Environmental Integrity

Moving Beyond Industrialism

Bouncing Forward to a Resilient Food Future - Part Two

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TITLE: Moving Beyond Industrialism: Bouncing Forward to a Resilient Food Future - Part Two

AUTHOR: Laura Lengnick

PERMISSION TO PUBLISH granted by the author.  All rights reserved.

An excerpt from Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, 2nd edition, New Society Publishers, 2022.  

Social-ecological resilience science offers new concepts, a new language and a framework for decision making that is uniquely suited to the novel uncertainties of our times. For example, we can follow the three rules of resilience to reimagine new ways of living in community that cultivate: 1) networks of equitable relationships; 2) regional self-reliance; and 3) the local accumulation of community-based wealth, including natural, human, social, financial and technological resources. And resilience thinking can help us to name and then work to heal the harms of industrial thinking that have been so damaging to land, people and community since colonial times.

It’s not by chance that the core principles and practices of the U.S. sustainable agriculture and food movements cultivate resilience, because both sustainability and resilience thinking are contemporary expressions of the wisdom known to our Indigenous ancestors about how to live well in community. Although industrial thinking encourages us to deny, denigrate and ignore this wisdom, it lives on as points of light within the darkness of our colonial legacy that illuminate the more beautiful world we know is possible. I can see this light clearly in the early organic farming movement, in biodynamic agriculture, in mutual aid societies, in the labor movement and the cooperative movement, in the wave upon wave of social justice movements that have confronted the harms of industrial thinking for centuries.

The sustainable food and farming movement is one of these points of light, however incomplete and imperfect,that has tended to this wisdom and worked to keep it alive. Sustainable food and farming activists have prepared the ground, sown the seeds, harvested and shared the bounty of the Earth in a celebration of all that we know about how to live well on this planet. We have worked together, in community, to find new ground and plant it with the seeds of our resilient future.

How do we get to that future from here?  Resilience thinking can help.

To get started, we can use the three rules of resilience to answer questions like:

·  Does the proposed solution promote a diverse network of reciprocal relationships? Resilience thinkers value solutions that enhance mutually beneficial foodways relationships that cultivate response, recovery and transformation capacity.

·  Does the proposed solution promote regional self-reliance?  Resilience thinkers value solutions that reduce foodways dependence on the import of critical resources and the export of products and wastes.

·  Does the proposed solution promote the local accumulation of community-based wealth? Resilience thinkers value foodways that generate a diverse, locally-controlled portfolio of high-quality resources required for community well-being.

Resilience thinking can help us “flip the script” of business as usual by identifying community-based solutions that cultivate resilience and penalize (or at least stop subsidizing!) actions that maintain or enhance the fragility of the system.

Where will the most popular foodways solutions take us? Where do your own favored solutions lead? No one knows what the future holds, but resilience thinking can help us confidently make the shift towards a new American foodways that serves land, people, and community better than the way we eat today.

The resilient way forward requires a transformation, a change in form and function and, perhaps most importantly, a change in the purpose of the U.S. food system. It is not one path but many paths, not a silver bullet but silver buckshot, a diversity of individual adjustments and adaptations within industrial foodways that will move us from fragility to resilience. Anyone who eats has an important role to play incultivating a resilient agriculture.

As we consider this path, it’s important to remember that it does not lead us back to the future. Since colonial times, American foodways have degraded land, people and community. It is also important to remember that resilience is not just another name for sustainability. Resilience thinking changes the rules of the game. It changes the way we define problems and the way we evaluate solutions. Resilience thinking can help us as we step forward into a future that has the potential to be as different from our current reality as agriculture was to our foraging ancestors.

Are you ready to step on the path to a resilient agriculture?  Read on to learn about 12 things that you can do at home and in your community to promote resilient land, people and community in the place you call home.


Silver bullet brands are products marketed to consumers as the solution to climate change even though it is widely acknowledged by scientists and policy-makers that changes made by individual consumers are not enough to slow down and reverse global climate change.

Laura Lengnick is an award-winning soil scientist who has worked to put sustainability values into action in U.S. food and farming as a researcher, policy maker, educator, activist and farmer.  Laura served as a lead author of the first USDA report on adapting U.S. agriculture to climate change and led the development of the agriculture action plan in North Carolina’s 2020 Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan.  She is the founder of Cultivating Resilience, LLC, an Asheville-based consulting firm that works with organizations of all kinds to integrate resilience thinking into operations and strategic planning, and serves as the Director of Agriculture at the Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming. She resides in Asheville, NC. You can learn more about Laura and her work at www.cultivatingresilience.com.