What Role Do Community Food Forests Play in the Food System?

A local food system shown as what is really a supply chain.  (From www.nourishlife.org)


Today I am thinking about what role community food forests will play in the future of our food system.  I think our food system is often described as what is really a supply chain of planting and growing a crop through all the linear stages of consuming to disposing of food in the household or final destination. However, by simple definition and by using systems thinking- our food system is not just a linear supple chain, it is a whole that is greater than its individual parts. It has properties and patterns that emerge from the interactions and interconnections of all the parts such as the state of health of our American society as a whole, or the overall decline in knowledge integral to our existence- such as how to grow, harvest, prepare and store food as well as innately knowing what foods we need for nutrition or to affect how we feel. We tend to only know these things because we read about them or hear about them in the news rather than growing-up focusing on our own experiences with food. We have become, as a whole, disassociated with basic knowledge of our bodies, environment and nourishment needs. This thought reminded me of a quote from a well-known book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) that I came upon while reading a lesser-known, yet excellent book (Systems Thinking: A Primer by Donella Meadows).

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. . . . There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. —Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

An illustration that starts to show a more systemic view of the food system. (From www.nourishlife.org)

So what role can community food forests play by being added to our food system? In my opinion, they are less about providing food as they are about changing the rationality, the food culture, that emerges from our food system of the previous decades. They introduce the possibility for a new way of doing things that could eventually cause a shift in the food system. A shift in how we think about not only our range of food options (to include perennial and wild, under-utilized species), but also how we integrate food production with urban green spaces which provide multiple benefits to an ecosystem- including people, other animals, plants and parts of functioning life cycles like clean air, water and fertile soil.

Over time, as community food forests multiple in our cities, they will help contribute to people’s values and assumptions about use of urban space and food production. Those beliefs can help to shape a system by influencing patterns that emerge which create new trends, which in turn create new patterns that emerge from the system. Slowly this shifting of patterns creates a new system, one that hopefully reconnects us to each other and to our roots, literally and metaphorically.

How are community food forests changing how you view your local food system and the available possibilities?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.