2019 Current Issue

Abundant, Affordable, Healthy Food

Key information for  teams:


Preliminary background and questions (June 2018)

Global human population is expected to grow from 7 billion today to 10 billion in 2050.  Will we be able to feed the human family?  What can Massachusetts contribute?

The task is tremendous.

Can we provide abundant, healthful food for all while protecting natural resources – including soil, water, and ecosystem diversity in terrestrial and marine environments – for the future?  The ecosystems that our agriculture and fisheries rely upon are showing increased strain from climate change and human consumption.

Many pieces of a sustainable solution are within reach.  Many are already underway in Massachusetts.  The answers encompass more than simply growing food.  A strong and healthy food system can provide other things we value as well:  human and environmental health, climate change mitigation, good jobs and robust local economies, open space protection, recreational opportunities, social justice.

How can individual Massachusetts communities – urban, suburban, exurban, and rural – contribute to addressing this global issue?  What small scale pieces of an overall solution are possible here? How can Massachusetts communities work together?

In 2019, Mass Envirothon teams will explore current and future prospects for growing, harvesting, and distributing food in their own home communities and across the Commonwealth:

  • They will become conversant in the big picture of how Massachusetts food system questions and issues come together, and
  • They will do in-depth research on their choice of the most salient issues and opportunities that face their communities.

A variety of questions and avenues for research are possible:

  • Should we change (grow? shrink?) our food system’s ecological footprint on the Massachusetts landscape? In what ways? Would this contribute to global sustainability?
  • How important are self-reliance and local food systems? Do they contribute to global solutions?
  • What changes will be required, particularly in our use of energy? The 2050 food system will not be able to rely on fossil fuels for cultivation, transportation, fertilizers, and pest control as in the past.  How will agriculture be a source and a consumer of renewable energy?  What will these changes mean for the cost and availability of food?
  • Growing disparities between rich and poor also complicate the picture – will we set a goal of food justice? How will we make sure that safe, nutritious food choices are affordable and available to all?
  • What role will new technologies and innovative practices play in the future of food? Diverse research and development initiatives in science and engineering are underway or anticipated, including building and conserving soil, hydroponics, genetic modification, vertical gardens, and more.  How will decisions be made about which research to pursue and which technologies and practices to put to use?
  • How important is waste reduction in the food system? What is the place of food rescue, gleaning, and composting – in terms of social justice, and in terms of our participation in carbon, water, and nutrient cycles and energy flow?
  • Does meat have a place in an ecologically sound food system? Should we be eating lower on the food chain in order to conserve natural resources?
  • What will be the place of hunting, fishing, and foraging from the wild in the future Massachusetts food system?
  • What is the role of governments in supporting sustainable agriculture? Regulations and incentives aimed at protecting the environment, protecting consumers, encouraging healthy eating, and strengthening agriculture have proliferated in recent decades.  Where do they work together?  Where are they at cross-purposes?  What more (or less) is needed?
  • Should we encourage and prioritize food production in Massachusetts agriculture? If so, how?
  • How can individuals and communities support sustainable agriculture beyond voting and consumer choices? What organizational arrangements, such as cooperatives, community-supported agriculture, and community farms, are possible and workable? What role will communication networks, collaborations, and alliances play?
  • What education and information resources will be important to a more sustainable food system?


Below is a preliminary list of helpful starting resources for teams to learn about issues and get connected with their communities (updated 6/15/18)

Massachusetts Food System Collaborative https://www.mafoodsystem.org/

  • Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan – completed in 2015, contains goals and recommendations for progress toward a sustainable and equitable food system.
  • Initiatives of the Collaborative – updates and resources on the Collaborative’s priorities for promoting, monitoring, and facilitating implementation of the Plan. Topics include sustainability and equity, food waste, addressing tensions between farmers and public health officials, pending legislation, and more
  • Stories – Examples of the Massachusetts food system in action, and how recommendations in the Plan can support the businesses and individuals who comprise the system – from farmers to consumers, and everyone in between. Each of these stories is connected to one or more Action items in the Plan.
  • Resources – Tools for food system advocates. Includes contact information for over 120 Massachusetts organizations that support and advocate for the food system.

Massachusetts “Buy Local” groups  http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/buy-locals.htm

  • Regional agriculture “Buy Local” organizations connect farmers to their surrounding communities and vice versa.

MassGrown Map https://massnrc.org/farmlocator/map.aspx

  • Locations and information for Massachusetts farm stands, agricultural fairs, farmers markets, CSA farms, aquaculture, and more

(Want a fast start on this year’s Current Issue?  Try the September Challenge!)

Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge’s presentation from Fall Workshop:
Soil Practices for Healthy Food

The American food system is excellent at raising crops. It is not, however, so good at raising healthy foods. That takes a carbon-rich, bio-diverse soil. Why are soil carbon and microbial life so important? What practices do our farmers need to adopt to improve the quality of our food and thus the health of those who consume it?

Jack Kittredge, Editor of The Natural Farmer and Author Soil Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job? , Julie Rawson, Executive Director, Northeast Organic Farming Association/Mass. Chapter and head farmer at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s