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Donahue envisions a sustainable future for New England food

Published: September 5, 2014
Section: News


Professor Brian Donahue, an environmental studies professor at Brandeis, co-authored a booklet titled “A New England Food Vision.” This text considers a healthier future where New England would have greater food independence if it were to produce more of its own food needs. The ultimate goal in “Food Vision” is for New England to produce half of its food needs by 2060. The booklet also gives guidance on how this proposal could be achieved. This optimistic vision for the future could create a higher quality of life for New Englanders.

Many researchers and hundreds of New Englanders contributed to the project, which was a culmination of three years of collaborative work.

“It was mostly my idea at first, but it took shape over several years with many other people,” Donahue said in an interview with The Hoot. “I had previously worked (with a different group of authors) on a similar project about the future of New England’s forests called ‘Wildlands and Woodlands,’ so that gave us a nice framework to start with.”

Donahue has a very strong personal investment in the project and has been interested in issues of sustainability and farming for a long time. “I have been a farmer since I dropped out of Brandeis in 1975, and I have been involved with the sustainable farming movement since that time also,” he said. “I have written about that, and also about New England’s farm and forest history. So this is a lifelong passion for me.”

A few core values guide the book’s food vision, including access to healthy food as a basic human right, healthier diets for New Englanders based off USDA recommendations and environmentally sustainable food production.

The booklet contains many different sections, including a historical perspective on farming and food in New England, and sections dedicated to sustainable farming and socioeconomic implications of the report. There are also specific tips on how people can move from vision to meaningful action. The main objectives of the report are to inspire people to act and engage in discussions with others so that such a sustainable food system can come to fruition.

There will be some challenges that come with implementing a more sustainable food system. Donahue said, “The biggest challenges are policy changes that would reward people better for being good stewards of land and growing healthy food, making sure that healthy food is available for everybody and connecting people who want to farm with land.”

However, there are many people who are becoming more interested in sustainable farming. Donahue said, “I am hopeful because there has been a change, and a lot more people are interested in good food and farming and are working hard to make change. In the 1970s, I expected enormous changes to happen very soon, but they didn’t—which meant that the surge of interest that has come along in the past 10 or 15 years is an unexpected and pleasant surprise to me.”

“A New England Food Vision” was written in order to create dialogue about food sustainability. It can be accessed on the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) website.