Two Years Later: Food System Resiliency in the Face of Climate Change

By Ashley Seyfried, EGA Intern

Two years ago, Community Food Funders held a panel discussion on risk and resiliency preparedness after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Last week, North Star Fund hosted a follow up discussion to see what has changed, and what still needs to be put into action.

Since 2012, there has been increased communication between vital groups, and many plans have been made that shed light on what needs to be addressed in the face of climate change. Despite this good news, many new guidelines still need to be put in place, especially before the upcoming hurricane season, as well as in the next few years to prepare for the effects of how quickly our climate is changing. 

In the aftermath of hurricanes Irene and Sandy, food accessibility became a devastating issue. New York City has enough food to provide for its citizens for only 48 hours—after a hurricane, that is no time at all. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, the City was in a state of emergency for weeks with many citizens without access to necessary food, water, and supplies. With climate change worsening the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms as well as increasing the frequency of these disasters, the panel stressed that we need to be increasingly prepared with food and supplies by altering the way our food system operates currently. 

The panel kicked off with Jeff Thomas—who oversaw disaster recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—defining key terms and outlining where we need to improve within the food community. We need to become more resilient, and we need to collaborate to address the problem of resiliency. Not only do the extreme weather events of climate change pose a substantial problem, but the subtle changes in weather/climate patterns effect food production tremendously; a small frost after a warm streak in the spring can result in many farmers’ crops dying. When we think of farming, we usually only think of the ground and the land, but in the face of storms and overfishing, fisheries need to be included in the discussion as well. Natural disasters hit the coast first, where the majority of fisheries are, and in planning for the future, we need to focus more on fisheries, as they provide for 1.2 billion people every day. 

Not only do we need to become more resilient, but we also need to change the narrative around food to be more inclusive. Instead of asking who the next generation of farmers will be, we need to ask where the Latino, Black, and other minority farmers fit in. In the face of a disaster, lower Manhattan is first to be brought back to its feet, while most of the poor neighborhoods of the Bronx and Harlem are left suffering a lot longer. In order to be more prepared for the next hurricane, we need to make sure we do not have communities where people live their lives in extreme situations where they never have enough food, and we need to identify the people that are disabled, low income, homeless, or need more help than others, and make sure to more quickly provide food and supplies for them during natural disasters.

New York City’s infrastructure, including the transportation and storage of our food supplies, need to be altered as well. In order to make food more readily available, New York City distribution centers need to be decentralized and dispersed into mini hubs around the City. Brooklyn currently has zero hubs, and in a natural disaster where transportation is often cut off, many people will face food shortages. Additionally, New York City needs to be able to map out who is on the ground, where transportation units are and where they are going, to be better prepared when a disaster does hit. The panel insisted that community kitchens and housing areas for destroyed homes need to be identified well before a disaster hits so that when one does occur, we can utilize the space for communities.

Many advancements still need to be enacted for not only New York City, but for the rest of the world to be prepared for climate change. In order to do this, the panel stressed that organizations need to focus on both planning and funding. There also needs to be more coordination between philanthropists, government, and community organizations. By working together, we can make a concrete plan for concrete change, and from there, we can start implementing these changes to be better prepared. 

With climate change comes a change in how our world operates. Our food supply needs to be readily prepared so that citizens have access to this necessity not only during extreme weather events, but in everyday life.