in a context of wholeness
Life is a collaborative project, a ecological web of giving and receiving, being born, living and returning our borrowed bodies to the earth for recycling. Restoring our food systems comes from this understanding of wholeness and reciprocity, including agriculture – and in our gratitude for food – the free services of natures as well as all the “hands that feed us” – the farmers and also all the workers at every step of the delivery process who bring food to our table. We consider as well people in other “fields” – those who tend to policy, research, education, governance, conflict resolution, design… well, we have to admit that food is woven into almost every aspect of our lives. Food is nature, nourishment and culture.
Understanding a food system in this way, we will:
- Understand ourselves as engaged producers, no just passive consumers
- Understand that we each have a role in inching our food systems away from corporate dependencies and towards local productivity.
- Experience the profound value of food – all that brings it to our table – and shift away from overeating and waste – both habits of excess and dishonoring. We waste 40% of our food, little of it composted, most of it in landfills. Food recovery is a growing movement.
- Give up hopelessness, impotence and unconsciousness about how de-natured and de-spirited the industrial food is becoming and embrace the active hope Joanna Macy speaks of.
Food shed restoration
A Local Food Lab is a way for place-based institutions to host producers, eaters and activists from every part of the living food system. The lab participants begin by mapping their local food shed, befriending producers, understanding their issues, meeting the grocers to understand the challenges of stocking and selling local food and finding chefs who include regional food on their menus. They then gather for a day or several days to eat local food, be in community with people who care, learn what a living food system is and what innovations are already up and running and with all that as a foundation, coach one another in starting or further developing food enterprises (for or non-profit). It is an educational and generative event designed to take a snapshot of the state of the regional food system, revealing both what’s there and what’s missing. Every gap in a system is also an opportunity. A Local Food Lab isn’t an end it itself. At it’s best, such an event generates ideas, enthusiasm and connections, initiating an process of engagement together in this great adventure of reclaiming some of the food territory given over to corporations. And restoring bodies, souls and communities in the process.