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Q: Why local? A: Food System Resilience

In my last blog post, I explored the question ‘why local?’ Why is it important that our community supports local food, beverage, and farm businesses? One of the reasons I came up with is food system resilience.


The storm of the century, followed by more storms and more rain have come and gone. We are on the other side of it - for now - and that means we hopefully have time to pause, reflect, grieve losses, and then enter into a phase of recovery.

Significant flooding in planted fields at Bautista Family Farms. Photo courtesy of Bautista Family Farms.


Seeing the flooding of our roads, parking lots, businesses, ranches and farms makes me reflect on the resilience of our local food system. Is it resilient enough to recover from this disaster?


My gut says yes, and I’ll tell you why.


Let’s define the terms.


Resilience (noun): “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” - Miriam Webster.


The Center for a Liveable Future at Johns Hopkins makes the definition more specific, A resilient food system is able to withstand and recover from disruptions in a way that ensures a sufficient supply of acceptable and accessible food for all.


Disruptions range from global pandemics to natural disasters to human-caused disasters. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw first hand how disrupted our food system became with empty shelves at the grocery stores and the huge influx of community members seeking food from the SLO Food Bank. Even still, the national and global food system is in recovery mode - the pandemic’s shock waves are still pulsing, causing supply chain delays, inflation, and constant scrambling.


The disruption of the pandemic, with restaurants and food service outlets having to close and/or shift to take-out only, consequently sparked an increase of shoppers at our local Farmers Markets - while larger national producers struggled to get their goods to distributors and retail outlets, our local farmers continued to produce their crops and get them to markets, so consumers were driven there to meet their food security needs/demand.


I remember asking the Market Manager of North County Farmers Markets about how the pandemic affected sales. She recalled needing extra staff support to manage shopper traffic at the markets because there was such an influx of consumers wanting local food! Additionally, folks from the SLO Food System Coalition EBT at Farmers Market workgroup saw a significant increase of EBT users spending their dollars at farmers markets. Our farmers kept up with this demand and welcomed the extra support it offered their bottom line!

Shoppers line up at North County Farmers Markets during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of North County Farmers Market Association.


With farmers markets every day of the week, locally owned grocery stores that source from local growers, farm boxes and CSA options, as well as chain grocery stores (we need these too!), SLO County is ready to face disasters. This diversity in our local food system is a marker for resilience.


But it’s not just me saying this. Scholars note that small-scale, regional food systems are “better able to withstand shocks than their massive, globalized counterparts” (Slusser and Mazur, 2016) and I think our local food system is proof of this!


For example, on the Friday after the massive storm last week, Halcyon Farms was bustling with shoppers and had a FULL farm stand ready to fill our shopping baskets. Although their farm had been flooded earlier in the week, they were able to turn around and re-stock quickly, making sure that their customers had enough supply before more rains set in.

Farm staff at Halcyon Farms fill harvest bags for shoppers. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Farms.


Small local farms like this one and so many others in our county don’t have to rely on distributors to get their products to market, making them resilient in the face of extreme weather.


However, resilience is not solely marked by how quickly farms can respond. Small, local businesses also generate more local jobs, produce more nutritious crops, and support more biodiversity (Slusser and Mazur, 2016), which is good for the longevity, health, and bounce-back of our soil and our planet!


Given all of those benefits, I think it is crucial that we continue to invest in and spend our dollars at locally owned farms and food/beverage businesses. We need them to be around when the next crisis hits.


I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, but having just lived through some very gloomy (literally) days, I’m reminded that I want to be proactive when it comes to supporting our food system, not just reactive when times are tough.


Even though this action doesn’t seem like it does as much for food system resilience as organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization or leaders like Vandana Shiva, I know that my part is nevertheless valuable.


After all, it will take ALL of us doing what we can to keep our food system healthy, strong, and thriving.


Here are some ways we can invest:


These are just a few ways to support local businesses, please share with us others you know of either here or on our social media!


Contact us at info@slowmoneyslo.org to share your ideas and/or to learn how you can get involved with our work in supporting food system resilience!

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