The food system that most of us encounter on a daily basis is sprawling — many of the fruits, vegetables, and grains we put into our grocery baskets are grown and processed thousands of miles away.
In the process, something vital is lost: our connection to the land and wildlife that make our complicated diets possible. After all, when you pick a tomato from the mountain of tomatoes in a grocery store, do you think of the months of effort it took to grow?
Not only that, this detached form of consumption undermines the very ability of the planet to create food.
In fact, the current food system accounts for roughly a third of the greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up the atmosphere. As the planet heats, it becomes harder to grow certain crops.
Industrial agriculture’s reliance on heavy machinery, monoculture farming, and chemical interventions has degraded soil worldwide, caused extensive deforestation, and polluted sources of water. Meanwhile, many of the communities that grow the food that’s packaged by corporate supply chains are unable to get enough to eat.
But movements for food and climate justice are growing worldwide. Smallholder farmers, environmental activists, and Indigenous organizers are exposing the hazards of the global food system and championing an alternative model of food production that prioritizes environmental and community well-being.
The US-based environmentalist Rob Greenfield has shown that it’s possible to grow and forage enough food to thrive on in suburban and urban settings, all while empowering neighbors to become successful gardeners. The Potawatomi writer and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer has written extensively on the power of gift economies to reorient our relationship to the planet;, inviting us to view everything that comes out of the ground as a gift rather than commodifying it. And the South African farmer Gugulethu Mahlangu is showing that enough food can be grown to feed everyone while also maintaining the health of the soil.
Transforming the global food system requires all of us to interrogate our diets and make food choices that support food and climate justice.
Here are six things you can do in your daily life to support farmers, the environment, and a new food system.
1. Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program or community garden.
As industrial agriculture grew around the world, many smallholder farmers were forced to sell their land because they couldn’t compete with the prices of giant operations. Some farmers resisted and developed alternative models of production to stay in business.
Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, is one example. CSAs create a symbiotic relationship between communities and farmers. Essentially, a person buys a share of a farm’s harvest for a set price and then receives regular shipments of vegetables, fruits, and other food. This system helps farmers pay the bills and earn enough income to keep going year after year. CSAs tend to practice organic farming, so by supporting them, you’re also supporting the rehabilitation of land and waterways.
CSAs are especially common in cities, but so are community gardens. Open to neighboring residents, community gardens use a cooperative model to grow crops, revive local ecosystems, and create a green oasis in spaces that are otherwise dominated by concrete and asphalt.
2. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Being able to buy avocados year-round is a modern convenience made possible by industrial agriculture. Although enjoyable, it’s not sustainable — vast operations of industrial agriculture convert varied land into monoculture systems to make this possible. But in the process, industrial agriculture harms soil and makes it harder to grow crops as the years go on.
Buying seasonal vegetables, fruits, and grains is a way to reject this artificial model and acknowledge the limited cycles of the planet. First off, you’ll have to research what foods are naturally available during which seasons. Then the fun part comes — under the normal constraints of the seasons, you’ll be able to learn and incorporate new recipes into your weekly rotation. You’ll also be doing your part to support regenerative agriculture.
3. Support regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is the antidote to industrial farming. Rather than degrading soil to meet the artificial demands of marketplaces, regenerative agriculture seeks to work in harmony with soil and the seasons by practicing crop rotation and sustainable irrigation and allowing for off seasons to let soil rebuild.
You can directly support this shift by buying from regenerative farms and also donating to organizations that financially support farmers as they make this transition. After all, it’s not cheap to transition to regenerative farming and it often takes a few years before yields come to fruition.
4. Start a small garden.
If you have a backyard, an outdoor space, or even a kitchen counter, you can start a small garden of herbs and other easy-to-grow crops, such as peppers. Starting a garden will help you develop a deeper appreciation for the way food is grown, while also providing you with some delicious, fresh vegetables.
5. Become a waterkeeper.
Industrial agriculture greatly misuses bodies of water by excessively draining and polluting them. You can become a champion for local bodies of water by joining the Waterkeeper Alliance and learning how you can advocate for cleaner and better management of water systems.
6. Become a friend to bees and butterflies.
Insects pollinate many of the crops we eat, yet they’re threatened by excessive pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change. You can foster butterfly and bee populations by growing flowers that they like. As the youth activist Duncan Jurman has shown, it’s very easy and can be done anywhere in the world.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.