Restorative Food Systems

Our dilemma in agriculture now is that the industrial methods that have so spectacularly solved some of the problems of food production have been accompanied by ‘side effects’ so damaging as to threaten the survival of farming. – Wendell Berry, "Solving for Pattern"

About the Restorative Food and Farming Program

Industrial agriculture is arguably the single most environmentally destructive human activity. In the face of escalating climate change, fresh water shortages, the loss and degradation of topsoil and a host of other environmental and social challenges, creating global food security will become an increasingly urgent global priority.

Meeting the dual challenges of a growing global population and increasingly degraded ecosystems in the face of climate change and peak oil will require fundamental systemic shifts, widespread education and training, and the shift to a greatly decentralized agricultural system and food economy. It will require many more people with the skills to grow food while caring for the environment. In contrast with the industrial agricultural system’s emphasis on short term yields, high input petrochemical methods and monocultures, the ecological agriculture model is biologically based, diverse, decentralized and knowledge intensive, while distributing value and income more widely.

Since 1990, the Bioneers Wisdom at the End of A Hoe Restorative Food Systems (RFS) program has worked to transform the food system using public education, through the Bioneers conference, diverse media, practical hands on trainings, and the Dreaming New Mexico Age of Local Foodsheds and a Fair Trade State model. The program provides knowledge, inspiration, connections and conceptual frameworks to help individuals, communities and decision makers envision and implement their own sustainable food systems by:

  • Highlighting successful model projects and transformational ideas.
  • Catalyzing networking, connectivity and learning among sustainable and community based food systems advocates and organizations in the larger context of full spectrum sustainability.
  • Educating, inspiring and equipping strategic and diverse constituencies and movement leaders to make the local and societal transition to ecological agriculture.

Bioneers’ long standing commitment to building a healthy food system is based on the understanding that food is an essential, celebratory and culturally vital aspect of our lives. Eating is the daily act that connects us all directly to our environment.

Bioneers Founder Kenny Ausubel launched the first Bioneers conference one year after co-founding the biodiversity organic seed company Seeds of Change in 1989, and the two enterprises co-evolved in tandem until Kenny and Seeds of Change President and Bioneers Co-Founder Nina Simons left the company in 1994. From the outset, Bioneers has placed a central priority on organic food, ecological farming and resilient and just food systems.

From the beginning, the conference has featured many of the greatest eco agriculture leaders. We have leveraged the conference content into media including shows in our award winning radio series, TV broadcasts and other media that reach millions. We’ve served as a source for authors and media makers, including Michael Pollan for his best selling book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

In 1998 Arty Mangan joined Bioneers as Food and Farming Director, and he began directing the newly created Restorative Development Initiative that for about seven years produced a series of on farm ecological agriculture intensives with master eco farmers. The project trained approximately 1,000 people in the most innovative ecological farming practices, including Permaculture, Biodynamic farming, urban agriculture, medicinal herb production, seed saving, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration, indigenous agriculture, and other topics.

We partnered for seven years with the late John Mohawk (an early Bioneers board member) on the Iroquois White Corn project (IWC), bringing food production expertise and business skills that supported Native farmers growing their traditional crops. The project resulted in the cultural revival of IWC in Six Nations and in other Native American communities, as well as in sales of IWC to top national chefs and restaurants. IWC (listed as Tuscarora White Corn) was selected for the prominent Slow Food Ark of Taste of culturally significant foods at risk of extinction.

We further worked for seven years with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and its African American farmers in the Southeast, producing some of the first trainings in organic farming and medicinal herb production in the region, as well as helping establish the first farmers market in Greene County, Alabama. We helped highlight the historic legal struggle and subsequent victory of African American farmers suing the USDA for institutional racism, featuring leaders at the conference and producing media including widely distributed radio programs.

These projects helped Bioneers gain practical understanding of on the ground challenges, while making deep connections among diverse constituencies to build a network that connects agricultural issues to other key areas such as social and racial justice and ecological design.

The Bioneers conference features cutting edge knowledge and successful models from sustainable food systems visionaries such as author Michael Pollan, Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirshberg, ecological farming experts Bob Cannard and Michael Ableman, food justice leader Anim Steel, environmental lawyer Andrew Kimbrell, Native American leader Winona LaDuke, and former Leopold Center director Fred Kirshenmann. These luminaries represent a sampling of the array and depth of innovation, creativity and practical action at the Bioneers conference each year and in our media productions. We link game changing solutions in the areas of food and farming with social justice and ecological restoration in ways that inspire action through practical applications, and help people to make tangible change in their own communities and beyond.

Conference Seed Exchange At our annual conference seed exchange, 500 people share open pollinated locally adapted seeds to help preserve biodiversity and build grassroots control and stewardship of seed stocks. Two years ago, a member of the Maya Seed Ark Project obtained amaranth and other seeds at the exchange, brought them back to Guatemala and started the first seed exchange in his region in his lifetime. The conference seed exchange is hosted with partners including the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Tesuque Pueblo Farm, Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, The Living Seed Company and Sustainable Seed Company.

The Food and Farming Banquet is a conference networking event honoring an organization doing outstanding work in the arena of ecological farming or sustainable food systems. The menu is designed and prepared by Native American chef Lois Ellen Frank, who works with conference hotel staff and the executive chef, emphasizing the importance of organic, local and traditional foods. Each year we collaborate with the Marin Agricultural Institute, which operates the Marin Farmers Markets and Marin Organic. Both help supply local organic ingredients for the banquet and other conference meals, resulting in thousands of dollars of purchases from local farmers.

Just Us For Food Justice convenes conference youth involved in promoting healthy food and food justice in their communities, and provides an opportunity for youth leadership training, cultivating youth activist awareness and participation in the larger movement. In 2011 we collaborated with Rooted in Community and I-SEEED (providing leadership training for youth, primarily from low- income, low-resource communities of color, involved in food and farming projects in the Bay Area), including training the participants in “eco-apartheid” community mapping skills and messaging to help promote the emergent Youth Food Bill of Rights.

The Bioneers website food and farming pages feature extensive articles and interviews with leading ecological farming visionaries and sustainable food systems leaders. The website offers powerful and original ideas such as A Twenty Year Vision for Organic Agriculture, a forum of organic leaders offering their vision and defining the pathways for organic agriculture to become the dominant agricultural system. Articles originating on the Bioneers website are republished on many other websites, blogs and publications.

Bioneers Media Site (2012) is a media web site that will feature a portal of leading groups and individuals in eco-agriculture and just food systems with regular breaking news, insider views and their media. It will also aggregate all Bioneers content for easy access, sorted by topic and speaker.

Dreaming New Mexico: The Age of Local Foodsheds and a Fair Trade State (DNM) has created a vision and framework for food system localization at the state level. DNM explores in-depth the big picture of the New Mexico food system: its agro-eco-regions, value chains, and the cultural legacy of cuisines and crops, using food security as a foundation for envisioning and creating a healthier, more sustainable local food economy and practices. DNM has engaged decision-makers and stakeholders to develop strategies for implementation of a local food system to create greater access to healthier foods, to support the local economy and to create green jobs. The project was a 2011 Semi-Finalist for the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge award, and is being studied and adapted by other states, communities and regions.

The Bioneers Food and Farming Media Collections (2012) will offer themed media collections of the “greatest hits” of conference food and farming plenaries, award-winning radio shows and other media as downloads and on DVDs and CDs.

For further information, contact Arty Mangan, Program Director, (831) 338-1202, arty@bioneers.org

Restorative Food Systems – For People and the Planet

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