By Jennifer Morehouse
The pandemic has exposed glaring vulnerabilities in the industrial food system; there are miles-long lines at food banks and empty store shelves while mountains of potatoes once destined for restaurants are being dumped and COVID19 outbreaks wreak havoc at industrial meat processing plants. These unsettling realities and weak links have us contemplating where our food comes from and how it is produced.
Now think longer term; If the current system isn’t up to the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, imagine how it will stand up to escalating climate uncertainty. Back in 2013, Soil Centric’s Executive Director, Diana Donlon wrote “The Agricultural Fulcrum: Better Food, Better Climate,” a piece for The Atlantic where she highlighted the importance of creating a resilient regional, diverse food system based on agro-ecological principles rooted in the realities of local climates and cultures.
Well, here we are; crisis is calling us to build this resilient regional food system with urgency. Despite the chaos, there is a silver lining: Regenerative producers, many pivoting from a business model based primarily on restaurant contracts to selling directly to consumers, are quickly building robust regional supply chains-offering direct links between eaters and farms and ranches. Along the way, they are building in transparency about their agricultural practices, growing healthy soil, providing nutrient-dense foods, and sequestering atmospheric carbon. The regenerative food system is evolving into one that simultaneously addresses long supply chains and climate change - and eaters are responding.
Julie Morris, Co-Owner of Morris Grassfed Beef and regenerative land steward is seeing this transition first-hand. “Business was strong before but has increased substantially as consumers look for certainty about their food source. And, they want their food dollars to work harder, so are happy to support our work in building healthy ecosystems”.
It is difficult to discuss the promise of a forward-looking new system without addressing the upfront price of food but, as Morris notes: “In the United States, we have been shielded from the true cost of our food for decades in the form of subsidies for commodities like corn and soy and low wages for agricultural and food service workers. It’s time all of the inputs - a living wage, insurance, even the costs to hire a fence builder - are accurately reflected”. So, while regeneratively grown food can be more expensive than conventional, supporting a regenerative producer is like good insurance, invest in resilience to withstand the next external disruption, like a pandemic or a climate event, and the land and your food source remain intact.
Soil Centric is helping producers by expanding access to and knowledge of regenerative farms and ranches. In that spirit we’re happy to announce a new feature to our Pathfinder Tool - a listing of regenerative producers now selling food directly to eaters, either online or through a subscription based model known as Community-Supported Agriculture, commonly abbreviated as a CSA, that allows users to source their food directly from a farmer. If you can, spend your food dollars with producers who are doing the right thing - for the planet, for human health, and for their communities. Maybe it’s once every six months or maybe it’s once a month, every action will help build the future food system that will benefit us all. We are just getting started and will continue to add new names, so please keep checking Soil Centric.org.
We are at the very beginning of building a stronger, more nimble food system and there is much to be done to build out the infrastructure -smaller, decentralized processing facilities to relieve current bottlenecks, more USDA inspectors, and addressing the impending labor shortage. But that’s for another essay. For now, collectively supporting regenerative producers gives us an incredible opportunity to create the more stable and climate positive future we need.