Van Alen Climate Council
DESIGNING FOR THE FUTURE OF FOOD
Founded in 2018, the Climate Council is an interdisciplinary group of designers whose purpose is to investigate critical climate-related issues, inspire change-making design projects that can improve the environment and promote healthy communities, advocate changes in mindset regarding climate issues, and guide Van Alen’s innovative public programming, research, and design competitions. Designers and planners are uniquely situated as professionals who think abstractly, broadly, and radically while applying their ideas practically and locally. It is appropriate that the Van Alen Climate Council gathered in California, the source of most of the nation’s produce production, to learn about the nation’s food system. I was the Van Alen Climate Council’s research fellow that provided expertise, framework, and connections.
In this research we asked the following questions:
What is the role of designers in designing the future of food?
What ways are the people who comprise the food system—the farmer, the farm worker, and the consumer—impacted by climate change?
How can interdisciplinary design professionals enhance the security and resilience of communities that support or are conversely supported by the agricultural industry?
The economics and practices of farming have changed significantly in the past 30 years, and farms of all scales have had to significantly shift their farming practices to keep up with industrialized ag, environmental policies, and increasing demand to feed a growing population. While the Central Valley provides one of the greatest resources to the nation’s food access and quality, the investment into the communities is not commensurate with the value that the Central Valley brings. Climate change exacerbates the social and environmental challenges of a community that is already struggling with drought, food insecurity, poor air and water quality, and high unemployment.
The Climate Council visited the Central Valley in July 2018 and January 2019. The summer 2018 visit involved trips places associated with various facets of the region’s food industry, ranging from a large-scale farm to a tomato processing plant (read more about the 2018 Climate Council visit here). During the return visit in January 2019, the Climate Council built upon members’ foundational knowledge and delved into the social dimensions of the food system, focusing on the farmer, the farm worker, and the consumer.
We learned about advanced technologies and ambitious policies applied to increase efficiency and production output while responding to the realities of a changing climate. A discussion on the last day of the trip helped bring the trip to a close by identifying four themes for creating opportunities to advance sustainable food-systems solutions:
Create opportunities to Change People’s Perception of Food by celebrating and educating them about local food and culture.
Promote Alternative Industries through investing in tourism and technology.
Imagine Predictable, Resilient Systems by creating better housing, providing community resources and sustainable and reliable transportation, developing resilient practices, and passing regulatory change.
Provide spaces to Connect People and Culture by creating networks and physical spaces to bring people together in appropriate cultural areas.