Transforming Food Systems to Sustainability with Agroecology
On July 10-23, 2011, the 12th Annual International Agroecology Shortcourse took place at the University of California Santa Cruz under the auspices of the Community Agroecology Network (www.CanUnite.org). The course was titled “The Transformation of Food Systems to Sustainability: The California Model.” Representing 9 countries and diverse locations in the US ranging from Florida to Alaska and Maine to California, 32 participants and multiple presenters gathered together for an intensive introduction to how agroecology can be a vital and viable approach to redesigning today’s food systems. By presenting the transformation process as a series of transition levels (see Gliessman, S.R. 2009. Editorial 33(1):1-2), food system change could be seen as not only being necessary, but plausible. With its grounding in ecology and ecosystem thinking, agroecology was cast as the action and change-oriented science that many of us believe is needed to avoid what has recently been called the pending “food crisis.” Rather than rely on more of the technologies that are being billed as the new green revolution, agroecology is an information intensive way of redesigning the food production process so that diversification, interactions, and resiliency all combine to create the emergent quality of sustainability.
But it was also clear in the course that farmers alone cannot transform the entire food system. It will also take the full engagement of the folks at the other end of the food chain – the people who eat the food or use other agricultural products. After decades of food system policies and development focused on high yields, aggregation, and concentration, the growers and the eaters have become so isolated and separated that both have been exploited. Growers don’t know who is consuming their products and eaters have no idea who grows their food, how it was grown, or where it was grown. By reconnecting these two most important parts of the food system, the agroecology course showed how by redeveloping a culture of sustainability we can complete the transformation process needed to get us there (called Level 4 in the transition process). The course included participant observations on 4 local organic farms operating at different scales and integration in the food system. We also heard from major food system transformation projects such as the Roots of Change, the Food Commons, and the Community Agroecology Network. By the end of the course, all participants were motivated to complete the Declaration of Food System Transformation.
Important projects working on the agroecological transformation of food systems:
Roots of change – www.rootsofchange.org
Food Commons – contact Lawrence Yee at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Agroecology Network – www.CanUnite.org
Program in Community and Agroecology- www.ucscpica.org