Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project

August 7th, 2014 by James Russell

Rebuilding ‘foodshed’ and community resilience

By Diane Conners

In my previous life as a reporter for the Record-Eagle from 1986 to 1998, I remember reporting on two words that were new to me at the time.

The first was “watershed”—how our streams, bays and lakes are connected, and require a bigger-picture look at water quality in our region. Then came “viewshed,” as land preservationists described what was being lost during an era of rapid and sprawling growth.

Now comes “foodshed,” which again defines something of value and something that, by its very nature, is local.

“Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems,” by farmer and university professor Philip Ackerman-Leist, is the third book in the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project, which draws upon a list of books the local activist felt people should read and discuss together. Ackerman-Leist starts with a history of how we came to the largely industrial food system that we have today, where it’s often easier for a school in our region to purchase lettuce from California, for example, rather than from farmers right down the road. Technology like refrigeration and railroads played a role in making this happen, as did the entrepreneurial acts of men like the Gold Rush-era Armour brothers.

Ackerman-Leist’s book is laced with humor, research, maps—even references to literature—and he cautions against polarization and preaching for “local-only.” He notes that a diversity of options provides resilience in the face of local disasters like drought, hurricanes, and industrial accidents.

Nonetheless, he says, modernization did not require the wholesale destruction of our ability to buy from local farmers, or farmers’ ability to sell nearby. He calls on us to be food “citizens” rather than just consumers, and to identify opportunities to “re-localize” our food system for things of value to our communities that we lost by allowing only national and international food systems to dominate.

Ackerman-Leist also makes the case for communities to invest in rich soils for growing food and in recycling waste into energy, with local job opportunities in both. He advocates for valuing everyone from low-income families to farmers, farm workers, and local processors, distributors and buyers. He provides models of edible landscape initiatives; local food-oriented employee wellness benefits; food hubs; and apprenticeships and community capital for young farmers.

A foodshed—like a watershed and a viewshed—is local. And local, Ackerman-Leist says, is “within the sphere of our influence and care. “

“Rebuilding the Foodshed,” available at local bookstores, will be discussed at Meadowlark Farm near Lake Leelanau starting with a potluck at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 20. More information is available at

Diane Conners is a senior policy specialist at the Michigan Land Use Institute. She is a board member of the Grand Traverse Foodshed Alliance.

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