Sustainability has become a prevailing buzzword in popular culture. Businesses and products toss the word “sustainable” into descriptions (sometimes without merit) to convey environmentally-friendly practices and promises. But if the words”sustainable” and “sustainability” were replaced by “resilient” and “resiliency”, would people have any idea what that means?
Resiliency (as we are using it to describe an environment) speaks to an area’s ability to bounce back in the instance of an extreme event. To illustrate resiliency, I like to imagine a bioregion being like a human body. A body that is already healthy and well cared-for will have an easier time recovering from an illness or minor injury, just like an environment that is well cared-for is more likely to come back from a storm or seasonal changes. It is in our best interest to keep our bodies and bioregions healthy not only to prevent minor setbacks, but to better recover in instances of more severe damage.
Though often overlooked, resiliency is an essential part of a successful bioregion. An important way that we can improve resiliency and sustainability is through our food systems and agricultural practices. A region that relies heavily on imported food and goods rather than their own production is less resilient than those who are able to produce the majority of what they need. In our increasingly globalized society, we can now access goods and crops that would never have been available before (think yummy avocados- once only available in tropical/subtropical climates, they are now a favorite in many regions that rely on them to be imported). Unlike our ancestors, we no longer have to wait for a food to be in season to eat it. While it is exciting to be able to consume and use these previously unavailable foods, this makes regions like New England less resilient and more reliant on surrounding regions.
“A system that is biologically varied is endowed with the antibodies to counter dangerous organisms and restore its own equilibrium. A system based on a limited number of varieties, on the other hand, is very fragile.” -Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
The U.S. is seeing a rise in demand for locally-grown foods. We wrote earlier about Wilson Farm of Lexington, Massachusetts and their efforts to bring fresh seasonal produce to the community. While it is encouraging to see farms like Wilson’s continuing to be successful, they are certainly not the norm anymore. New England as a region only produces around 10% of its own food, meaning that 90% of what we are consuming comes from outside sources. Additionally, home-grown foods tend to be more expensive than those coming from imports or industrial mega-farms, making locally grown nutrition widely inaccessible for low income families. Why purchase fresh vegetables when, for the same price, a family can buy an entire meal from a fast food restaurant? This blog seeks to explore the benefits of a more agriculturally resilient bioregion as well as highlight some Boston/New England-based organizations who are combating the growing reliance on imports and cheap foods with little nutritional value.
Earthos has been reading A New England Food Vision from Food Solutions New England. The report comments on the current state of agricultural and consumption trends in the region, and proceeds to envision a more resilient future in which New England can provide inhabitants with nearly two-thirds of their food needs. And not just baseline needs- the report imagines having abundant resources so that everyone gets what they need and then some. Currently, 10-15% of New England’s population of 14.5 million are living without adequate nutrition due to rapidly increasing wealth inequality and poverty throughout the region. Malnutrition, lack of dietary diversity and nutrient deficiencies all lead to serious public health concerns caused by a diet that relies heavily on fats and sugars rather than fruits and vegetables. Environmental health is at risk due to unsafe practices from industrial farming that poison our waterways and pollute the air we breathe. While it is unrealistic to expect all of our food to be grown at home, a push to increase sustainable, ethical production from local farms and make fresh produce more accessible can help us improve the resiliency of our planet and all of its inhabitants. Even so, we cannot simply clear out our forests and plant crops instead; creativity and intelligent design hold the key to developing more resilient cities and communities through agriculture.
As it turns out, Food Solutions New England is not the only one thinking that home-grown food can change human and environmental health for the better. Creative initiatives throughout the bioregion are popping up to address food security, poverty, and environmental issues through agriculture. Take a look at the ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This unique business model is an urban farm, homeless shelter and job training center all in one. Their mission is to alleviate poverty in the Boston area while also equipping workers with the tools to farm and produce their own fresh, low-cost and diverse food options.
Similarly, Green City Growers sees urban farming as an opportunity to retro-fit urban centers with farms that can operate almost anywhere. Their mission is to transform unused spaces such as alleyways, vacant lots and rooftops into sustainable farming options for those communities. These gardens and small farms serve as both a practical and visual representation of how agriculture can change a city landscape and bring food production to unexpected places.
While not an urban farm, the Brookwood Community Farm in Canton and Milton, Massachusetts is a modern take on a traditional farm. They aim to restore underutilized farmland in order to address area food insecurity while emphasizing diversity (people and crops) and education. They have a subsidized CSA for those who could not normally afford one, farm education programs, and a partnership with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition.
These examples barely scratch the surface of the wealth of local organizations working to make a difference in how we produce and consume food in the bioregion. This summer, I’ve been reading a book called Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawkin. Hawkin describes the broader environmentalist movement as one made up by thousands of smaller movements coming together to make an impact overtime. Perhaps a similar movement is in the works with our food systems- thousands of small farms and individual initiatives coming together to make food accessible, nutritious, and affordable for all. Collective belief in a future with a diminished wage gap, increased agricultural production and healthier population is what will push us to invest in a more resilient food system, and therefor more resilient region as a whole.
Change does not happen overnight. I am not so bold as to say each region should rely exclusively on resources produced locally. A more resilient bioregion would greatly benefit the health of our population and environment through increased self-reliance and responsible practices. A quick look around the bioregion reveals countless individuals and groups working to make this resiliency a reality. We as citizens, by participating in this movement, will get a taste of a more sustainable future (and some really good food!)