By: Megan Bergeron Writing by: Callie Rhoades, Alexandrea Turner Socials by: Wangyuxuan Xu
What are food systems and why are they important as a climate solution?
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, a food system is defined as, “the sum of actors and interactions along the food value chain—from input supply and production of crops, livestock, fish, and other agricultural commodities to transportation, processing, retailing, wholesaling, and preparation of foods to consumption and disposal.” This system also includes the surrounding environmental policy and societal norms associated with food and agriculture. Climate is involved in every step of this process. Whether this is through transportation, infrastructure, water use, or urban planning, effects on the climate are intertwined with these systems. The agricultural sector, in combination with forestry, contributes to almost 25% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with almost half of these emissions coming from livestock. Thus, the way we produce and manage these systems plays an important role in how we mitigate the effects of climate change.
Re-thinking and re-planning how we structure our food systems can help. For example, supporting farm-to-table businesses that engage local ranchers and farmers who incorporate regenerative agriculture practices into their production can reduce the carbon footprint. Land restoration and community-based projects can help improve soil and farmland health.
Regenerative agriculture, according to the Climate Reality Project, is “a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more.” Conservation tillage, diversity of crops used, rotation of those crops, the use of cover crops, and minimizing physical disturbance of those crops through fertilizers and other soil amendments are among the techniques of regenerative agriculture. These techniques, if implemented correctly, help to build up organic matter in the soil and increase water-holding capacity.
Changes to global and national policy can also significantly impact climate. Since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, many countries are evaluating their mitigation plans when it comes to food systems. Research conducted by the World Research Institute, suggests that the best way to address food systems impacts on climate change is to determine what types of crops and livestock are best suited to a climate-impacted world and to ensure equity in social and economic benefits. Jurisdictions can create market incentives for farmers to invest in more efficient farming practices, and give projects the time they need to achieve their desired outcomes.
What is GrizzlyCorps and how are they involved in food systems?
Grizzly Corps is an AmeriCorps program at the UC Berkeley Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, focused on rural climate solutions for California. GrizzlyCorps focuses a large portion of their work on regenerative agri-food systems. Agriculture is California’s fourth-largest sector for greenhouse gas emissions, and addressing this issue is a significant priority for those trying to address the state’s overall carbon reduction plan. GrizzlyCorps works to promote climate-smart agricultural practices that promote regenerative methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health of farms and the ecosystems and communities they serve. The strategies that GrizzlyCorps uses include mulching, crop rotation, and integrated livestock management. GrizzlyCorps also works to address the California food system in a holistic manner that focuses on land access, local food infrastructure, and food security.
Resources and Further Reading
Ms. Eller: There is no food system department in the government. We’re doing a lot of work on climate action planning and addressing climate and resilience planning at a government level. From land access to distribution, to market accessibility, food cost volatility, all of those things are impacted by climate and likewise impact climate.
Ethan: That’s Cayley Eller, improvement and expansion fellow at GrizzlyCorps; a National Service Fellowship program through AmeriCorps administered at UC Berkeley Law.
Ms. Eller: Many of our fellows are out in the field helping landowners transition to more climate smart or regenerative practices, encouraging them to plant cover crop, helping them evaluate their irrigation systems or develop a carbon farming plan. And then also working on the ground with nonprofits or other agencies to enact that work.
Ethan: Cayley describes how food system mapping can be a powerful climate change solution by highlighting where the system has inefficiencies.
Ms. Eller: That model offers you the opportunity to overlay information in the food system with different climate and environmental impacts. We could look at where is food being produced versus being distributed, versus being consumed. We need to also look at transforming the system to be more equitable.
Ethan: For more information on GrizzlyCorps and Food System Planning, go to climatebreak.org, or wherever you get your podcast. I’m Ethan Elkind, and this is Climate Break.