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What Does a Sustainable Food System Need to Look Like?

August 1, 2023
Earth Illustration by Julie Friedman

Illustration by Julie Friedman / Getty Images

The answer lies in understanding what local populations need and finding solutions with zero negative consequences. That’s sustainable. Many argue, however, that the health of the planet and well-being of its residents require a regenerative food system, one that eliminates harmful greenhouse gas emissions caused by chemical- and fossil-fuel-dependent agriculture. At present, agriculture and food processing contribute 30% to emissions that cause global warming. The planet has not been able to naturally sequester these emissions since 1945. A sustainable food system must offset and reverse these factors.

So how do we accomplish this? Ingenious strategies and innovative solutions designed and implemented locally can address the challenge. Models exist. Generations of growers have cultivated fields and tended livestock in tune with local resources. Acequias (engineered irrigation canals) in arid farming areas and terraced fields in mountainous regions confirm some of the strategies adopted over centuries to feed growers and those dependent on growers. Local ingenuity can turn alternative agriculture with little to no synthetic chemical dependence into regenerative agriculture. Yes, growers must play a central role, but customers committed to buying directly from growers at local markets must support the effort too.

Debra A. Reid is curator of agriculture and the environment at The Henry Ford.

This post was adapted from an article in the Summer-Fall 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

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