A Regenerative and Nourishing Food Future for Southern Idaho
A food system that regenerates natural resources, the resilience of all plants and animals, and communities throughout our region.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Local Food Alliance, a program of the Sun Valley Institute
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
We have worked with stakeholders in the region since our inception and reached out to more than 60 stakeholders from ranchers to our local food bank throughout this visioning process:
1000 Springs Mill, Big Creek Ranch, Cold Summit Development, E.A. Lynn Foundation, Ernie’s Organic, Harmony Hens, Hillside Grain, Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Idaho Farm Bureau, Idaho Rural Water Association, Idaho Wool Growers Association, King’s Crown Organic Farm, Lava Lake Land & Livestock, Sage School, Silver Spring Ranch, Southern Idaho Economic Development, Springcreek Foundation, Squash Blossom Farm, Sun Valley Culinary Institute, Sun Valley Economic Development, The Hunger Coalition, The Nature Conservancy Idaho Chapter, Trout Unlimited, University of Idaho - Extension, Center for Agriculture, Food, & the Environment, & Rinker, regional NRCS Districts, regional Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Rock Creek Ranch research center, Upper Big Wood River Grange
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
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?
Southern Idaho including metro areas of Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls, and the surrounding rural mountain and agricultural communities.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
From our rugged mountain tops to our expansive rangelands and canyon riverbeds, there are few landscapes in America as unique as Southern Idaho. Centrally located and home to the Sun Valley Institute (SVI), the Wood River Valley is an innovative community of land stewards, food entrepreneurs, progressive community leaders, the rich and famous, and the intellectually curious changemakers.
In the wake of two megafires, snowfall changes, and increasing water conflicts, local leaders saw the opportunity for our community to build a model of resilience, to ensure enduring quality of place not just here in our beautiful valley, but throughout our region and our world. In addition, our isolation makes the community not only vulnerable to the growing effects of anthropogenic climate change, but also to the limited opportunities for economic diversity, transportation and local housing challenges. We at SVI are committed to being a catalyst for enduring quality of place and believe we can establish economic, ecological and social resilience in our small rural region and beyond.
Creating a resilient, regionalized food system will uplift rural communities throughout Idaho, while providing quality jobs and biodiverse nutrient-dense food to all residents and visitors alike. Expanding our region to include Boise, Idaho Falls, and Twin Falls metro areas ensures robust market opportunities while connecting urban dwellers to natural landscapes, food production, and vibrant ecosystems. Our vision requires the deepening of trust and connection throughout our communities, and offers a space for the rematriation of nature, people, and culture throughout the landscape.
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.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” ― Gary Snyder
Community leaders founded the Sun Valley Institute (SVI) in the high-desert ecosystem of Central Idaho to build a model of resilience, to ensure enduring quality of place in our beautiful, but threatened, home on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Growing fires and warming and depleting watersheds have raised alarm bells, but fortunately local leaders are working to protect our vulnerable place and its vast resources.
Surrounded by over 2.5 million acres of protected wilderness, including the largest roadless area in the lower 48 states, whether we’re hiking the trails of the Frank Church Wilderness, fishing on the banks of the Snake River, or harvesting vegetables out of our gardens, we feel the presence of wilderness intimately in our daily lives.
The land here is ecologically diverse, a cacophony of caverns and crags, expansive grasslands, sage-covered hillsides, and dramatic mountain peaks. Between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago, massive volcanic events left a great gash in the earth, now called the Snake River Plain, deeply scarring the landscape in a way that is only properly appreciated through satellite imagery. This nutrient-rich region is now the center of Idaho’s food production. The cities of Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls dot the banks of the Snake River as it coils through the landscape, supporting vast agricultural operations, fish farming, and aquaculture. Head north on Highway 75, and southern Idaho’s expansive flats suddenly turn jagged with mountains that dramatically rise out of the earth, with names like the Sawtooths, White Clouds, and Boulders.
Southern Idaho’s unique ecology supports diverse plant life, wildlife, livestock, and wild fish including Idaho’s iconic salmon, which come farther and higher than any others, over 800 miles and nine massive dams, to the highest, cleanest, and coolest source waters that will sustain these incredible fish through the warming climate. With its natural resources and far-reaching economic potential stemming from fast-growing tourism and recreation, manufacturing, agriculture, and tech industries, Southern Idaho presents a unique opportunity to radically reshape our food production to a holistic, interconnected system that is economically and environmentally resilient, and fundamentally community-driven.
Video link won't work but it is public: https://youtu.be/seO610J83MM
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.
Modern, industrial farming has taken its toll in our region. Fertilizer and pesticide runoff feed toxic algae blooms and pollute our watersheds, while the lower Snake River hydroelectric dams decimate the wild salmon that have attracted tourists for decades. Last year, only 1,500 Chinook spawned on the Salmon River’s Middle Fork. Compare that to the 45,000 that spawned in 1960. In rural communities, mid-sized farms are rapidly declining in number, mirroring a trend seen nationwide, while large industrial farming operations with superior financial resources rise up to replace them. Meanwhile, Idaho’s state policies push a “get big or get out” mentality that forces many farmers to adopt the attitudes of their corporate counterparts, prioritizing production numbers over profitability. This coalesces in communities where farmers export the majority of their crop, import the majority of their food, and are put at greater risk for cancer, respiratory issues, and pesticide-related illnesses. Presently, Idaho is the 7th largest food and agriculture export state per capita in the country with major players like JR Simplot (Boise), Chobani (Twin Falls), and Glanbia (Twin Falls / Gooding), yet, hunger and poverty remain persistent social issues in these areas. Idaho’s public education rates #33 in the nation, with 45.8% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch. Food insecurity hovers between 10 and 15%, and 25% of people in the state are obese (per a 2009 study), pointing to a culture that is overfed but undernourished. Polluted waterways, poverty stricken rural communities, and ever growing metropolitan areas are just a few of the key challenges facing southern Idaho in 2020.
Challenges in 2050 include balancing population growth and the demand for more food production with wildlife and ecosystem needs in our rapidly warming world, while providing people with ample opportunities to benefit from our natural systems. Food and seed sovereignty are key to a regionalized, regenerative food system, but are in opposition to the prevailing power of Big Ag. Another challenge will be eliminating the subsidies that keep the true cost of industrialized, vertically integrated, global food production systems in the dark - from the Farm Bill to energy policies. Diversity, both demographic and environmental, are key to resilient systems. Building trust with disenfranchised groups, such as the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and learning from traditional practices, is a necessary step towards a just transition. It is vital that agribusinesses and government entities are rooted in regionalized solutions that address the system as a whole, instead of the current reductionist mindset. The future of regenerative agricultural and food systems depends on stakeholders sharing a vision and breaking down modern-day barriers such as state and local policies, the crumbling of human and ecosystem health; the widespread use of synthetic chemical inputs; aquifer depletion; and changes in agricultural practices that end up removing farmers from the landscape.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision will position southern Idaho to flourish in a rapidly warming world through the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices and wide development of community based food systems. Transitioning to regenerative practices for all agriculture production in Idaho will greatly reduce the use of, and exposure to toxins, helping protect biodiversity and pollinator health. Regenerative practices, such as low/no-till, cover cropping, and integrating livestock to provide nutrients, enhance soil health and its carbon sequestration potential. Healthy soils have improved water infiltration rates and reduced run-off rates as well as increased productivity and resilience to drought. This regenerative approach would reduce the current risks to public health and wildlife - including our threatened native fish - associated with synthetic fertilizer-induced algae blooms in waterways throughout southern Idaho. One of the concerns preventing the removal of the destructive lower Snake dams has been the use of barge transportation for getting crops to the ports. By shifting to regional and value-added crops, farmers will have markets closer to home and higher margins, eliminating the need for the barging, which is already in rapid decline.
Growing evidence shows the health impacts on farming communities and farmworkers of industrial agriculture practices, such as air and water pollution, and exposure to chemicals. Working on regenerative farms reduces exposure to harsh chemicals and dust caused by heavy tillage, leading to a healthier work environment for farm workers. Organic farming is also associated with higher incomes and lower unemployment, which can boost rural resilience. While many farmers struggle to pay fair wages, increasing the amount of the food dollar kept in the hands of farmers will support fairer wages and boost overall economic resilience.
Diverse crop production boosts nutrient diversity on our plates and enhances the quality of our diets. Increased access to regionally-produced, nutrient-dense, whole foods ensures more quality food available for communities across Southern Idaho, and can be a key tool to close nutrient gaps identified by the USDA Dietary Guidelines as “Nutrients of Concern”.
Diverse bio-regional seeds and rootstocks will be cultivated to ensure food security and independence, while protecting native ecosystems. Food and energy production will share land and work symbiotically to promote regional resilience. Policies will be enacted that support and protect diversified, small-scale farmers while environmental regulations ensure that healthy, diverse habitats are protected by requiring food and energy producers to pay the true cost of their industrial practices. This will lead to the breach of the Snake River dams, the transition from CAFO livestock operations to holistic, regenerative grazing systems for meat and fiber production, while encouraging diverse annual and perennial crop production systems.
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.
Our goal at the Sun Valley Institute is to create an enduring quality of place. It’s through our partnerships that we rapidly progress towards our food system vision for 2050: a system in which agriculture and nature exist in harmony with each other; a system in which smart policy and strategic technology investments create new opportunities for local farmers; and a system in which economy and culture connect with, and benefit from, all aspects of the community in which they exist.
The resilience of Southern Idaho depends on us regenerating our natural resources. In 2050, all food producers will have integrated regenerative practices which enabled southern Idaho’s struggling watersheds to fully regenerate for the first time in decades, benefiting everyone in the community. Energy and agriculture production exist symbiotically alongside the surrounding natural environment. Markets for ecosystem services provide additional revenue streams for land stewards. Regional farmers work hand in hand with policy makers and community leaders to ensure policies at the federal, state, & local levels uplift diversified farm operations.
All residents and visitors alike will share the incredible bounty that southern Idaho has to offer. Regionally grown foods will be accessible at all price points, at community spaces such as restaurants, retail stores, and events. Widespread education initiatives will enable everyone to understand the importance of sourcing, cooking and eating regionally grown, whole foods. As local farms and businesses diversify their revenue streams, the communities become more resilient. The revitalization of regional rural economies will not only bring economic stability to businesses, but also reduce unemployment and poverty rates, and improve overall quality of life and place to the communities throughout our region.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
BREAKING GROUND: A REGENERATIVE AND NOURISHING FOOD FUTURE FOR SOUTHERN IDAHO
From the Shoshone Bannock tribes planting Camas root in the sagebrush steppe to the Basque shepherds leading thousands of sheep down Ketchum’s Main Street each October, Idaho is a place and people defined by the local landscape. Love for the land is ingrained in our culture. Here, 1 in 7 jobs is related to agriculture, accounting for 20% of state economic output every year, and a $3.7 billion tourism industry hinges on untouched forests, crystal-clear rivers, and thriving wildlife. Almost 10% of the state’s territory is designated protected wilderness area, totaling more than 4.8 million acres. As such, it is home to a diverse cultural heritage of agriculture, hunting, fishing, foraging, and exploration.
But modern conventional farming has taken its toll, and the need for change is made dire by rapid developments taking place in our state. Consider Boise — Idaho’s capital and currently the fastest-growing city in the United States. This influx of energy, investment, and individuals represents a potential opportunity for all of us, but if we are not careful about what we are building, to borrow the words of Boise’s newly elected mayor, Lauren McLean, “We risk becoming a place like everywhere else where you just live, you work, and we lose that deep intentional connection to place and people." In recent years, the Sun Valley Institute has observed increased economic stratification alongside the rise of industrial agriculture and the decline of human and environmental health. If we as Idahoans want to reverse this trend we need to redirect our economy toward community resilience, reexamine our food system, and lose the illusion that these are separate forces rather than pieces of a holistic, interconnected ecology.
Our region’s remaining small farmers are already leading the way toward a more environmentally and economically resilient food future through their entrepreneurial endeavours. This includes integrating livestock to keep biomass in check, while providing bioavailable nutrients, maintaining crop diversity to increase resilience, and incorporating geothermal heat sources to grow food in the winter months. By 2050, we envision that all agriculture in Southern Idaho will be 100% regenerative - revitalizing the fields and watersheds that have been degraded by industrial agriculture’s un-checked heavy tillage and synthetic input use. In doing so, we’ve enhanced biodiversity, built resilient root systems, and soils that produce healthy, disease-resistant plants. The broadscale adoption of regenerative agriculture practices will mitigate climate change and desertification by sequestering carbon and other GHGs, enhancing water infiltration, and reducing natural resource pollution. Each one-percent increase in organic matter created by regenerative farming helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. This means reduced input costs for farmers, while lowering flood and drought vulnerability. Because these practices promote cyclical models of production that ultimately mitigate risk for farmers and investors alike, large food production corporations, like Chobani and Clif Bar, are increasingly demanding organic, regeneratively grown food and fiber. By 2050, our local farmers will have not only met this growing demand; they will have initiated a major supply chain shift in our regional (and global) food system.
To support farmers in transition, the Sun Valley Institute established a Community Resilience Innovation Platform in 2020. Within thirty years, SVI has leveraged millions of investment dollars to grow our regional food and fiber economy. Catalyzing key infrastructure needs, including net-zero cold storage, processing facilities, and distribution options, and empowering farmers and ranchers to diversify their food production enterprises. Thanks to increased access to capital, risk mitigation, equipment, education, and networking opportunities, our farmers are thriving members of our community. Local entrepreneurship is the primary thrust of economic success in our region providing ample job opportunities which are much safer than their conventional counterparts. By 2050, a circular, community-based economy that prioritizes natural resources and human health, has emerged.
In addition to leveraging market forces, governmental policies that address economic stratification and support farmers were essential to catalyze the shift to a regenerative, interconnected food economy. This includes economic incentives for ecological services, state funding for training, public programs supporting local food distribution networks, and incentives for the adoption of energy-efficient technologies. Energy is now produced using renewable methods including solar, wind, and geothermal, as fossil fuels are no longer subsidized by the government and cannot compete. Geothermal is used as the primary heat source for year-round food production, allowing for our region to provide nutrient-dense annual and perennial crops even in the harsh winter climates found in the mountainous zones. Food and energy production is integrated into the natural ecosystem, providing ample wildlife habitat while ensuring quality of place for the surrounding communities, enhancing food and grid security, and providing jobs.
State and local policies ensure that all public institutions work to improve access to nutrient-dense, affordable, and diverse food grown on regional farms and ranches. Local schools and producers will work together to create “farm to cafeteria” pipelines that cultivates healthy eating habits and reduces childhood obesity rates. Bilingual (Spanish and English) public schools provide ecological and agricultural literacy education to ensure students have well-rounded experiences rooted in an appreciation for nature and place. By connecting public institutions with local farmers, providing key infrastructure solutions addressing lack of access, and ensuring quality jobs throughout the region, all community members, regardless of their age or economic demographic, have access to nourishing, diverse food grown by regenerative farmers and ranchers. On federal and state levels, policies that promote food sovereignty and protect small-scale food enterprises are the norm not the exception. Young farmers are supported by providing ample access to capital, equipment, and educational services. And, perhaps most important, everyone in our community, farmers and beyond, are stewards of the environment. Our state no longer relies on environmentally degenerative energy. The lower Snake dams were breached just in time for these iconic species to survive and are now back in record numbers, restoring river communities and strengthening native tribal economies and cultures. Aquaculture exists within, and enhances the health of regional watersheds. Our waterways are thriving ecosystems, while providing clean water and recreation opportunities, like whitewater rafting and fishing, to residents and visitors.
The SVI Food System Vision for 2050 is a community vision. Inspired by Idaho’s homesteading past and pioneering present, our region will be home to resilient, self-sufficient communities centered around independently-owned and operated farms where food is grown, processed, and distributed locally. Each community is home to a diverse assortment of local food producers and entrepreneurs including independent creameries and nose-to-tail butchers, bringing local artisanship back to the forefront of our culture. We have ample work opportunities where we feel agent, appreciated, safe, and connected. Our schools and education systems teach agricultural, environmental, and food literacy. Residents know where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how it exists within our natural ecosystems. Regional solutions such as Boise’s Rolling Tomato and Bronco BEAM, redistribute food to the communities that need it. Consumers are willing and able to pay the true cost of regenerative food production as they truly value the ecosystem services and public health benefits provided by regional farmers. By empowering our farmers and fostering strong self-sustaining communities as drivers of our overall economic health, we believe we that Idaho’s quality of place, and Idaho residents’ quality of life, can be drastically improved by 2050.
Despite Southern Idaho’s challenges, this region is primed to make a transformative impact on the world of food. Our vision for 2050 valiantly addresses the reality of Southern Idaho’s situation (rampant growth, environmental degradation, poor health, and economic stratification) by leveraging the population’s shared connection with the land and the state’s natural biodiversity. Blending economic concerns with environmental policy, nutrition, health, education, and technology, SVI’s vision is of a regenerative and nourishing food system where every community and every farmer benefits from and contributes to a new, climate-smart, and resilient world, a system that is regenerative and nourishing for all.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?