Local view: A local food system boosts health for people, planet
All across the U.S., people are coming together in grass-roots ways to confront the problems of our failed industrial food system. This system, which produces and distributes food from distant places, results in a diverse set of problems such as ...
All across the U.S., people are coming together in grass-roots ways to confront the problems of our failed industrial food system. This system, which produces and distributes food from distant places, results in a diverse set of problems such as rising rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hunger, loss of soil fertility, air and water pollution, and the loss of community economic vitality.
As citizens and their communities increasingly understand, we need a new model for our food system. But getting there is tricky.
It is clear government isn't able to address these complex problems alone, and the market in itself cannot. Our food system is a complex set of connections from farm to fork. A change requires a whole network of people and organizations recognizing and engaging in the intimate connections between food, people, communities and the planet, working together to support strong, healthy and resilient communities.
We are fortunate that in our own western Lake Superior region, we enjoy a mosaic of strong food-system organizations and traditions that date back decades. But clearly, there is still much work yet to be done to create a local food system that is healthy, sustainable, fair and affordable. While we don't need more organizations, our community can benefit by strengthening those that exist, articulating a shared vision for our region.
With this goal in mind, a variety of organizations inaugurated the Good Food Network. The Good Food Network seeks to connect organizations, agencies and businesses representing farmers, gardeners, anti-hunger advocates, consumers, nutritionists, policymakers, health-care representatives, and educators and students, all of whom work to support environment and systems change. The network creates a space where these voices can communicate, collaborate and leverage each others' missions and activities in the remaking of our regional food system.
The Good Food Network is about emphasizing the strong, regional culture that already exists here. It is about working together to rebuild our food, farming and gardening cultures and making sure we meet the needs of people, communities and the planet for today and tomorrow. It is about making sure that in this rebuilding we create a fair, healthy, green and affordable system that benefits all participants. It is about helping our educational institutions teach lifelong food skills. And, as a regional medical hub, it is about strengthening the integration of healthy food, a healthy economy and a healthy environment into the prevention agenda of our health-care community.
One of our first tasks will be the creation of a "Good Food Charter," a vision for a food system that benefits our community and the environment. The charter will help channel the development of coordinated food policies and actions and guide our community's engagement and participation in conversations and action around a regional food system.
We still have many questions to answer and much work to do. How do we best reintroduce our young people to food skills? How do we help train new farmers? How can we create affordable land for new farmers? How do we ensure good food is accessible to everyone? How do we help ensure our schoolchildren have more access to healthy and nutritious local food? How can we help support and promote healthy food environments across our community? How can we incubate regional food businesses? How do we both serve our large, anchor institutions and use their purchasing to drive our regional food economy?
We need input. Together we can create a healthy, resilient local food economy.
Leah Nelson is from the Lake Superior Sustainable Farming Association. Sarah Nelson is from the Duluth Community Garden Program. Others who contributed to this commentary include Randy Hanson of the University of Minnesota Duluth Sustainable Agriculture Project and Jamie Harvie of the Institute for a Sustainable Future.