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Sustainability: Cultivating Climate Resilience

By Dayna Reggero

Resilience is more than just the ability to adapt to adversity. It results from connections between health, family, culture, and community, both locally and globally. It is what inspires us to ask questions and it is why we are moved to change behaviors. Cultivating resilience at the intersection of ecological, social, and economic well-being enables us to adapt to change, including climate change.

Asheville saw a record amount of rainfall in 2013 (Southeast Regional Climate Center) and 2014 was the Earth’s hottest year on record (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Communities around the world are dealing with severe storms, drought, rising sea levels, and more, along with the resulting ecosystem changes, displaced individuals, business disruptions, and other impacts from climate change.

“Resilience requires us to see with new eyes, to ask different kinds of questions, to embrace uncertainty, and to find opportunity in change,” writes local author Laura Lengnick in her new book Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate (June 2015, New Society Publishers).

“We cannot depend on human ingenuity alone, but must finally acknowledge our deep dependence on the natural world,” says Laura. Responding to these challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities presented by our changing climate ultimately begins at home, within our families, about seemingly everyday things like the food we eat, and in our farming, business, and faith communities.

Laura is a researcher, educator, and farmer whose work explores the community-enhancing potential of sustainable agriculture and food systems. Laura contributed to the third National Climate Assessment as lead author of the USDA report Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation.

In addition to featuring world-renowned local food and top chefs, Asheville is also a global climate hub and home to leading climate thought leaders and think tanks creating and accelerating climate solutions, including the National Climate Assessment and U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit. Scientists, writers, artists, educators, web developers, and others are working to create tools, technology, campaigns, and other place-based solutions.

“I see Asheville as a community that cultivates resilience through a long tradition of self-reliance and entrepreneurship, a wealth of natural resources, a lively social conscience, a strong belief in the value of education, and a deep respect for diversity, innovation, and alternative ways of being and doing.”

Laura’s book features stories from 25 award-winning farmers from across the United States. Maple Spring Gardens in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, shared that crop diversity has been the best insurance against the higher summer temperatures and more frequent and intense weather extremes; Brown’s Ranch located near Bismarck, North Dakota, identified the capacity of the ranch’s healthy soils to buffer more variable rainfall and temperatures; and Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin, said there is “no normal anymore” and credits the local community and the farm’s CSA members with providing crucial support during recovery from the catastrophic flooding.

The Climate Listening Project, a storytelling effort based in Asheville, collaborated with Laura to film a few of the farmers featured in her book: North Carolina vegetable and fruit grower Ken Dawson, South Carolina dairy farmer Tom Trantham, and Georgia rancher Will Harris.

These individuals, who have been farming for generations, have built strength and adaptability by making changes and taking risks—not just as they were needed or after they were needed—but preemptively. Their stories and the innovative efforts they have employed on their farms and in their communities provide a roadmap for resilience.

“I argue in the book that agriculture is a fundamental driver of community resilience,” Laura says, adding, “The industrial food system touches so many aspects of our lives: land and water resources, global warming, public health, social justice, poverty, population, biodiversity. All the big challenges of our times can be directly connected to the way we eat.”

We have the tools and ability to transform our lives and our relationships in ways that enhance the well-being of our communities. Climate change challenges us to think about how we might create a new quality of life through local conversations with global implications.

Dayna Reggero is the producer of the Climate Listening Project (climatelisteningproject.com). She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and Great Dane.

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