A growing awareness of the costs of industrial food in the latter half of the 20th century drove a search for solutions that emerged as the sustainable agriculture movement. Over this same time period, global movements of food accelerated in an increasingly specialized and concentrated global industrial food system. Current national and international policy clearly favors the continued consolidation and concentration of this system, despite widely accepted evidence that these characteristics create critical sustainability challenges, as well as new evidence that this specialization and consolidation creates barriers to the resilience of the global food system. This maladaptive path is doubly destructive; not only does it finance the continued development of the existing system, it also squanders the resources needed to finance a transition to a more sustainable global food system. Resilience science offers a novel framework and a set of concepts uniquely suited to the challenges of managing food systems under conditions of high uncertainty and dynamic change. Although research exploring food system resilience is only just beginning, initial results suggest that, compared to industrial food systems, sustainable food systems are more resilient while providing a host of other natural resources, social, and financial benefits to the communities they serve. By drawing on thirty years of sustainable food systems development and recent insights from resilience science, a sustainable and resilient food future is possible through policies designed to transform the global industrial food system into a resilient global network of sustainable food systems serving local and regional populations.
Laura Lengnick is an award-winning soil scientist who has explored agricultural sustainability for more than 30 years as a researcher, policy-maker, educator, and farmer. Her work in sustainable farming systems was nationally-recognized with a USDA Secretary’s Honor Award and she contributed to the 3rd National Climate Assessment as a lead author of the USDA report Climate Change and U.S. Agriculture: Effects and Adaptation. Laura led the academic program in sustainable agriculture at Warren Wilson College for more than a decade, where she also served as the Director of Sustainability Education, conducted research in sustainability assessment and holistic management, led energy descent action planning, and developed an innovative sustainable dining policy for the college. In 2015, Laura left the college to launch Cultivating Resilience, LLC, a private consulting firm offering ecosystem-based climate risk management services to civil society, business, and government. She is a Vice President at Climate Optimize, Inc, and serves as an advisor to the USDA Climate Science Learning Network, NC Adapt, and the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance. Laura holds an adjunct faculty position in Horticulture at North Carolina State University. Her 2015 award-winning book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate (New Society Publishers), examines climate change, resilience and the future of food through the adaptation stories of 25 award-winning sustainable producers located across the U.S. You can learn more about Laura and her work at www.cultivatingresilience.com