Resetting the Table: Eating in the Age of Climate Change, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Jodi Kushins and Over The Fence Urban Farm
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Photo by Pixabay/Bertsz

This post is a follow-up to my last post with the same title, where I reviewed Jonathan Kauffman’s Hippie Food, and a post from September 2019 titled, “Responding to Eco-Anxiety: Educating the Next Generation Back to the Land.”

As an urban micro-farmer working in an era of climate change, I often wonder what, if any, impact I’m making on the food system. Is there any point in operating a farm that only feeds a dozen or so households each season? Can or should I be focusing my energies on growing fewer crops in larger quantities? Would my time and energy be better spent working for environmental policy change and food access on a broader scale?

Amanda Little’s book The Fate of Food (2018) suggests that, as with so many things, the answer to these questions is “both/and”. Yes, I’m making a direct impact on those I serve, providing them with fresher food with a lower carbon footprint and, together, we are demonstrating an alternative way to feed people in our city. Yes, I should focus on what I’ve been successful at growing rather than wasting space, time, and water trying to grow crops that consistently fail me. And yes, I must also financially support larger-scale efforts and advocate for changes that will impact all citizens of my city, state, country, and the world-at-large.

Photo by Jodi Kushins

 ‘All the Delicious Foods are Dying’

I first heard about Little’s book on the podcast Bite from Mother Jones. I highly recommend all the episodes in their series Eating in Climate Crisis. Little was featured in the first episode, “All the Delicious Foods are Dying.” As soon as the episode was over, I requested her book from my local library. It’s a long read, but well worth the time and attention.

The book is, as other reviewers have noted, very well-researched, chock full of mind-boggling statistics and fascinating innovations. I was jealous and grateful of her reports on travels around the world where she met with growers, scientists, and activists working on ideas for how we will increase crop production in the coming decades to meet the demands of a hotter, drier, and more populated planet.

My word count for this blog can’t contain all I would like to share on ideas worth sharing from The Fate of Food.(Note all my Post-Its in the photo!) Little addresses, among many other things, water reduction in plant-based meat and aeroponic greens production, predictions of the amount of food we’ll need to feed growing worldwide populations by 2050, the impact of rising temperatures on fruit farmers, and the amount of food that is wasted every day in American households, groceries, and restaurants.

The bottom line is: If you care about the planet and you worry about what you or your grandchildren will eat in the not-so-far-off future, you should read this book. If it wasn’t clear already, here in the United States, we need to readjust our expectations of what constitutes “normal” daily consumption of not only food, but water and energy. And we need to continue to do so as we find ways to not only tread more lightly on the planet, but in harmony with her.

Third Way Agriculture

To this point, Little begins and ends her book in conversation with Chris and Annie Newman, regenerative chicken and vegetable farmers from northern Virginia. Successfully inspired by Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, they are also aware that their products — priced to cover their costs and earn them a living — are too expensive for many people to afford. Combine that self-reflection with the fact that Chris was a computer programmer before he became a farmer and we see the Newmans as enlightened, modern farmers who are open to ideas that combine new and old-school farming technologies. Little refers to this throughout the book as third way agriculture.

Chris says, “There are lots of people who call themselves sustainable farmers who see technology as a terrible threat, as the fascist dictator of the natural world and of the modern food system in particular. But the problem has never been the technology, it’s been the ethics and the values and the motivations behind the use of that technology…We’ve been too focused on growing things for a global economy at the expense of local ecologies, and the reality is that if we use it right, technology can help reverse that.”

For the time being, most of the technologies presented in The Fate of Food seem out of my reach as a backyard farmer. But I’m sure that as time goes on and costs come down, we’ll begin to see them in the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS alongside plans for high tunnels and composting toilets. Indeed, the ideas from some of the technologies are rooted in the age-old practices that so many of us follow today.

For now, I’m going to continue growing all I can and supporting my fellow local producers for what I can’t. I’m going to continue posting pictures and commentary to Instagram in hopes of disrupting my friends’ streams long enough to encourage them to slow down and think carefully about where their next meal comes from and to give thanks to the powers that feed them. I’m going to continue to eat a mostly vegetarian diet supplemented by the best pasture-raised, humanely slaughtered local animals I can buy. (And I can supplement this further with the latest technologically-enhanced plant-based meats coming to the market.) And I’m going to seek out and amplify the voices of farmers and food activists in other parts of the world already struggling with the impacts of climate change.

Jodi Kushins owns and operates Over the Fence Urban Farm, a cooperatively maintained, community-supported agricultural project located in Columbus, Ohio. The farm, founded in 2013, is an experiment in creative placemaking, an outgrowth of Jodi’s training as an artist, teacher, and researcher. Connect with Jodi on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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