Recently, Agrible systems engineer John Cassel attended the fifth annual Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium in Toronto, Canada. Food and sustainability were major themes, with three workshops being directly related to food systems, an entire research track being devoted to design for sustainability and flourishing, and food system sustainability appearing in talks throughout the conference.
This year's symposium was not an exception, but showed a growing interest in food systems among designers. Program committee lead chair, Peter Jones, noted that food and agriculture have been growing topics over the past few years. The 2016 program committee chair, Silvia Barbero, expanded her research to agriculture and rural development issues from her initial interest in energy systems.
Why are designers getting involved with food? No matter the kind of design they do, designers are responsible for getting people together and figuring out new products, services, and systems which meet emerging needs. How will the food systems continue to deliver people nutritious and affordable food with growing population, the threat of a changing climate, pesticide resistance, and other challenges? Responsible designers engaged in food products are trying to grapple with these concerns.
Conference participants were delighted to hear of Agrible's work. Agrible's Sustainable Sourcing Yield Program solves a collective action problem, allowing farmers with sustainable practices to deliver sustainably grown crops that companies can rely upon, allowing them to deliver the promise of more sustainable production in their products. In return, growers are compensated for these practices, turning previously uncompensated efforts into added value. This is the "first link" in the supply chain that turns commodities into the kind of mindful services that customers are increasingly demanding.
John's academic work has turned to bringing the design practices already present in agriculture to the attention of the design community.
"Occasionally, designers aren't aware of all of the sophistication already present in agriculture. The more I look at it, every kind of contemporary agricultural practice has processes or traditions that helps them deal with all of the decisions they need to make. In order for designers to help them with an even more complicated present of worldwide markets, biofuels, carbon farming, automated equipment, data analysis, and climate change, designers must understand today's food systems. Fortunately, the designers I’ve dealt with are up to engaging this challenge."
John's work will take him to every niche of horticultural practice, including holistic management and permaculture, to rediscover agronomic design methods.
The RSD conference is a great place to continue developing a better understanding of agricultural and food systems. RSD also is a place for developing policy, as it is attended by many from the Canadian government. In a previous year, the conference was partially sponsored by the province of Alberta, and this year saw the attendance of a deputy secretary of the cabinet. Food policy that understands agriculture is vital to avoiding missteps when making well-meaning interventions.
Here at Agrible, we are working to assure that the global food supply is sustainably sourced. By partnering with growers, we are optimizing their opportunities by helping them tell their sustainability stories and connecting them with consumers looking for sustainably grown crops.