In This Article
- Danielle Nierenberg is a leading advocate for environmentally and economically sustainable food and farming systems.
- She is also the founder of Food Tank, an organization that acts as a global convener, research organization and non-biased creator of original research impacting the food system.
- In conversation with Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari, Nierenberg said that, although agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, it can also be one of the biggest solutions.
- She pointed to regenerative agriculture in particular, saying “[There’s a] growing consciousness that things need to change" partly because of the pandemic.
According to food systems expert Danielle Nierenberg, sustainable and regenerative agriculture can be scaled to feed the nearly 330 million people in the United States daily while also mitigating climate change. But we might need to move past some preconceived notions to do so.
“I think we have to start redefining what scale is,” Nierenberg said. “There’s this idea that scaling up [means] you have to grow and be bigger. There are other ideas around scaling out or replicating.”
As the co-founder of Food Tank, Danielle Nierenberg is a leading advocate for environmentally and economically sustainable food and farming systems in the United States and around the world. She is also the 2020 recipient of the Julia Child Award, which honors an individual who has made a profound and significant difference in the way people cook and eat in the U.S.
On Jan. 27, Nierenberg and Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari held a live chat to discuss the challenges and opportunities for building more resilient food systems beyond COVID-19. Nierenberg pointed to Heifer International’s model as an example of how environmentally and socially sound agricultural practices can improve farmers’ incomes while bolstering food systems.
“If you look at Heifer’s model around the world, you’ve been able to create massive scale by replicating and [by] farmers teaching other farmers,” she said. “And I think maybe that’s the mindset we need to have, spreading that kind of movement instead of that upward trajectory that people mostly think about.”
Nierenberg added that currently, most of the world’s population is fed by smallholder farmers, and she said traditional scaling methods in the agricultural industry during the pandemic in the U.S. led to supply chain disruptions and large outbreaks of COVID infections at processing plants. As an alternative, Nierenberg is a proponent of regenerative agriculture, which she lauds because “it’s always giving back.”
Regenerative agriculture is a farming method that rehabilitates the land, leaving soil richer and more productive and the ecosystem healthier. It is particularly effective at carbon sequestration, which lessens atmospheric carbon, a big driver of climate change.
“Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, but it could also be one of the biggest solutions to climate change,” she said, referring to regenerative practices. “And we need to start working on that right now.”
Now might just be the right time to push for change in food systems, Nierenberg says, with more interest than ever before in issues related to food access, affordability and equity because of the pandemic. “[There’s a] growing consciousness that things need to change,” she said. “We have a real moment.”
Nierenberg’s organization, Food Tank, has been promoting authentic, thought-provoking conversations like these for its eight-year existence, often among agricultural experts with differing viewpoints. “I am all about the uncomfortable conversation,” Nierenberg said. “That has been Food Tank’s mantra for the last eight years.”
Food Tank is an organization that focuses on building a global community for safe, healthy and nourished eaters. Food Tank acts as a global convener, research organization and non-biased creator of original research impacting the food system. The organization is publishing a book in early 2022 that examines ways to reset the food system through conversations with experts ranging from chief economists of the United Nations to small-scale farmers in Kenya and other countries who share the impact of COVID-19 and the learnings that came out of it.
“Food Tank is a unique initiative, especially considering that it was founded when food justice and food inequality were so under-reported and understood [seven years ago],” said Tanya Wenman Steel, director of the Julia Child Award, to Smithsonian Magazine. “Dani Nierenberg has sought to remedy this through conversations that bring both sides together to create a dialogue and come up with solutions. She has put a spotlight on not just the issues, but also on the solutions we as a world can actually achieve.”
The discussion with Danielle Nierenberg was a part of a speaker series, #HeiferTogether, which addresses the state of farmers around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the live, 20-minute virtual conversations, Pierre Ferrari and other Heifer International leaders talk to experts about the present and future of our global food and farming systems, small farming in the United States, tech in agriculture, farming as it relates to the environment, and more.