Book Review: “Rebuilding the Foodshed: A Community Resilience Guide” by Philip Ackerman-Leist

 

By Roberta Binder

 

RebuildingFoodWe have no idea how fortunate we are to live in Western North Carolina where sustainable agriculture abounds and continues to grow. We can visit over ninety farmers’ markets in WNC every day, including several that are now year-round; join one of seventy Community Support Agriculture groups (CSAs); enjoy a plethora of thriving restaurants serving local food – and, ‘Yes, there is an app for all of this!’

 

We have no idea how fortunate we are to live in Western North Carolina where sustainable agriculture abounds and continues to grow. We can visit over ninety farmers’ markets in WNC every day, including several that are now year-round; join one of seventy Community Support Agriculture groups (CSAs); enjoy a plethora of thriving restaurants serving local food – and, ‘Yes, there is an app for all of this!’

 

After returning from Switzerland, Philip heard that Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, was expanding to include sustainable green living and farming courses. Professor Ackerman-Leist now heads the department of Environmental Studies at the college and values his opportunity to create a program that includes establishing sustainable gardens and a fully sustainable farm. The college leads in environmental sustainability with a thriving farm and a research department that explores constructive and local sustainable and secure food systems for rural, suburban, and urban communities. “Rebuilding [our local food system] means not going back to the past practices but recreating through [sustainable] innovation. The foodshed is a diverse sphere of influence within our control. I consider it to be associated with a new democracy of the right to healthy food,” Philip notes.

 

When in Asheville for a book signing of his newest title, Rebuilding the Foodshed, How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems (Community Resilience Guide), Philip noted that his most powerful influence in North Carolina was working on a farm in Old Fort. Philip, his wife, and three children purchased and homesteaded a sustainable farm because they love farming and because they believe that “… we teach and learn by example.” Along the way, they have learned that homesteading is a “… wedding of values, skills and technology.” The professor also learned that “… by listening to the wisdom of old-time farmers and simultaneously respecting the words of students in the early learning process, you realize that both have much to teach. Sometimes you can judge a person by their willingness to compromise, not losing the target of ideals but [by actually] learning to compromise. One thing for sure, when taking on a project of rebuilding the foodshed, clarity at the beginning is critical.”

 

Which brings us to inspecting Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems (Community Resilience Guide). The book concerns quickly and efficiently developing access to the complexities of local food sources. This history book deeply explores the background and dilemmas of our country’s food industry, assessing what local really looks like, and how far we can take that experiment. Farming is always an experiment with many variables.

 

From there, he seeks answers for rebuilding local food systems. As a three-year resident of WNC, I have discovered that life did not always include the glorious, local foods that we enjoy today. Just over a decade ago, the soil was depleted, and crops that had sustained farmers for decades were no longer in demand due to changing tastes. Philip is very clear about one fact: we must learn from the past and discover what we need to completely rebuild, almost from the ground up, the sustainable foodshed for the future of healthy, viable food production.

 

We consume forty-eight percent of our food away from home (Yikes!), and much of that is grab-and-go fast food. Often, in the time required to decide and pickup that grab-and-go meal, a home cooked meal, with a bit of pre-planning, could be on the table. And while preparing that meal, a simple process that everyone can make habitual is composting. Although composting seems challenging if living in an apartment or urban home, online research shows how easily you can adapt.

 

To assist with the circle of soil-to-soil, I gather my compostable foodstuffs in a refrigerator container that I periodically empty at my local community garden composting project. When we realize that forty percent of wasted food goes into landfills, we become less resistant to changing our habits.

 

One of the most important facts for communities to realize when they begin rebuilding their foodshed is to include everyone; the organic and non-organic community must join forces for successful change.

 

Philip discovered that teaching through stories resonates better with his students than boring, mundane facts. His stories present new directions for the future.

 

Rebuilding the Foodshed appeals to and applies to a variety of readers as an easy-to-read textbook with stories about farming’s history, reality, and future. The casual reader can gather background knowledge for digging up their front yard to plant tomatoes and Swiss chard. And the farmer, already in the fields, will gather new ideas to implement. The book is filled with resources that broadens horizons and teach about that salad, veggies, meat, and glass of milk that you enjoy at dinner each evening. Since understanding our food supply and suppliers is critical to a sustainable green lifestyle, learn the history and help grow a new tomorrow.

 

“The work ahead of us is not easy. It requires us to move from a sense of individual resignation to a spirit of collective resolve. The values that drive us to begin this community-based, food-systems’ work must sustain us over the long haul. In the end, building resilient food systems is a remapping of our expectations. It is a cartography of hope.”

 

Professor Ackerman-Leist’s book raises challenging questions and encourages us to dig for answers that will work in our individual communities.

 

Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems (Community Resilience Guide), by Philip Ackerman-Leist was released in March 2013 by Chelsea Green Publishing. This is the third in a series of Community Resilience Guides; the others are: Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity by Michael H. Shuman and Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance and Launch Local Energy Projects by Greg Phal.

 


 

Roberta Binder: Facilitating Clarity through Mindful Editing at RobertaEdits.com. She is also a writer and photojournalist who enjoys all of her writing adventures with WNC Woman – Women Nurturing Change.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker