Is your food system resilient?

At Meadowcreek, we know where our food comes from.  For more than 30 years most of the food Meadowcreek residents and guests eat comes from the soil of our valley.

We believe our health and vitality depend on healthy food.  Every day we need nutritious food.  Few of us know very much about the systems which brings that food to us.  Even fewer know how the food is produced.  Yet we rely on that system to provide the food vital to our health and survival.  If your food system was hit by a disturbance such those occurring with climate change, would it survive?  Will it be resilient?

One of our research projects at Meadowcreek examines resilience of agriculture and food systems.  We have systematically explored what makes such systems last based on research of resilience of natural ecosystems.  One result is a resilience index which shows how each county in the 13 Southern states stacks up on resilience of its agricultural system.

Resilience Index across the SouthIf you live in the South, look up your county in the accompanying map and see how well your county is doing.  If you are interested in more details of the research, download a powerpoint of our most recent research presentation: Roots of Resilience July 2015 or from this page.

Following is a brief description of the origin and activities of the project.  We’re looking for people like you to help us in this research project.  So, drop us a line at meadowcreek@deltanetwork.org.

This project has a 25 year history and begins in Meadowcreek’s early years. Meadowcreek was one of the early leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement.  In the early 1990s Meadowcreek participated in a study throughout the 13 Southern States to determine what research and education initiatives would best promote sustainable agricultural systems.  The major conclusion was that locally-owned processing and marketing of sustainably produced food was crucial to establishing more sustainable agricultural systems.

During the same time period and a bit earlier, Meadowcreek helped initiate the first farm to university local food effort.  This effort, with Hendrix College in nearby Conway, Arkansas, paved the way for today’s rapidly expanding nation-wide farm to school movement.

Since then we have worked with many other local food systems throughout the country and abroad.  Some of these have succeeded, others have not.  Meanwhile, ecologists have been studying how ecosystems survive, thrive and die.  They seek to determine how we can help natural ecosystems become resilient and what activities of man undermine resilience of ecosystems.

A few years ago we decided to unite the research of ecological resilience with Meadowcreek’s work in creating sustainable agricultural systems.  We realized that resilience is just sustainable agriculture stripped to the bare bones.  A system must first survive if it is to be sustainable.  If such survival results from the qualities present in resilient natural ecosystems, then ecological resilience provides fundamental insights into creation of  sustainable agricultural systems.  We decided to do a systematic study to find out what qualities were consistent among sustainable agricultural systems which lasted, which were resilient.

Both the ecological literature and our previous research indicated that resilient systems must be locally self-organized.  So we began by studying local food systems which had managed to survive in places where few local food systems had survived.  Some parts of the South have vibrant local food systems. North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky stand out.  Similar regions (geographically and demographically) in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi have very few examples of resilient local food systems.  The few which have lasted must be really high in resilience.  They have withstood trials and disruptions that destroyed so many others.  So we set out last year to interview the people who had helped 9 local food systems (3 each in TN, AR and MO) become resilient.

An example is a group of local food producers near Meadowcreek.  We helped part of the group form the Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative which is an amazing story of resilience and success.  Even more illuminating is the story of Falling Sky Farm which catalyzed the cooperative.

You can find the stories of farmers and how they created resilient local food systems at this link.  As we visited with all these resilient farmers and fit their experience with the scads of ecological studies on resilience, we found seven qualities emerging alongside local self-organization.

These eight qualities form the backbone of our book: Roots of Resilience.  You can download  it for free at this link.

If you are excited about making our food system more ecologically resilient, we need you on our Meadowcreek team.  Contact us at meadow@deltanetwork.org.

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