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Mother Nature's Equal

Our 2050 vision is to cooperatively engage in non-biased conversations while building a resilient & gender equal food ecosystem for all.

Photo of Wally Graeber
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Slow Food Youth Network USA

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Youth Organisation (between 18 - 30 years old)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

- Southern Heights Food Forest - Open Harvest Cooperative Grocery - National Young Farmers Coalition - Slow Food Youth Network USA - Our Climate - Elder Climate Legacy

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Chicagoland Area around the southern shores of Lake Michigan - Rich soil, interconnected, fresh water available & 10 million pop area

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

-Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) Chicago is the fastest growing chapter in the USA
- Family connections in education, government, agriculture, land access, preservation
- Urban and rural agriculture is transforming in a just and equitable direction
- Recently elected female and minority mayor

- $569 billion in economic GDP (3rd in USA)

- 9.5 million people (1% of Global population in 2050)

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

To bring a 2050 food future to fruition for healthy people and land, our soils must be full of organic matter, regenerating, fungal, and porous. A U.N. report released in August 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland found that soil is disappearing worldwide as much as 100 times faster than it can be replaced, and half a billion people live in places that are turning into deserts. As cited by the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Illinois, "Soils of the Chicago region were formed by five universal factors: parent material, topography, organisms, climate, and time. Enormous continental glaciers crossed the land about 14,000 years ago like a grinding bulldozer, making soil parent material and moving it around into concentric ridges called moraines. The climate provided water to move through these materials and freezing and thawing to cause further weathering. Topography concentrated the water from high to low areas, above and underground. In turn, soil moisture and the warm seasons supported the plants and animals that worked to make the interconnected sponge-like fabric of the soil."

Subsurface water is generally plentiful in Illinois. However, irregular gravel deposits from glaciation can lead to difficulties predicting depth of the water table. Annual rainfall for the Chicagoland area is 34 inches (860 mm). The Mahomet Aquifer is a large aquifer used as a source for public water supply by many communities in Central Illinois.

As of the 2010 Census, the metropolitan area had a population of 9,729,825. The population density was 1,318 per square mile. The racial makeup was 52.8% Non-Latino White, 22.1% were Latino, 16.7% were Non-Latino African Americans, and 6.4% were Asian. Other ethnic groups such as Native Americans and Pacific Islanders made up just 2.0% of the population.

With 2,640 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is well-equipped to turn the state's crops and livestock into food and industrial products. In fact, the state ranks first in the nation with $180 billion in processed food sales. Most of these companies are located in the Chicago metropolitan area, which contains one of the largest concentrations of food-related businesses in the world. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS), as of April 2019, Illinois had 72,000 farms. In conclusion, as seed above in the regional food system maps, Chicagoland's population density, size, access to low emissions freight, political climate and equitable land access make it the best match for our vision, and we have personal relationships with people who are active in the good food movement there. It is home to many urban and semi-urban indoor leafy green growing facilities and is in the Heartland of the Midwest. O'Hare airport has surpassed Atlanta, Georgia for the busiest airport in the country, being able to connect people from far and wide to what Chicago has the potential to be in the 2050 vision of our food system. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Dear 2030 Visionary Community Judges-

We are in this food system together, so let’s set the stage. Today you, me, and the current 7.7 billion people we call our neighbors, live on Earth together. In 30 years, we will be here together with an estimated 10 billion neighbors. We don’t and won’t all know each other, but we all know we are here together. How old will you be? I am 30 today and will be 60 in 2050. Thus, each of the next 11,000 days we will wake up as neighbors, sharing our resources and our time. This means we all have 11,000 chances, health willing, to wake up and decide how our future will look. What smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and touches do we want to wake up to, each of the next 11,000 mornings? 

Pause here for a FULL minute. Give yourself the opportunity to imagine how each consecutive morning would look if we created our food future together by building forward with intention, conviction, and positive steps to co-create our new future.

This time is yours, as much as it is mine, to dream and create this vision with me. If you would like some suggestions to get the fire going in your mind, please peek below, in no particular order. Pay close attention to your senses to challenge how your mind looks at everyday experiences:

- What does the material of our plates taste and smell like? Are the materials renewable?
- What is the quality of life for the people in the area where our cooking fuel is sourced from? Is the quality of life resilient?
- How far, at what speed, and with what air quality along the route does our food travel to arrive at our breakfast table? Is the transportation healthful?
- What does the water taste like and how was it sourced, from where your ingredients are grown?  Is the water system interconnected?
- How much will we pay for those precious food ingredients and with what personal career? Is the price economical?
- How were the people in our democracy elected to enact what support programs brought all the pieces together to us in a fair, just and clean manner? Is the system equitable?

Thank you for taking a minute to let yourself dream. Your mind can circle and circle on these myriad of scenarios, in ways that typically you do not ask yourself. But if we all start to really dig into the “why”, we will come to a when, which comes together to create the scenario of how. Here, we will vision how we will regenerate our environment, nourish our diets, equalize our economies, celebrate our cultures, embrace our technologies, and cooperatively engage in our policies. During these next 11,000 days, we have the fortunate gift to do this food system work together. I would like to see us all wake up to deeply caring for one another, from farm to fork, and all places & people along the food system chain. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

As a student of Landscape Architecture, I have taken an oath to practice my profession for the health, safety, and welfare of the public. This promise to myself and to my community can be seen in my ethical designs, positive attitude, and holistic systems approach. To be holistic, we must practice by listening intently to a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds. Without embracing diversity, we are not creating the just and fair food system we all have the right to. Thus, I have been taught and put into practice participatory design that not only take into account the assets of a community but more importantly celebrate, uplift and empower the people, place and culture of a site. A space like our global food system must create these spaces at all scales to shift the narrative to being truly fair and equitable. 

Looking deeper into the scale of a site; in the profession of Landscape Architecture  a site starts at the microscopic rhizomes in the soil beneath our feet and extends to the edges of our visual horizon and beyond. Everything is connected and we as humans are not only a part of nature, but nature ourselves. A mentor of mine, Odessa Piper, a trailblazer of a four-season, farm-to-table restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, links this thinking to an act of “Eating like a planet.”. We must understand that our daily actions in our food system are shaping our world, our plates, our gut microbes and our mental synapses. What we decide is being planted in a field this year in Northern Illinois, will in fact, shape how someone is feeling and living in Central China. This cannot be ignored and must be taught and embraced in our education as citizens. We are all interconnected and our relationships from one side of the globe to the other must be recognized.

At this point, I feel I am writing to you like I would deliver a religious sermon or a graduation ceremony. But instead, I have chosen not to turn this into an audio or video submission so instead you can imagine me as your neighbor, without prejudices. You know my age and my location, but not my race or gender. I say this to recognize that we all are born with innate prejudices which we have not chosen to learn. Our experiences have shaped us to a point that our actions are not always conscious. I believe that if we are going to create a resilient, nourishing, just, participatory, engaged food system; we all must recognize where we are starting from and see others as our kin no matter the characteristics of their identity. As you continue to read through applications through throughout February I wish you a mind of clarity, free of implicit bias, and judgement.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Because, if we are going to create the food system in our community and world we want to see, we must start to care for people like they are our closest, most loving grandmothers. Grandmothers who were the first person to hold us and grandmothers who we are the last person to hold them as they move onward. Our food system landscape is connected in immeasurable ways through women of all ages, though often not seen or celebrated. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide, and in some countries they make up 80 percent of all farmers. If we loved and respected the people in our food system like our grandmothers and gave women the same access to resources as men, women could raise their current yields by 20 to 30 percent—this would lift as many as 150 million people out of hunger. It is women who grow the food to nourish our families while the men typically raise the food for commodity sales. 

We must start to treat, respect and give equality to all of the people in our food system if we are going to uplift and create a vision for our collective, cooperative, co-created food system future. To bring about this future, we do need technological innovation to create our fight for fair, transparent, accountable and accessible elections that are inclusive of all genders. We need mutual care, resilient respect, equitable rights and the fair & enforced policy to give 50% of the people in our food system the support they deserve. This means, in 2050, we must create the care for the women in our lives that creates a culture to advocate on their behalf. 5 billion women are the nourishing force in our food system. We must fight for equity for each and every one of us. If we are successful, over the next 11,000 days, 500,000 women a day must be recognized to have these equal rights within our food system and overall society.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

If successful by 2050, we will connect the dots to pay fair wages, reduce our resource waste, and treat each other equally; gender aside. My regenerative and nourishing vision for 2050 is to cooperatively engage in non-biased conversation, build a resilient ecosystem that we are a part of, care for each other as though we are all each others’ grandmother while we consciously act with diversity, inclusion, and equity in our food system. If we can bring these ethics to the table, day in and day out for 10,000 days without prizing greed, power, or personal gains; we have a chance. If we follow these ethics we may have a very good chance to connect with one another in a food system that is more nearby, more affordable, more equitable, more just, more and more sustainable. It must be a group effort and it must respect us all as though we were all each others’ grandmother. 

My grandmother is Mary Jane Radtke. She was a daughter, a mother, a farmer, a cook, a caretaker, a nourisher, and my best friend. Both our farmers and our cooks deserve the love and respect that our grandmothers do. If we can take care of each other in this food system as she did for me and many others around her, we can create a food system that we can all be proud of. Her memory, as does your own grandmother’s memory, lives on through you. So please ask yourself what you want your 2050 Food System to look like, by also asking what your grandmother would want her's to look like.

Thank you for embracing an emotional and equitable vision for our collective food future. As I wrote to you, I thought of her and I hope as you work towards selecting the next round of semi-finalists, you channel your inner grandmother. My teammates are strong supporters but will not be signing on at this level of the vision. They are here in spirit and will continue to offer new ways of thinking, new visions, practical applications, and moral support. If selected, they are excited to be included in this quest to co-create a 2050 Food System Vision that is represented by their place in our global food ecosystem.

Similar to your inner grandmother, they are curious, adventurous, full of wisdom and hope. When you find a way to tap into that place, we will all flourish and grow together. My grandmother taught me to love nature and my neighbor and much as I love myself. It must start from within for us all to become nourished. As we vision for what our food system will look like, taste, feel, smell and feel like in 30 years, let’s study and respect mother nature. Or better yet, let’s treat mother nature as though she were our grandmother, to transform our soil microbes and eventually our entire tiny pale blue dot we all call home, Earth.

-W. C. Graeber

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Facebook


Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, Wally Graeber ! Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Personally, I find a deep resonance with your proposed Vision. Thank you for this inspiring approach. I encourage you to find like-minded Visionaries throughout this platform to exchange insights, feedback, and possible collaborations.

Please make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision. You can update your submission until 5:00 PM EST.

Here is the link to the pocket guide:

All the very best for the Prize!

Warm regards,


Photo of Wally Graeber

Thanks for the warm welcome Constanza! Thanks for making sure I am hitting all of the points to make a successful vision for the first round of entries. I appreciate all of your support for this really impressive network that is building. Grateful, Wally