If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health and democracy crises, then the people will.
Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crises and the crisis of democracy.Dr. Vandana Shiva
When I think of how communities can gain autonomy and create the systems to sustain themselves, I look directly to the food we eat. Food impacts so much, it impacts our health, our economies, our environment and water-ways, our relationships and even our overall happiness (seriously, we all know what if feels like to be “hangry”).
So how can we take back our food system to boost autonomy and resilience? Easy, we need to support small businesses and family farmers.
When we support these small and diversified operations that are committed to producing using ecological principles, we are contributing to our local economy and increasing our capability to be self-sufficient and thus less dependent upon outside resources.
Let’s face it, farming is no longer as it used to be. The image of the small family farm or home garden where people grew even a fraction of their food has been replaced with large-scale, commercial farms that resort to using harmful chemicals and large amounts of fossil fuels to produce cheap food in large quantities.
According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA), most US agricultural production comes from few large operations. Farms with annual sales over $250k produce 84% of all products sold while the 2-million small-family farms in the US only make up about 15%.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR COMMUNITIES?
Farming is the very fabric of local economies. When a community has the ability to produce, process, package and distribute products locally, just think of all the resources that are being recycled right back into that local economy. When we depend on outside resources for, well… everything and anything, we run the risk of not having whatever that product is if any of the production, processing, packaging or distribution lines shuts down. As we saw in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, we are dependent upon an extremely fragile system.
THE SOBERING TRUTH
With natural disasters on the rise, we have seen the effects of delayed and inadequate government assistance. Disasters such as hurricanes in the southeast and Caribbean, floods in the plains and fires on the west coast prove we need to be more self sufficient. We cannot wait. The time has come. Communities must plan and prioritize emergency response and discuss how we will feed and care for ourselves in the face of disaster.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY AFTER HURRICANE MARIA
After the hurricane, food was scarce. After all, Puerto Rico imports roughly 85% of its food and after the storm that number rose to over 95%. With the agriculture sector suffering severe damage, delayed emergency response and limited access to gas and electricity, much of Puerto Rico had limited access to fresh foods and depended upon shelf-stable non-refrigerated goods for months.
That being the case, after the hurricane, community was extremely important. I heard from individuals that it was people helping people, neighbors feeding one another, and sharing, that made the aftermath bearable. Although farmers were hard hit, small farmers on the island did their best to recover quickly from the damage and many say that it was their community that helped them get back on their feet.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
In the face of climate change, we must be creative, resilient and willing to go the extra mile. Sometimes it seems futile, but when the benefits come in the form of nutritious food, healthy soils, regenerated land and vibrant communities, farming just makes sense.
Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster to hit Puerto Rico, and with clean-up still in full force over a year and a half later, there is a lot of conversation about how the island will adapt to changes. Since arriving in Puerto Rico, I have had the opportunity to visit a handful of farms and I have attended forums and workshops hosted by farms, nonprofits, government organizations, universities and individuals and everyone is talking about adaptation and resilience. How do we rebuild better and stronger than before?
Since the hurricane, there has been an increase in volunteer organizations coming to the island to help with clean-up, rebuild and to learn from what happened. Emergency work-parties or “brigadas” have increased and small farms that have had to rebuild entire operations are doing so with a renewed commitment to growing using ecological principles and using recycled materials. Conversations are being held at dinner tables across the island and people are sharing information on what works and what doesn’t.
SOWING SOVEREIGNTY, BUILDING COMMUNITY
While my direct example of adapting to changes stems from the disaster that happened in Puerto Rico, we can look to communities all over the world that are turning to regenerative farming practices to improve their farm operations and strengthen communities. From production challenges stemming from natural disasters like floods, fires and drought, or other issues such as economic collapse and lack of distribution, communities are sowing sovereignty and building community through the lens of regenerative and sustainable agriculture. There is light at the end of the tunnel. With all the tragedies we are seeing around the globe, there is proof in the fields, resilient food systems and strong communities are what will see us through future disasters.