Building A Regenerative Food Economy - The Viable Way to Regional Food Security
Food system is part of a much larger culture of health. Health, as defined by World Health Organization is
A state of complete physical, mental, social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
With the Big-Ag "promise" of feeding large populations cheaply, with national (U.S.A) average meal cost at $3 USD, why is food security still not a reality?
Ecological Systems - Foundation of a Healthy Food Economy
A core premise to begin working in the regenerative mindset is that ecological systems are not equal in priority to human systems. Rather than working from a compromising or imposing mentality, we work from the notion that ecological systems are foundational to harmonizing with economy and culture. The more vital an ecological system, the more viable it is to realize the potential of a healthy food system. In other words, consciously improving the health of ecological systems is key to building long-term capacity of a food economy. Think of this in relation to a person - the more healthy our basic environment (work, shelter, water, food), the more capacity there is for you to be healthy, the higher the potential of you earning more $$ and engaging in healthy value exchange with others (a highly reductionist way of thinking about business and economy, but you get the idea.)
Creating Shared Value - Understanding Place-based Potential
The Achilles heel of massive global crises like food security and climate change is their systemic nature. They require navigation of various complex systems simultaneously —political, economic, social, above and beyond ecological. In seeking a holistic approach, stakeholders tend to create a long checklist of different components of the system that they hope to “solve” — energy, jobs, housing, addictions, education. Seems like the longer the list, the more problems you are "solving". But making a list of parts, and seeing their functions are not the same thing as understanding a living system. To understand a living system, it is not enough to see how the parts interact. We need to discern how they live together, dynamically, in the life of the system. A life that has evolved over time -the geo-bio-physical patterns that birth human organizational patterns.
A Practical Scale of Impact - Not too Small, Not too Big
It is one thing to know we need to hold all these in mind. It is another to get used to seeing that the real work required is not bound by your job title or department. But the priceless question remains, how do we solve these global issues in a practical way? Drawing from over 20 years of Regenerative Development lineage (check out Regenesis Group's work), we have learnt that solving issues “at the global level” is not feasible. The only way for collaborations to take place is at the local level, at the interface between humans and a place. But how big or small is “local”? Working in silos without an understanding of the region’s essence produces hit-or-miss outcomes that may or may not add value to larger wholes.
A region, implies a unique cultural identity -- one that is organically emerging from its unique socio-ecological influences. Think of it as the identity of a friend. You can study, dissect, all the systems in him/her/any pronoun - respiratory, skeletal, circulation systems - down to the last atom. But the identity of your friend, what makes you want to hang out with Jane but not John, will not be those indicators. To understand their unique potential, we have to observe the invisible relationships that express themselves as patterns in the tangible world.
Therefore, in order to create systemic change, regenerative work starts with a deep understanding of the potential, not problems of a region. What we experience as problems of sustainability in our places - regionally, nationally, globally - are really only the symptoms of a system that is failing to meet its potential. Potential being what wants to be expressed, a natural order that is either suppressed or yet to emerge.
Building Human Capacity - Discovering our Roles
Without understanding what a place really is (because we imposed so much that it is suppressed) or could be, how can we effectively develop our roles, invest capital efficiently, and collaborate effectively? Thinking and collaborating in a regenerative way requires us to go beyond solving closed-loops problems related to sustainability. It requires us to become capable of thinking like an ecosystem. We must become capable of applying that thinking to co-create at minimum 3 lines or scales of work - personal, community and regional levels. If we can create these scalable linkages and impacts, then global change will emerge less as a goal, but as a result.
Just like a domino effect, if we hit the right leverage points at the right scale, natural intelligence resolve its own complexities. One perfect example is our body -- possibly one of the most complex system in existence, which we still know so little about. Life is happening moment to moment FOR us. With trillions of operations happening each second, it has an intelligence to self-regulate. All we need to do is hit the right levers - give it the right fuel in the form of balanced diet, activity, rest - this environment "of body" takes care of us.
A Lifelong Practice
As we strive to create a regional economy that supports a food secure system, there is no such moment when we -- as policy makers, educators, ag-business entrepreneurs, community facilitators -- “arrive” at a regenerative food system. The only “deliverable” is the moment to moment arrival at this practice. The process of understanding a region’s potential, (re)configuring our value-adding roles, co-creating synergies that align with this continuous discovery. It is a lifelong capacity building practice.