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Local View: Food, ag will help regenerate Earth's ecosystems

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Across the planet, people and communities are working together to transform how we grow our food. As fires, typhoons, hurricanes, extreme rains, and droughts become increasingly common, we experience what scientists are documenting: Our current industrial infrastructures — be it food, energy, transportation, or housing — are pushing our biosphere, our home, away from the supportive goldilocks conditions that allowed us humans to flourish.

Scientists term this new world "the Anthropocene," a set of planetary conditions full of increasing instability, extremes, and uncertainty. As a long-time educator, I see how today's young "Generation Anthropocene" lives with the uneasy knowledge that somehow in its generation we must transform our human infrastructures to become more sustainable to avert the worst outcomes of the Anthropocene.

We elders admittedly have provided this Generation Anthropocene with far too few platforms to experiment with making our lives more sustainable. Indeed, in spite of the vast consensus of our best scientists, we remain "path dependent," mired in a 20th-century mindset as the 21st unfolds around us.

Our quest is to rebuild our infrastructure as vehicles for the regeneration of the supportive planetary conditions that characterized the Holocene, our recent 12,000-year epoch of stable climate in which agriculture and civilization more generally unfolded. The stakes are high, the challenges great, the opportunities greater.

Food and agriculture will play a central role in regenerating the ecosystems of our planet. More than one-third of all greenhouse gases are released in the fossil-fueled production of our human food. It doesn't have to be that 20th-century way.

Regenerative agriculture — be it in the form of organic, permaculture, agroecology restoration ecology, or any number of other names — is spreading as young people seize the day in their hopeful demand for a better world. Rejecting the chemicals of fossil fuels for an ecological approach to farming, regenerative agriculture is based on building topsoil, increasing biodiversity, using renewable energy, conserving and improving water quality, and increasing the ecosystem services necessary for humans and other life forms.

I am deeply moved by the energy, vitality, and determination of our young farmers in rejecting the pessimism that says we can't do anything about climate and ecosystem degradation. In the face of this appropriately impatient youthful desire for a better world, if we elders cannot help build platforms for their flourishing, we must indeed step aside.

At the University of Minnesota Duluth Land Lab, we have learned from regenerative farmers in our region and beyond in building a platform for our young leaders to experiment with creating a more sustainable agricultural and food system.

This landscape-scale classroom also seeks to change our campus food system, an important potential anchor for rebuilding healthier regional food systems. We are learning to harmonize ecological and institutional systems in actively hoping we can create a more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.

Celebrating the hard work is part of the regeneration process. In that spirit, we invite our Twin Ports community to join us for the 2018 UMD Farm Fest, celebrating the bounty of this season as we showcase the hard work of our staff and students at the 30-acre UMD Land Lab.

Come join the celebration, eat great food, learn about sustainability and agriculture from a host of campus and community organizations, tour the organically managed fields, listen to live music from the Boys Back Home Brass Band and Four Mile Portage, enjoy kids' art activities, and purchase your locally harvested produce from the farmers market.

Randel Hanson is a professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, director of the UMD Land Lab, and the 2017-'18 endowed chair in agricultural systems with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.

If you go

What: UMD Farm Fest

When: Noon-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: 3568 Riley Road in Duluth

Tickets: Entrance and parking are free; meals are $10 ($5 for students) with proceeds supporting the UMD Farm

Highlights: Include a farmer's market, kids' activities, a farm buffet from noon-2 p.m., the Magic Smelt Puppet Theater's performance of "Welcome to the Anthropocene" at 2p.m., and live music from 2:30-4 p.m.

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