Future Food: rebuilding the middle of the food system

Jessie Radies_Blog Author_ENGuest blog by Jessie Radies, Local Food Associate, Northlands
The future of our food system depends on us and the choices we make every day. In North America, what we eat, where we buy it and what we grow, all help determine the make-up of our global food system.
There is growing collective recognition that our global food system, as it operates today, is not feeding our planet efficiently and comes at a great cost.  Regions are not encouraged to be self-reliant, farming is not financially viable with an ongoing effort to drive down the cost of production, starvation is still a reality and much of the food grown and raised is wasted before it ever gets eaten.
Globally, science and agriculture are focused on providing enough calories to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050.  Today we imagine this by making agriculture production efficient and low cost; having infrastructure that can transport, store and process food products and ingredients efficiently around the globe.  It also requires chemicals and GMO’s to increase annual production and protect against disease and minimize the risk of crop failure. It means varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown based on their ability to be shipped, so oranges, bananas and fresh tomatoes can be a staple in our North American diet year round and can be shipped thousands of miles before they end up on our plate.
In my lifetime our food system has changed from one that was basically local to one that is primarily global, but the emergent edge of food is hyper-local and small, made up of urban agriculture, heritage varieties and artisan products.
Over the next generation the biggest challenge will be rebuilding the middle of the food system, figuring out how to appropriately scale the small and connect it globally without defaulting to rebuilding our current system.  Re-localizing and scaling regional food systems paired with valuing farmers and food producers will go far in addressing some of the systemic challenges of our current global food system.
Farm Days 2015.193
My work is focused on rebuilding the regional food systems in the following ways:
suiting up1.     Engaging urbanites about the importance of regional food systems, this includes developing programs that demonstrate and encourage urban agriculture and help facilitate direct trade relationships like CSA’s and farmers markets, or efforts that tell the story of our local food producers and processors.
2.     Scaling small food producers, normally this is facilitating market access to new local market opportunities including institutions and connecting local business owners to resources including: grants, space, and collaborative opportunities.
3.     Reconnecting export focused producers and processors to the local marketplace.  Frequently when small companies grow into medium or large companies they are forgotten, or excluded from the “local” food scene in Alberta, this has resulted in “local food” being limited to small and start-up food companies and local food being dismissed as an economic driver.
My fear is we figure out how to cheaply feed 9 billion by 2050 and it means we are all drinking some “life-saving” wonder formula and eating burgers grown in a lab while we all reminisce about the “good old days” when food came from farms.

What is your comfort food?

Potatoes. I love them anyway – boiled, baked, BBQ’d, deep fried, scalloped, mashed, plain or fancy.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like. Potatoes would be followed closely by cheese or tomatoes (in season).  Personally I feel that cheese should be its own food group and this time of year I eat tomatoes every day –  I love them.

Who should we be watching for inspiration, ideas, vision about the future of food?

Everyone!  For emerging culinary trends, look to food trucks, farmers markets and Scandinavian countries.   For food production and processing  innovation and vision, I see it emerging from mega cities and the far north and the global south – it seems that with food necessity is frequently the mother of invention.


About the author

Jessie Radies has built a reputation as an entrepreneurial, innovative and creative leader and a relentless advocate for local food and independent business.  She has over 30 years of restaurant experience and 10 years of community development experience.  Jessie is a BALLE Fellow; this fellowship has resulted in Jessie actively collaborating with international thought leaders on Community Economic Development programs, processes and economic policy issues.  Jessie works in the Edmonton region on strategic projects that foster local food system and community economic development, in her spare time she keeps one foot on her soap box and dabbles in rabble rousing and trouble making.
This blog is part of the Future of Food series. We wanted to know: what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going, and what can we do to change the course? Over the next six months, we are handing the microphone over to 12 leading food thinkers in Canada to help answer these important questions.
Click here to view other posts in the series.