Photo by Ryan Grzybowski

What can and should we be thinking about when it comes to food and agriculture as we start a new year and as the new Administration settles into the Whitehouse? The future!

We have seen and felt the disruption and pain COVID-19 brought the world. Our food supply chain nearly shut down. Thankfully, our local farmers and food producers showed their resilience and courage to shift and respond to increased demand and safety concerns. 

This year, experts will be looking back to see where our systems failed, how the responses performed, and how to be better prepared for the future. Let’s come together to do what we can at the local level to support and grow our food system’s resilience for our future.

According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, by 2050, 80% of the world’s food will be eaten within cities, and 40% of food production will occur within 10-20 miles of cities. Their research suggests a move toward a circular economy and within that, specific to our food system, they suggest a move away from the current linear model (extraction of materials/resources, manufacturing/producing products, end-user, disposal), to a more sustainable, circular approach, in their words, “based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.” These bold ideas can curb the climate crisis, address public health disparities, and encourage economic vitality – addressing our future, needs action in the present.

So back to food and 2021. What actions do they suggest?

Sourcing food grown regeneratively, and locally where appropriate

Designing and marketing healthier food products

Making the most of food¹

If you’re reading this in our enews right now, chances are these seem like no-brainers to you, and the concepts of a circular economy are not new. But, the problems to solve are getting the ideas and innovations to scale (up and down), so that businesses and consumers adopt and embrace the changes as we move away from linear systems. Here are some questions I’m looking at:

  • How do we protect farmland, especially as these peri-urban areas continue to be threatened by linear-model development?
  • How do we help small-holder farms be ecologically and financially sustainable and connect them to local markets and consumers?
  • How do we ensure new farmers have access to farmland, the best innovations in conservation agriculture, and new technology and marketing infrastructue?
  • How do we show consumers the value of incorporating a percentage of locally produced products into their lives?
  • How do we ensure our systems are just and equitable for everyone in the food supply chain?
  • How do we work with communities, public health experts and influencers to get factual and functional information to consumers about the critical role food plays in long-term health outcomes?
  • How can we change consumption habits and supply chain dynamics to reduce waste and conserve resources?

These are big questions, that we need to keep trying to answer. Luckily, there are many efforts underway across the globe to address systemic solutions, including steps toward: Sound policy development at all levels of community and government; Resources to create scalable innovations, lifelong education, and sound messaging; Strong collaborations and partnerships that span sectors to foster systemic change; are just a few. 

Countryside is committed to expanding our role and engage in systemic change by preserving farmland, cultivating new farmers and expanding local food in ways that nurture 3-tier-sustainability and equity. We want to engage in collaborative discussions to see what we can achieve in Northeast Ohio to address solutions holistically.

Here are 3 places our voices need to be heard more:

  1. D.C. and the next Farm Bill. Let keep this behemoth bill a multi-party, collaboration that supports farm viability and stewardship, public health and equity. 
  2. The Statehouse. The local food economy is growing fast, and yet small farmers are often left out of policy discussions that impact them, as are consumers who need access to healthy, affordable food. 
  3. The City Building. Great cities include a holistic strategy. Food and farming must be included in those conversations and are often overlooked or undervalued (yep, even in urban spaces – food comes from farms).

Meanwhile, here are 4 very simple things that we can all do today to set the course (and as simple as they are, they do make a difference):

  1. Buy more locally produced food. Set a goal, say 10-20% of your weekly food budget.
  2. Eat more, healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Make it fun and mix it up by trying new recipes and challenge yourself to incorporate seasonal foods in your region (and you can find them locally).
  3. Waste less. Only buy what you’ll eat and reuse or compost scraps. Veggie scraps and meat bones make great broth. Backyard gardens love compost! 
  4. Vote with dollars and voices. When we make a purchase, we send a message to businesses what we want more of. When we tell our stories to our elected officials, they better understand the policies impacting their constituents. When we share with our friends and family, we open doors for them to experience the same benefits we have.

Let’s start off 2021 in a happier and healthier place, for ourselves, our families and our community. 

Do you have thoughts about this blog? Or ideas you’d like us to expand on in future blogs? I’d love to hear more. You can email me directly at temrick@countrysidefoodandfarms.org.

Thank you and take good care,
Tracy Emrick


¹https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept

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