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Toward a sustainable future defined by racial, economic and environmental justice

The Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill provides the path forward by creating a locally adapted regenerative food web economy designed to depend on healthy ecosystems.

Mississippi River
The Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

In the series “Our Planet,” David Attenborough makes this statement: “Never has it been more important to understand the natural world and how we can help it together.” With this statement, he defines our role and the urgency of this moment.

We are the stewards of a living, breathing planet. No one else performs the task of caring for the home we share. As communities make plans to face the climate crisis and live sustainably, we need to forge an unshakeable commitment to that role.

For thousands of years, communities living in challenging climates around the world have worked in partnership with nature to sustain themselves generating a wealth of knowledge, foods, skills and methods of preservation. Those strategic partnerships with nature remain the key to climate resilience, and healthy ecosystems are essential for generating the food we need, yielding clean water and sequestering carbon.

There is a crucial connection between the health of ecosystems and the health of people.

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Damage to ecosystems

We need a just food economy designed to nurture and maintain that connection. Yet today our communities are tethered to a publicly funded industrial food economy that extracts and contaminates ecosystems and produces greenhouse gas emissions.

The industry’s ecological impact is not a mystery, nor is it news. The condition of water and soil in locations where the industry operates provides undeniable evidence of damage to ecosystems. Thousands of miles of rivers and millions of acres of soil serve as repositories for chemicals — all of them are byproducts of industrial agriculture.

Wherever the industry operates, water is contaminated — including here in Minnesota at the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Downstream the story continues as the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico — a body of water identified as one of the world’s “largest dead zones” — a direct result of industrial agriculture. How did a river system so full of promise and life become a repository for chemicals?

The condition of water is one byproduct of the publicly subsidized industrial food economy which is created and maintained by the Farm Bill.

We must be clear. The federal Farm Bill combined with public funding and trade deals fuel the operations of industrial food chain-an industry which by design and practice is unsustainable. All of this is legal. And we all pay for it.

The only conclusion we can draw is this: We have a publicly funded food economy — just not the one we need to live sustainably. It is time to marshal  our public investments to set a new course together.

The path forward

The Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill (HF 1332/SF 1580) provides the path forward by creating a locally adapted regenerative food web economy designed to depend on healthy ecosystems and fulfill our role as stewards together.

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The design of the food web economy builds on the proven leadership of Indigenous communities whose partnerships with nature have generated the foods, skills, local ecological knowledge, and methods of preservation that  remain the foundation for our food security today. With that winning combination, they are the undeniable leaders in climate adaptation and food security.

By design and practice the decentralized, coordinated food web will generate abundant sources of food to be preserved, delivered and stored to eliminate waste and serve community needs every day.

Marita Bujold
Marita Bujold
From source to table, the food web operations will provide employment in agroecological farming, ecosystem and native habitat restoration, edible landscape management, culinary arts and food preservation, learning centers located in urban and rural landscapes, an effective delivery system and emergency preparation and recovery.

To be successful, habitats need to be restored to health to support native species and sustainable cultivation practices. Consequently, the bill provides resources for conventional farmers to discontinue participation in industrial operations and restore habitats to participate in growing food as members of the new economy.

Health and well-being for all communities

Of all the defining features of this economy the one that most distinguishes it from the industrial food chain is this: The regenerative food web is designed and operates to deliver health and well-being to all communities. From source to table, the locally adapted food web economy will connect all communities to a common purpose.

The Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill creates a just food economy designed to cultivate vital connections between urban and rural communities to care for the home we share and for one another and meet our common challenges together.

MN350 Action is actively promoting this bill as strategic climate solution. Rep.  Kaohly Her and Sen. Erin Murphy have introduced the bill in the House and Senate respectively. To date, 10 of their colleagues have signed on as co-authors.

The House Select Committee on Racial Justice Report [PDF] to the Legislature recommends supporting the economic resiliency program created by the Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill. This past year has revealed with undeniable clarity the enduring harms of systemic racism and the need to map a path forward defined by racial, economic and environmental justice. With this recommendation, our elected leaders are providing the resources to create that path forward.

We are the stewards of a living, breathing planet. No one else can perform the task of caring for the home we share.

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It is time to forge an unshakeable commitment to that role together with an economy designed to partner with nature to care for our home and deliver health and well-being to all communities.

Marita Bujold is the architect of the Headwaters Community Food & Water Bill, founder of Just Food and Water and a member of the MN350 Food Systems Team.

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