This is where the hope lies.

Guest contribution by Alice Waters, chef, author, food activist, and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California.

We are living through an unprecedented time. The global pandemic has upended supply chains all over the world, adding unimaginable pressures to food systems already bowing under the weight of toxic and unsustainable industrial farming practices.

The current crisis has highlighted the fundamental flaws in the current agricultural system. But it has also revealed a truth about food and agriculture that has existed all along: smaller is better. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, we have been finding that small, local, regenerative food networks are more resilient than their industrial, scaled-up counterparts. They are better able to pivot, think creatively, and come up with novel solutions to the biggest issues of our time: food security, workers’ rights, and, of course, the inescapable reality of climate change.

The future of the planet depends on the success of these food systems, and it is up to us to make sure they succeed. Institutional restructuring has to happen everywhere for real change to occur. It is our most pressing, urgent need—for our own survival, and for the health, nourishment, and wellbeing of future generations.

I believe an essential place to begin is in the school system, with its immense buying power and educational potential. Schools are waking up to the idea that they can be vital, stable economic support systems for local, regenerative farmers and ranchers. This is what I call “school-supported agriculture.” Schools can become reliable and consistent buyers, paying organic farmers and ranchers in their area the real cost of food, directly, with no middleman. School-supported agriculture—with a centrepiece of a free organic and regenerative school lunch for every child—is an alternative economic engine that would cultivate local agricultural support networks everywhere and nourish all our students. The regenerative growers win, local communities win, and schools win.

Now more than ever, we need to share these sorts of creative food solutions and gather our best practices from countries around the globe. This is not so that we can force a homogenized, one-size-fits-all solution onto our food networks. The values we need to uphold are universal: nourishment, community, equity, biodiversity, stewardship of the land. But the ways in which we put these values into practice are richly varied, tailored to each environment, each culture, each climate. This is precisely how our food systems can not only withstand this current test, but transform, grow, and thrive.

The Beacons of Hope initiative shines a light on these diverse alternative food systems all around the world—the ones that are nimble and adaptive in the face of this crisis, that remain humane and vibrant despite the challenges that surround us. The changes we want to see are already happening, all around us, in thousands of cities, towns, and rural communities: in farms and schools and rooftop gardens, in food banks and seed banks and kitchens and organic greenhouses. The future of food is local.

This is where the hope lies.