Down to the Roots: How Cities Are Building Local & Sustainable Food Systems
Who will you meet?
Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.
Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.
Last month, this post looked into urban food systems through the lens of urban food deserts. Food deserts point to a bigger systemic problem of the sustainability of our food systems in the face of a globalized, polarized, and increasingly resource-scarce economy and world. Our cities are increasingly reliant on food sources that are more distant and more homogenous – and thus fragile – than it seems our current economic model can maintain. What can be done to take a counter approach to a model for food systems that puts our societies, cultures, and population at risk of food shortages, malnutrition, and hunger? This is an attempt to answer that question with a set of solutions for moving towards sustainable food systems in the areas that can have the most impact – our cities.
There is a global conversation taking place around food systems planning. Nationally, we are increasingly curious and aware of our food’s origin and impact on the environment, including energy and water demands, pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial food production. Concerns about rising obesity rates, declining health indicators and the environmental and financial costs of producing and transporting food have led city officials to consider local policies that support affordable, accessible and healthy food options. Consequently, the demand for fresh, local produce and other foods is rising, and city officials can play a significant role in supporting this trend. Municipal governments can implement policies and programs that allow residents to grow, sell, buy, and eat more sustainably produced and locally grown foods, while strengthening the community and region. Eliminating food deserts is a growing priority in some cities. Comprehensive sustainability plans for food systems can jointly benefit public health, the local economy and the environment. Through a combination of community gardens, urban agriculture, farmers’ markets and affordable, accessible grocery stores, cities and towns are finding innovative solutions.
Seattle, Washington has long been known for its push by urban planners to create a more engaging environment around food and farming in the city. Seattle has a fruitful history of policies and programs that have emerged ahead of the national conversation, such as the first urban edible food forest, recyclability mandates on food packaging, and the idea that food should be easily grown and accessed locally.
Oakland, California is another city that is leading the national conversation around food sustainability and justice. They’re setting up ten policy initiatives to fight hunger, increase public health and awareness of the food system and its impacts, and to promote the idea of a closed-loop food system that is economically beneficial to its community. This is a big undertaking in a city that rivals Manhattan in its income inequality, and now shares a food system with the rest of the Bay Area where top dollar restaurants line city streets occupied by some who are homeless and hungry. To create a systematic approach to influencing its food system, Oakland has divided the food system into five sectors:
- Consumption & Retail
- Waste Management & Resource Recovery
Oakland is working with implementing the following set of policies as a starting point on the road to a sustainable food system:
- Protect and Expand Urban Agriculture
- Encourage accessible and affordable farmers’ markets
- Promote use of food assistance programs at farmers’ markets
- Develop ‘Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Protocols’
- Expand composting and the food scrap recycling and reuse economy
- Develop a ‘Fresh Food Financing Initiative’
- Encourage healthy mobile vending
- Create synthetic Pesticide and GMO-Production-Free Zones
- Scale up local purchasing
- Strengthen community-government links: build key relationships between residents, community leaders, and government that can create solutions.
Oakland’s policy initiatives represent a prioritized set of goals that allow the city to address the shortcomings in the current food system and move from a realistic starting point. You can find Oakland’s complete plan of action here.
Building a sustainable food system is an issue that truly comes down to the municipal and local level in the search for solutions. Each city faces different challenges in providing access to fresh and healthy food options for all residents. As we gain more understanding of the fragility of our current food system, we’re likely to see more cities following in the food-steps of Oakland and Seattle by putting in place the building blocks for the thriving local food culture that can contribute to more healthy and sustainable cities and city residents.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
People seem frequently to assume that the terms “sustainability” and “resilience” are synonyms, an impression reinforced by the frequent use of the term “climate resilience”, which seems to enmesh both concepts firmly. In fact, while they frequently overlap, and indeed with good policy and planning reinforce one another, they are not the same. This article picks them apart to understand where one ends and the other begins, and where the “sweet spot” lies in achieving mutual reinforcement to the benefit of disaster risk reduction (DRR).
As extreme weather conditions become the new normal—from floods in Baton Rouge and Venice to wildfires in California, we need to clean and save stormwater for future use while protecting communities from flooding and exposure to contaminated water. Changing how we manage stormwater has the potential to preserve access to water for future generations; prevent unnecessary illnesses, injuries, and damage to communities; and increase investments in green, climate-resilient infrastructure, with a focus on communities where these kinds of investments are most needed.
A few years ago, I worked with some ARISE-US members to carry out a survey of small businesses in post-Katrina New Orleans of disaster risk reduction (DRR) awareness. One theme stood out to me more than any other. The businesses that had lived through Katrina and survived well understood the need to be prepared and to have continuity plans. Those that were new since Katrina all tended to have the view that, to paraphrase, “well, government (city, state, federal…) will take care of things”.
While the experience after Katrina, of all disasters, should be enough to show anyone in the US that there are limits on what government can do, it does raise the question, of what could and should public and private sectors expect of one another?