Consider this a call to action. The impacts of COVID-19 have forced us to recognize and acknowledge that our current model of agriculture is a rigid, deeply-flawed system.

Through many decades, our agricultural industry has been increasingly scaffolded by vertically-integrated corporate conglomerates, resource extraction and depletion, and bottomless federal subsidies. This arc has resulted in fewer family farms, low wages, comparatively cheap, nutrient-deficient food and a narrow diversity of farming options and autonomy for growers.

Meanwhile, consumers have less buying power and are dependent on a supply chain that is fragile at best.

Our seemingly ubiquitous globalized food system is helping fuel the ongoing climate crisis while robbing us of our sense of food security, community and place. Simultaneously, our widening income inequality gap and siloing of societal functions and services is reflective in our inadequacy to have a just, equitable and accessible food system that serves the needs of our diverse farmers and local populace.

If a global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that what we need now — more than ever — is a strengthened, collectively resilient community that has the capacity to function independently, symbiotically adapt to adversity, and integrate seamlessly into greater society.

To do that, we will need to grow more food locally.

Our common social values and shared sense of identity to this region is what continues to motivate us to secure farmland for generations to come, to support our local farmers and agricultural producers, and to protect and regenerate our natural resources.

As a community, we should be proud of how we have pivoted in these trying times.

Local organizations, neighbors, and producers have come together in reciprocity, mutual aid, and solidarity — creating linkages and hand-ups that will come to help define our region as a supple and sustainable powerhouse in the years to come.

But there is more work to be done.

Creating a dynamic, sustainable community is a bottom-up effort that starts in our own homes, neighborhoods and towns.

Rest assured, community resilience is not a question of politics but rather our ability as a community to recognize stressed systems and prepare for and respond to crises in whatever form it bears.

There are many considerations that go into engineering the transitional networks and infrastructure needed to create a locally resilient community. Whether it is energy, transportation, housing, employment, health, or food — all aspects of life are functions that don’t have to be independent, but can be woven together to create positive change on a local level.

Let’s consider food.

In the context of food, if you close your eyes and imagine abundance, what do you see? Is it a fully-stocked supermarket? Or is it a mosaic of small family farms, community and family gardens, and neighbors handing neighbors produce?

A strong community must have a bold, strong vision. To revolutionize a food system is to prepare and equip it to sustain shock.

Collectively, we are starting to realize the negative implications of an “endless growth” mentality on a finite planet. We won’t always have cheap fossil fuels, our reserves of phosphorus are not endless, and our global economy is supported by runaway debt.

The most revolutionary thing one can do is grow food — whether it’s starting a garden, growing a tomato plant in a bucket, or just herbs in a windowsill planter.

The shorter we make our food chain, the stronger we become.

Understandably, not everyone can grow all of their own food.

But we can try to grow our food together: consider forming a community garden co-op with friends and neighbors or join a community garden.

But most importantly, form relationships with your local farmers and agricultural producers — buy from them directly. If you can, frequent the farmer’s markets, join a CSA, and dine at restaurants who strive to use local ingredients first.

Lastly, educating our youth in agriculture and changing the narrative and stigma of farming will help generate more food producers. We should be valuing the people who grow our food as much as we value all other professions.

Lastly, we must acknowledge power dynamics and privilege as we continue to mobilize our local food movement.

There are many people in our community who experience food insecurity as a result of poverty, trauma, and various forms of systemic and societal discrimination.

To make a community healthy and more resilient is to weave food access and equity into the fabric of the communal construct by liberating individuals, families and disadvantaged communities of internalized oppression, fear, and guilt — and uplifting their voices and leadership.

As we strengthen inclusiveness into our food systems, let’s also continue to think how our food systems work translates through our diverse community.

The function and vibrancy of our local food hub is a reflection of how we care for each other and our planet.

Let’s grow together.

Parker Ameel is Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) Technician at the Grand Traverse Conservation District. He is a Boyne City native.

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