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Director’s Corner: Reinventing Food: The Changing Paradigm of Food Production

By January 11, 2017July 29th, 2020No Comments

“If you want to feed your family healthy food, you gotta ask a lot of questions.” Yvan Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia

I just watched an inspiring film about sustainable food production, Unbroken Ground, by Patagonia Provisions.  In 26 minutes it offers a large dose of hope in four sections, telling four stories of what is already happening and the remarkable outcomes possible when people are “committed to… doing something different, people who are willing to break the paradigm.”

The first story is about Regenerative Farming and what Wes Jackson and The Land Institute are doing to develop grains that support diversity rather than monocultures, soil restoration rather than soil loss and degradation, perennial rather than annual grains, carbon capture rather than carbon release.  Soil is a non-renewable resource like oil, but far more important.  Yvan Chouinard concludes that what The Land Institute is doing is “the most important thing in agriculture in the last 10,000 years.”

The second story is about Regenerative Grazing at the Cheyenne River Ranch in South Dakota.  Dan and Jill O’Brien started out in the 1970s grazing cattle and they didn’t like the system they found themselves in, beholden to the chemical and feed industries while raising critters unsuited to the land, all the while degrading soil and the landscape.  By switching to buffalo, animals indigenous to the plains, they were able to start and finish their herds on the grasses that grow naturally on their land, grasses that have fed buffalo for thousands of years, while protecting and restoring soils which they understand to be as valuable as gold.  The O’Briens realized they are really grass farmers.  Meat is a byproduct of the process of growing grasses and the buffalo help that process because they do not graze grasses down to nothing as cattle do.

The third example is Diversifying Wheat, which is happening at The Bread Lab at Washington State University.  Rather than chemical-dependent monocultures, the Bread Lab is restoring lost varieties and regional diversity.  Diversity and variety create the food security protection of resilience (think Dust Bowl in the 1930s and the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s), and they create extraordinary richness and quality of nutrition and flavor.

The last section in the film is about Restorative Fishing for salmon and the Lummi Island Wild Cooperative on Lummi Island near Bellingham, Washington.  Like prairie grasses and buffalo grazing on the plains of South Dakota, salmon are intimately connected to their ecosystem and contribute to the wellbeing of every species located there.  The fishers in the Lummi Island Wild Cooperative are committed to protecting and perpetuating the ecosystem, and they harvest salmon in a way that does that.  They use a targeted approach to capturing salmon that is both humane and exclusive.  Zero bycatch, and no mortality in the capture process.  Their technique is ancient: reef nets that have been used for thousands of years.

All of the people highlighted in this film speak of their responsibility to care for the land and water and to leave the world better than they found it.  They say their experiences nurture spirituality, a sense of connectedness with all life, and the realization that “every species is of equal value; they all have their place.”

Wow. To see food raised so successfully like this and the multitude of benefits of doing things this way, gives me hope.  We can support this kind of food production by seeking out and purchasing food produced more responsibly, holistically, locally, and carefully.  It’s getting easier to do.  Right here on campus Tiger Dining is making a bounty of local, fresh food more available.  Farmers markets are a great resource and more local restaurants are offering more sustainable options.  We can do our part in creating more sustainable food production too: in our own gardens, in the Community Garden, by participating in CSOs (Community Supported Agriculture), and by joining groups like in the newly formed Organic Gardening Club.

We can create the world we want.  It is happening now.  We can make this happen at scale by weaving together a wide array of small-scale, local initiatives that create a new paradigm for food production and consumption that leaves us and the planet healthier and happier.

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