Friday, October 31, 2008


One of the things that strikes me again and again is the need to affirm and recover local knowledge in the transition to a sustainable food system.

Local knowledge has not often been taken seriously (a hangover from the 19th century missionary movement?) in fostering "better" agriculture practices in the developing world.

But one of the things I wonder is, how long does it take for local knowledge to be lost? If folks have been emulating industrial monocropping for more than a generation, as is true in some places, how much helpful local knowledge have they retained? Are the elders there to transmit it? And how does local knowledge hold up in the face of accelerating climate change?

In the U.S. it may be even more challenging. We are so mobile - it takes a while even to figure out where the local knowledge is. I don't know the history of the land where our community garden is, and I bet no one tending a plot there does. This is something we need to research - and find the folks with the stories.

I worry a lot about the loss of household skills in food preservation and preparation. I met a woman on the plane yesterday, about two decades younger than I am, who grew up in rural Iowa in a household where everyone went fishing and berrying and there were work parties at harvest time to can and prepare foods for freezing. Frankly, I never thought I would meet someone younger who did these things; it was reassuring. There still are people to pass these skills along. But Faith now lives in a "town home" with no garden space, and has lost touch with all but a few sources of local, sustainably grown food.

One of the five R's for Environmental Change-makers is ReSkill. The challenge, I think, is how to find and nurture those who can help us with the work of reskilling, of handing on the local knowledge, the skills of a local, sustainable, secure food system.

1 comment:

John Leech said...

Yes! - we are trying to encourage learning and passing along knowledge between generations. Ruth whose grandparents owned the land on which our church was built, remembers their cellar as a lively canning place. And neighbors' churches have quilting. Then there are the woodcrafts.

Just learned that Bill McKibben is lecturing at Northland College 11/11/08 on sustainability.

And that they have a new website for their Eco-Visionary Program at and blog at