Eight Qualities of Resilient Food Systems: Toward a Sustainability/Resilience Index
The concept of ecological resilience fills lacunae in sustainability. Solving the world’s wicked problems is undermined by the fact that defining sustainability itself is a wicked problem. Traditionally, sustainability is defined by a focus on social, economic, and environmental criteria. In contrast, the ecological resilience perspective on sustainability focuses on continuing adaptation and innovation of complex adaptive systems rather than any evaluation criteria. Prominent among the qualities enabling such resilience is local self-organization. Locally self-organized processing and marketing has long been recognized as a crucial component of sustainable agricultural systems. Ecological resilience research focuses on understanding qualities such as the local self-organization necessary for systems to withstand and overcome disturbances (for example, climate change). This study seeks to determine the common qualities of such resilient locally organized food systems and compare them with those proposed by the most prominent resilience frameworks in the literature. Our case studies of resilient food systems in recalcitrant areas of the U.S. South result in eight common qualities that are consistent with the most prominent frameworks. This study is part of a long-term effort to define qualities of ecologically resilient systems that are universal across as many scales as possible. Toward that end, this article discusses those eight qualities in order to lay a foundation for future establishment of quantitative indicators and thus form a sustainability/resilience index (SRI). Such a quantitative index enables investigation of the relationships between agricultural system resilience and economic and social demographic indicators.
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