This article is written by Edona Arnesen, the Head of Produce at Dagens. With her huge passion for food and for being a positive force in the change of our food systems for the better, she works with the rest of the team at Dagens out of Oslo, Norway, to create a more transparent and resilient food system. Dagens is building a data driven, full-stack marketplace for local food that facilitates direct trade between producers and food professionals & chefs.
At Dagens, we believe that direct trade and communication is foundational for building transparent and resilient food systems. This is because producers are able to take the risk of diversifying productions, try out new methods and always strive to learn more and do better when they feel supported and safe in their professional relations. We believe in direct trade because it brings actors in the food system closer together. Communication leads to relations; getting to know one another. Efficiency cannot compromise communication. Relations builds trust, and trust builds empathy and cooperation. Actors are no longer isolated on their end of the trade, but are actively working together to support one another. In case of unforeseen events — shocks to the system — the repercussions will be smaller and have less impact in a system that is resilient. Direct trade is empathic cooperation in practice, because it enables the actors to understand each others’ situations.
Resilience means toughness, adaptability, elasticity, recovery. Something which is resilient has the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, to withstand shock without permanent deformation, to adjust easily to misfortune or change. A resilient food system will be able to keep thriving and supporting food production through climatic changes and continuously developing pests.
The UN predicts that our global soils are only able to support 50 more years of harvests, due to the rate of which we are depleting them. If we want the future scenario to look differently, we must shift our focus to building resilient food systems, not only sustainable ones. The problem with ‘sustainable’ is that the word in itself means to sustain — be it sustaining the status quo or the rate of growth. We cannot forget that growth is seldom linear, but rather exponential. As the global population both grows in numbers and in level of income, the amount of resources consumed per capita — and thus our impact on the world around us — exponentially increases. This is the trend in modern society. It simply means to keep the current practices and trends in place, not assuring that the systems we are part of can sustain us for eternity. With 50 years left of harvests in the time of ‘sustainable development’, we have no time to loose — if we want to have it any differently.
How can we support our food systems for resilience?
Resilient food systems are characterized not only by well-functioning ecosystems, but also the enhancement of social and human capital. When food producers are empowered they are able to form broader social safety networks that buffer them against climatic and economic impacts. This ensures that the holistic picture of people, planet and profit is met, which creates a very strong foundation for longevity. This is where direct trade comes in as an important tool for empowerment and social safety networks.
Healthy soil is dependent on the complex web of bacteria, fungi, plants and their contribution of nutrients to the soil microbes, and the physical and chemical structure of the soil. Diversity in soil biology is important because the different species all have their own specialized traits and importances. When the soil is healthy it supports the greater biodiversity also above ground and in the bigger picture of whole ecosystems. It’s a self-supporting system. This is what innovative and forward-thinking producers are now championing and seeing the results of, in terms of more robust and efficient plants and animals — resilient food systems in practice.
Why is large scale production with focus on efficiency of a few high-yielding crops and animals detrimental? It’s not that producing large volumes of food in an efficient way is bad in itself — it’s the way it’s done, and have been done for decades, that is the big problem. Industrial food production with chemical inputs, the use of heavy machinery and highly monocultural production has pressured the natural ecosystems to the brim and they are now saying stop. If we want to still be able to produce food long into the future, we need to sow seeds of all varieties and care for the life in our soils as well as we care for our animals.
The one thing that everyone can do, is to make the choice to actively support the people who make resilient food systems a reality through their work in the fields, barns and oceans. Support them by trading directly, make sure they are left with the majority of the earnings and can re-invest in their businesses, and that your hard-earned money goes directly to what you care about and want more of. Provide them with safe and nurturing social networks where they feel empowered in important roles, and be sure that you are also part of realizing a self-supporting, resilient food system.
What are food systems?
When we speak of all the parts and actions that are linked to production and consumption of food, and the relations and dependencies between these, we talk about food systems. The parts and actions are resources, inputs, production practices and the products that come from them, transport, processing and manufacturing industries, markets and sales channels, consumption practices, policy — and of course people as the executing actors across the whole value chain and, as beneficiaries of the system.