Food is responsible for one-third of human-caused global greenhouse gas emissions, which means that agriculture has a vital role to play in the fight against climate change. California, which is also the largest agricultural producer in the U.S., has experienced the unprecedented impacts of climate chaos through natural disasters such as drought, floods, and wildfires. How can farmers and eaters work together to be part of the solution?
CUESA recently hosted a talk called Climate Chaos, Food Solutions featuring activists who advocate for family farms and regenerative agriculture policies and practices. Law student Janaki Jagannath (formerly of Community Alliance for Agroecology), Karen Leibowitz of Perennial Farming Initiative, Sara Tiffany of Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and Tiffani Patton of Real Food Media discussed ways all of us can take part in a climate-wise future. Here are some key takeaways.
Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. Industrial agriculture creates greenhouse gases and pollution, and makes farms more vulnerable to natural and climate-related disasters such as fires and floods by mining the soil of nutrients. Small-scale farmers can be especially impacted by long-term drought and extreme floods.
But sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture can help change this course. “There are new studies that show that changing the way we produce food and manage land has the potential to absorb and draw down up to 45 percent of the carbon into the soil in order to manage the climate crisis. We can do that without using more land or money,” said Karen.
Agroecology and other sustainable approaches can move us toward a climate-smart and just future. Agroecology is an approach that’s derived from indigenous farming practices, and focuses on food production and applying ecological concepts, principles, and knowledge to farming. It shares some features with other approaches to sustainable farming, such as regenerative agriculture , which takes a holistic rather than extractive approach to farming systems. Carbon farming measures success in terms of the soil’s organic content and its ability to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Janaki described agroecology as a movement of farmers around the world, organizing through groups such as La Via Campesina, who are actively fighting against the threats of capitalism and industrial agriculture, and for food sovereignty and justice. “Agroecology, to me, can’t be reduced to a single set of agricultural principles or one way of farming,” she said. “It’s actually the opposite. It involves continuously asking questions about best farming practices, the best way to produce food, and pushing our political systems toward greater justice.”
These climate-smart practices date back thousands of years. The principles of sustainable farming are as old as agriculture itself. Indigenous and rural communities developed these practices over millennia. After World War II, industrial agriculture became dominant through the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which led to a rapid loss of institutional knowledge of sustainable practices within just a couple of generations.
Agrochemicals create health and safety dangers for farmworkers who are exposed to them while working in the fields, as well as rural communities who live in proximity to conventional farms. Farming communities can revitalize these practices by sharing knowledge, conserving biodiversity, and stewarding the land with natural resources.
Support local farmers. We can’t rely on farmers to solve the climate crisis alone. It will take all hands on deck, and there are many ways that urban communities can take action on an individual as well as policy level. You can find some ideas in Real Food Media’s comprehensive toolkit, Tackling Climate Change through Food. A new initiative called Restore California is creating linkages between farmers, restaurants, and in transitioning toward a renewable food system.
It’s important to get to know your farmers at your local farmers market, ask them about how they grow their food, and let them know you care. Many small-scale farmers, especially those from communities of color, don’t always have the financial means to easily transition to sustainable farming practices, so it’s important to support them in taking those next steps and ensure that there’s a market for sustainably grown local produce.
We can support local farmers by advocating for equitable and climate-smart policies such as the Farmer Equity Act and the Healthy Soils Initiative, understanding the challenges they face, and buying direct at the farmers market or signing up for a CSA (community-supported agriculture) veggie box subscription. We are all in this climate crisis together, and city dwellers must do our part to bridge the urban-rural gap to build resilience toward a just food system and healthy planet.
Watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the full talk on Facebook. This blog post is part of a series inspired by The Food Change, a public art project by CUESA, featuring farmers, advocates, and everyday people who are making positive change in our food system.
Read another recap of the talk from HEAL Food Alliance.