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9 actions for a healthy and sustainable food system

The 2020 Award winners each shared three actions individuals and communities can take now for a better future.

Dr. Rattan Lal

Promoting Systems-Based Conservation Agriculture

“Based on the research career spanning  across four continents and five decades, Prof. Lal developed  soil-specific systems of conservation agriculture appropriate for fragile soils and harsh climate of the  humid  tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Long-term experiments conducted in diverse eco-regions indicated  some critical components of  conservation agriculture:

i) using no-till farming by eliminating all  pre-planting mechanical tillage,

ii) retaining crop residue mulch and eliminating in-field burning,

iii) growing a cover crop during the off season to prevent losses of nutrients, water and soil, and suppress weeds,

iv) adopting a complex rotation cycle of diverse crop species,

v) improving soil fertility by integrated nutrient management , and

vi) integrating crops with trees and livestock to strengthen nutrient cycling and keep the land always under a vegetative cover. Such systems comprise of nature-based solutions of restoring soil health and harnessing benefits of the power of a healthy soil.”

Dr. Lal and a researchers sit on the ground examining soil with scientific instruments.

Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University.

Promoting the Soil-Centric Approach

“Prof. Lal promoted  the soil-centric approach for a  transformational change at the national and local levels, and empowering farmers and land managers through “carbon farming” . He also developed a protocol for payments  to farmers for ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration) based on societal value of soil carbon. Transformational change through soil-centric measures leads to transient and incremental increases in soil organic carbon stock with  positive (direct and indirect) effects on agronomic productivity, environmental quality, and adaptation/mitigation of climate change.”

Translating Science into Action

“Prof. Lal worked with policymakers, non-governmental organizations ,and private sector for adoption of recommended soil management practices to translate science into action. He identified site-specific  land-based solutions which are pro-farmer and pro-nature, and promoted the soil-centric approach by encouraging educators to  revise the curricula from primary and secondary schools to college levels.”

Community Food Centres Canada

Think beyond food charity

“We must shift away from channeling society’s food waste into food charity, and instead focus on broad social policies that address income, child care and housing.

As a nation, we have come to rely on food charity and food waste to address the emergency of food insecurity. However, research shows that only a fraction of people who are food insecure actually access food charity, and when they do, it does not adequately address their health and nourishment needs, and often leads to guilt and shame.”

Advocate for progressive income policies

“A food system that sustains all people means ensuring everyone can access enough healthy, nutritious food. It is effective federal policies that will increase health and well-being for all.

This starts with better data collection on food insecurity rates, including race-based data, and applying a Race Equity Impact Assessment to all poverty and food security interventions. We also recommend these key policy changes:

  • Ensure low-wage workers have equal access to Employment Insurance;
  • Create a refundable tax credit specifically for working-age adults;
  • Institute a universal public pharmacare and childcare program;
  • Accelerate the implementation of the Canada Housing Benefit;
  • Ensure low-income Canadians, especially First Nations living on reserve, have better access to tax filing supports and benefit services”
A person facing away from the camera hands a root vegetable to a man.

Photos courtesy of Community Food Centres Canada

Increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables for disease prevention

“Subsidizing access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income communities is another step to a sustainable food system.

Public and private investment in subsidizing healthy food is an efficient health intervention, and treating fresh food as a form of “prescription” has shown to be an effective upstream response to addressing chronic disease.

This is especially important for low-income populations who can otherwise not afford to prioritize the food they need to prevent or treat diseases like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.”

Appetite for Change

A group of adults and children pose with vegetables and garden tools.

Photo courtesy of Appetite for Change.

Begin a dialogue

“Have conversations about where food comes from. Where is it grown? Who are the people growing it? Why is it cooked a certain way? How did it get to your plate? Challenge yourself on why you are choosing certain foods or places to eat. Reclaim your connection to these choices.”

Community relationships

“Always have more than one dialogue with the community that you want to serve and try to talk to and engage as many community members as possible for these conversations. Listen to and understand the needs of the people, then find a way to implement their ideas. Having buy-in from the community is the best way for a successful program. Additionally, employing people from the community and making sure they are part of the decision making process is essential.”

Choose your words carefully

“Be thoughtful with language. North Minneapolis is often referred to as a food desert or food swamp, but we prefer to put the responsibility on the broken food and healthcare systems that have failed many marginalized BIPOC communities like the Northside. The lack of access to healthy food, poor quality of air and healthcare all contributes to this broken system. Having a common language allows for a more intentional and actionable dialogue.”