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This I Believe…

NPR coined it best when they came up with the series, “This I Believe.”  We all have a voice. We all have big thoughts. We all have an opinion. But often don’t have a place to express ourselves outside of private journals and coffee talks. “This I Believe” makes writers, orators and philosophers out of all of us – the proverbial soapbox. I’m a believer and deep thinker. And perhaps that’s why I started a blog. I needed a clearinghouse to sort through and process all that I believed in.

One thing I believe…is that the way we grow, manage, distribute and market food can change the world! “Change” being the operative word. A lot needs to change in order for that to happen making the food question very complex. You could put your hand in a sack full of important issues related to this topic and write a book about how each one could contribute to this change, i.e. farming practices, sustainable agriculture, food justice, pest management, diet and nutrition, local food, dairy production, soil management, food safety, farm-to-table, feed the world, etc…The tricky thing is linking up all these issues. What needs to happen first? And in what order? I’m not claiming I have the solution but I am going to offer my suggestion on what I think we need to focus on in order to see positive impacts in our food system.

To help me make sense of complex issues like our food system, I strip them down to their most basic. From there I create a foundation upon which I can stack all the related information in an organized manor. It’s like a big flow chart in my head. A filing system of sorts. Yes, I’m a “Type A” personality but governed by a left brain. I like creative order! If such a thing exists. The first complex issue I was given was in Mr. Hanley’s eighth grade class. We literally put our hand in a sack and pulled out a topic upon which we had to prepare a one-hour presentation. I drew “oil.” I used up more poster board and transparencies than the drug store could supply. I could have spoken for six hours with all the research I did. I think that project scared me for life and is probably why I’ve been an over analyzer ever since. It’s helped me though…like when I was a mountain bike instructor. If I gave my students too many, “do this, do that’s,” they would look like Tiger Woods in a yoga pose. So I would break each skill down into just three main points so they would not over think the task. For instance, when approaching a rocky downhill section, I would coach them by saying, “weight back, off the front brake, look ahead.” They would make it through ever time.

When looking at the food complex, I will rely on my “power of three” methodology using the three core principles of Agroecology: environmental, social and economics. We could break it down even further into just two, social and economic, because it is their demands upon the environment which drive how we treat it…We ask the land to provide high yields but often at an expense, we want to sustain our natural resources but exploit them at the same time,  we want to create more jobs but our farms require less workers. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll pull in some visuals to relate all three principles (if I only had an overhead projector and some transparencies). Imagine a scale with food production on the left (representing the environment) and food access  on the right (representing social). And at the fulcrum point is the economy. When you strip down the food economy, producing and access are at the core – food has to be grown and eaten. Equitable food production and food access creates a fair and balanced economy because value is built all the way through the supply chain. The focus is not on the profit but investment in the land and people…the two things at either end of the food system. Place ecologically sound farming practices in a regional food system and local economies will strengthen. More money stays in the community which in turn creates jobs, improves food access and develops infrastructure for a new food system. Healthy land management leads to healthy economies.

p.s. I’m not sure what I can footnote but somewhere between pages 126-208 of Oran Hesterman’s book, Fair Food, I came up with this theory so it must be his or those of the people he interviewed. Thanks guys!