On February 20, over 150 individuals filled Metabolic Studio near the Chinatown neighborhood to listen to a thoughtful conversation on the nexus of food, climate responsiveness and resiliency. Jonathan Parfrey, Executive Director of Climate Resolve, moderated the panel, which featured leaders and experts working at various scales to explore these very issues: Professor Stephanie Pincetl of UCLA California Center for Sustainable Communities, Alan Bacock of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe, Hop Hopkins of the Institute for Culture Ecology and Regenerative Communities, and Greg Good, Director of Infrastructure for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The title of the panel was “The Next 100 Years: Food and Climate Resiliency,” inspired by Metabolic Studio founder Lauren Bon’s community art project “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct,” which explored the impacts of the creation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on indigenous and food growing communities in Central California. The purpose of the discussion was to highlight how the kind of social and physical infrastructure decisions we make today have lasting effects on the climate impacted future food system for our region. Major themes under consideration included water supply, sustainable food growing practices, food waste recycling and creating a community culture of resiliency amid great environmental change.
Jonathan Parfrey kicked off the panel by providing some sobering statistics to show how our everyday actions directly impact not only our personal carbon footprint, but the carbon footprint of our city and region. He noted that it takes a whopping 27 pounds of carbon dioxide to produce one pound of beef. In addition, water-related energy use, including moving, treating, and using water, consumes 19% of California’s electricity.
Panelists encouraged attendees to think about resiliency in a regional context and cautioned against limiting notions of local self-reliance at the expense of rural farms. Hop Hopkins observed that industrial farming, whether conventional or organic, has created a monopoly on agriculture that makes it difficult for small-scale farmers to attain economic security and noted the need for efforts to support small-scale farmers and reward them for practicing social and environmental responsibility. Stephanie Pincetl added to that, arguing that California has always had a vibrant agricultural sector, and there is a need to strike a balance between encouraging urban food production and supporting small-scale and sustainable farms across the state. She also pressed urban agriculture enthusiasts to consider the dilemma of local water supply in the arid Southern California region. Jonathan Parfrey pointed out that climate change will impact imported water sources. Local food growing could be a part of a more sustainable watershed management but could also be a strain on limited local water sources if not done thoughtfully.
Greg Good of the Mayor’s Office located our understanding of resiliency in terms of municipal infrastructure decisions. Food waste sent to landfills to rot, Good pointed out, emits methane gas, a greenhouse gas 23 more times more toxic than carbon dioxide. The recently passed waste hauler exclusive franchise system will expand food scrap recycling and composting in Los Angeles, which both cleans the atmosphere and reclaims wasted food for further use. Diverting food from landfills and creating clean compost supply for local farmers is an important part of sustainable infrastructure of the future.
At the grassroots level, work is being done to expand the definition of resiliency to include all people, plants and animals. Under Bacock’s leadership, the Big Pine Paiute Tribe in the Owens Valley is reconnecting with their ancestral water management and food growing practices by installing ditches along ancient infrastructure and companion planting to increase water and soil stewardship. In the Altadena area, Hop Hopkins is spearheading initiatives to increase the accessibility and cultural competency of sustainable living initiatives and connect local stakeholders so that communities of color and working class communities can realize the economic and social benefits of these environmental efforts. He’s currently working with L.A. Compost, a bike-powered composting social enterprise that produces and sells hyperlocal, high quality compost while educating residents and employing youth.
Alan Bacock offered some last words to conclude the panel by urging us to reduce water waste. That water, he reminded us, was diverted from his community in the Owens Valley, a region that was environmentally and economically devastated as the result of the diversion. And while we cannot rewrite the past, we can play our part in recognizing the gift we have received from the Owens Valley community and valuing the water flow from his people to our city.
“The Next 100 Years: Food and Climate Resiliency” was an initial exploratory conversation on the environmental needs of our local and regional food system, and how we can integrate climate change and resiliency into our work as food policy stakeholders. We look forward to continued conversation and practice on this important topic with all of you.