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Resilient Food Systems for the Future

our relationship to nourishment

July 31, 2010 by Paris

“If we plan and act early enough, and use our creativity and cooperation to unleash the genius within our local communities, then we can build a future that could be far more.”Rob Hopkins

As mentioned in my last entry, in addition to my work with the ashram’s food flow, I am completing my final project for my master’s in community and regional planning, looking specifically at planning for post-carbon food systems.

With a final deadline of August 15th, 2010, the last month has been filled with the rounds of draft deadlines and revisions. During these weeks, the garden has been a welcome sanctuary for making real the academic rhetoric that swirls in my head.

Planning for post-carbon food systems

Our world is undergoing a great change that is expected to proceed at an increasingly rapid pace for the next 40-50 years. The realities of peak oil are challenging us as individuals and as communities to rethink how our future may unfold and what we would like it to look like.

I believe we are past the point of simplistic efforts; the time has come for radical adjustments that create integrated and efficient results.  Adjustments in the form of actions and inquiry that encourage us to seek balance with the unknown and unexpected. The conversation must involve all levels of society, calling for reform and support from government, cooperation and creativity from the private sector and leadership and imagination from citizens. Most importantly the transformation has to happen today.

Considering how to embrace the change, the concept of resiliency (the ability to bounce back and thrive) is making its way to the forefront of many discussions. Increasingly practitioners, activists, academics are discussing what resilient communities could look like, and are talking about not only the practical tools that are needed but also acknowledging the social and spiritual void that plagues much of the urban experience. Two questions summarize my own process:

  • What are the powerful and practical tools that we need?
  • What systems do we need to be strengthening?

Engaging with the land and its people

With resilience in mind, I think of the words of Quaker activist Parker Palmer when he asks how can we better respond to “the heart’s longing to be connected with the largeness of life”. Looking specifically at food, I am curious about how to re-imagine a system that can bring forward the connection and community that my heart so desires.

My imagination lands at the base of a row of parsnips in the garden. Tiny and delicate, these seemingly robust tubers, require hours of careful attention to gently pull away the fierce competitors and give the seedlings the room to gather the energy they need to grow. Karma yogis gather in, heads bent and hands busy to free these precious leaves of green.

We work together to reveal the gifts, building on each others contribution until the job is done. Through our careful attention, these parsnips will increasingly strengthen until come next February, after bravely surviving a winter in the ground, they will be pulled up and celebrated as winter’s fresh produce.

Gently pulling away the fierce competitors

In my own life, I also recognize this generosity of space and care as it is given to me so that I too can cultivate my energy, shed away the competing desires and listen with precision to what my heart truly wants. I come back to the two questions, and again think about how I want to focus my energy at a personal and communal level.

The skills required to grow, process and preserve food are of course essential to daily existence. But the act of growing, processing and preserving food offers us much more than nourishment on the table. It offers us the time to engage in relationship not only with each other, but also with ourselves and the environment that supports us.

Food provides a medium for building community and rediscovering a place of magic and wonder – a place that I think presents a powerful point from which to bounce back and thrive. As Swami Radhananda has said, “The way things grow in the garden shows us the potential of the seeds of light within us all. The determination of plants is an example for us to carry forward into our own lives and into the world.”

In working with producers around the world, I have, in each setting, experienced how food links culture and identity. Through its embedded sense of comfort and security, food also provides an immediate orientation to the local culture by its invitation to engage with the land and its people.

Nourishment for healthy and vibrant communities

In each case, it is people coming together, connecting with one another and moving away from nourishment that is impersonal, processed, or unconsciously driven, to an experience that engages ritual and relationship. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spaces created through food production, processing and distribution are vital to healthy and vibrant communities, as are the relationships that guide them.

I am often reminded here at the ashram, that it is the quality and consideration that I bring to all my actions that unravels the mechanical and inspires the intentional, creating a place for the divine to enter in. In the garden, that opportunity is offered daily.

As Sarada Eastman reminded us, it is from the simple act of planting a seed, to layering a compost pile, to harvesting the abundance that we are quietly revolutionizing how we engage locally and globally. Radical acts of change through beauty, quality and community.

Paris Marshall Smith, Yasodhara Ashram’s garden manager is a UBC master’s intern, working with Michelle Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston B.C. Their collaboration will focus on regional food security for Kootenay Lake communities, read more:

This article has been featured as part of our July 2010 sustainability week.


  1. Paris, I’m so exited that you are doing this work! It seems like a bringing together of fragmented worlds into a whole. I would love to talk with you about food forests on Vancouver Island! Thank you for sharing your perspective & experience. Om Om

    Comment by Claire — July 31, 2010 @ 4:48 pm

  2. Paris – I am inspired by the work you are doing with this! I also am experimenting with ways to participate with this in my urban setting. The nourishment of community involvement for a sustainable thriving life seems so rich on many levels and I am eager to learn more.

    Comment by Deborah Rose — July 31, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  3. paris!

    how wonderful to read your words and feel the light in what you are doing.

    it really highlights how so much of the work around our food systems is focused on “trying to figure things out and solve problems” rather than approaching it in a transformative way ~ with our hands and everyday actions, our hearts & hearths and the spaces of cultivation BETWEEN people as people (rather than in our “roles” as policymakers or whatnot).

    what you remind us of is how the transformation is in re-learning to truly listen to and partner with the Earth, and coming into intentional relationship with how we sustain and are sustained through the Divine, the Light, the Sustainer,…
    thank you!
    xoxo vanessa

    Comment by vanessa reid — July 31, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

  4. Namaste Claire,
    So good to hear from you. Yes it is exciting work and yes food forests! I look forward to talking to you about them – Cynthia Lane introduced the idea to me as a possibility for the lands here – will be great to hear about your experience.
    Light, Paris

    Comment by Paris — August 1, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  5. Om Ommmm!!!

    Comment by paula richardson — August 2, 2010 @ 12:31 am

  6. Namaste Paula, Vanessa and Deborah – thank you for your comments. It is wonderful to see how these ideas come alive and indeed as you say Deborah – make them real in our own communities. It is exciting and humbling to see that is in fact quite simple – I look forward to hearing more about how you proceed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    With light

    Comment by Paris — August 6, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

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