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The Great Transformation: A Food Vision for Southern Idaho Rooted in Regenerative Agriculture

A food system that regenerates natural resources, the resilience of all plants and animals, and communities throughout our region.

Photo of Amy Mattias
10 13

Written by

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?

  • 3-10 years

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.


“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. 

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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?


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?

  • Conference/event
  • Prize partners

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

The Refinement Phase has overlapped extensively with the COVID pandemic. Our rural mountain area has been hit hard, accentuating the vital importance of our work, as well as that of our regional partners’. We see ever so clearly how a resilient regenerative food system could provide for our community and be an economic safety net to weather the storms. As regional farmers dispose of milk and potatoes, more families line up outside our food pantries. The pandemic has helped people see the value of our food and agricultural workforce, who are essential to keeping us fed and yet are not supported by current labor practices. The risks we face from our reliance on an export-based agriculture market has been amplified during this crisis, as has the hard fact that many community members are struggling to put food on the table. Our vision, more than ever, is a way forward for all residents of our region.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

Unfortunately, many of our close partners had to focus their staff and resources on direct services for those in need during the COVID crisis. While we were unable to host our planned stakeholder brainstorming sessions, we witnessed why a shared food vision is so critical - much of what we see today is addressed through our Vision. We were able to meet with a group of students through the SVI Youth Council, members of the Hailey Climate Action Coalition, and many farmers and ranchers in the region. We did not specifically ask any partnering entity to provide 10 or more hours to help us refine our vision. Since the inception of Local Food Alliance, many hours have been spent working with: The Hunger Coalition, Andrus Center for Public Policy, University of Idaho Extension, Rinker Rock Creek Ranch Research Center, Wood River Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, to name a few. 

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

One stakeholder outreach event that we hosted was with high school students in our community. Eight students joined us on a Zoom video conference call to discuss their relationship to the food system, their interest in food system careers, and any concerns about the future. Each student saw themselves in a future where they were intimately connected with the food they consume in one way or another. It was heartwarming to hear their visions and goals for being part of a better tomorrow. 

We hosted another call on farmer strategy with 15 regional farmers with different farming practices, market channels, and scale. A few of the attendees are new farmers operating direct-to-consumer market gardens, and others are third-generation organic farmers who sell both into the regional market and organic commodity markets. We had an open discussion about their short- and long-term needs to ensure lasting success. Most identified infrastructure, particularly storage and processing capacity, as necessary to grow their farm operation and meet demands. 

While we reached out to state labor organizers, we were unable to connect with them due to COVID outbreaks at processing facilities in Southern Idaho. We also reached out to agriculture organizations, like the Idaho Wool Growers Association, but their focus has been providing economic relief for farmers and ranchers. We plan to present our vision to more stakeholders in the coming months and believe organizations will be open to hearing about ways to build resilience into economic models that currently don’t provide farmers and workers with a sustainable income.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Industrial agriculture is one of the key drivers of global climate volatility, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and exceeding planetary boundaries in areas such as nitrogen & phosphorus flows(1). Stakeholders are directly witnessing these impacts across our state. In addition, the trend towards Idaho’s rapid urbanization and the highest-in-the country population growth highlights the unique opportunity we have in this moment to protect what we value and reimagine a more resilient and prosperous regional food system. Rural farm communities across the West are open to making the transition to regenerative practices as a powerful tool for mitigating climate disruption & enhancing the economic viability of farming(2).

What also makes Idaho ripe for innovation is the proven interest from many farmers and ranchers to create a more viable, thriving model: Our team has witnessed hundreds of farmers and ranchers attending soil health workshops and seminars throughout Southern Idaho in the past two years. Within the region, large corporations, such as AB InBev and Coors, are expanding their organic supply chain and supporting their contracted producers in the transition to regenerative practices, including by offering forward contracting to support risk mitigation. The Center for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment (CAFE), initiated by University of Idaho, has broken ground in the Magic Valley and will research and provide support to ensure a regenerative future for dairy farmers throughout the region. These initiatives signal an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to meet the growing organic, regenerative supply chain demands.

The Treasure Valley and Magic Valley of Idaho are recognized by American Farmland Trust as two of the nation’s most Nationally Significant Farmland Regions(3). The tensions between land development and conservation are palpable. The Treasure Valley, which encompasses our state capital of Boise, is one of the top four seed-producing regions in the world, and also one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation. Farmland loss(4) is such a significant threat to our regional resilience that farmers, conservationists, researchers, community members & political leaders are actively discussing(5) ways to combat it. No other state in our region has so much important land, whose protection is vital to securing a more resilient food and climate future. 

Throughout Southern Idaho, a growing interest in soil health practices and supply chain demand for organics signals that a transition from conventional to more regenerative agricultural practices offers an essential next step towards preserving the possibility of this land as a tool to fight climate change and boost regional resilience. A transition to a regional regenerative food system will ensure natural resources are available for future generations by developing a sustainable economy. 

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

“We’re gathered here to celebrate our 30th anniversary of winning the Food Vision Prize,” says Amy, food system leader and host of this farm-to-table gathering. Under the August sun, a hundred-or-so food system leaders sit at a long table, awaiting a seasonally inspired meal, while Amy shares the story of how it all came to be. “Just after receiving the news that we made it into the semi-finalist round for the Food Vision Prize, our community was struck hard by the COVID pandemic. In an instant, the fragility of the industrialized food system was exposed. Yet, it was this disruption that catalyzed a profound change that reoriented our region around collaboration, regeneration, & sovereignty. It resituated the farm to the center of the community.” Heads nod along in recollection of how things were back in 2020. Everyone at the table had, in one way or another, been a part of the Great Transformation. At the table are farmer mentors & mentees, a multi-generational network of regenerative land stewards who have found that tending to the soil is both a financially & spiritually rewarding endeavor. Alongside them are the millers, butchers, bakers, & brothmakers who utilize what our region grows to cultivate a cuisine reflective of its place. Finally, there are the educators & advocates who ensure that each person in our region knows the importance of eating local food not just for enjoyment but for the health of themselves and their communities. They have built the foundations for a thriving regenerative economy. Amy ends with words for the next generation of foodshed stewards, “it takes a village filled with passionate, dedicated people who work together towards a common goal. This group transformed a region stricken with rural poverty & urban sprawl, desertification & water wars; reliant on exported commodity agriculture & energy-intensive global supply chains; into a region filled with prosperity and with ample opportunity for all who call Southern Idaho home.”

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Our 2050 vision is grounded in agricultural practices that regenerate ecosystems, restore watersheds, and mitigate risks from climate volatility. Water is the lifeblood of our region: our reliance on water, from recreation to agriculture, amplifies the need for protecting and enhancing our watersheds. A transition to 100% regenerative practices will ensure the health and vitality of the water and nutrient cycles within the bio-geo-chemical region of Southern Idaho. Regenerative practices offer solutions to problems including soil erosion, nitrogen run-off, desertification, and water scarcity. By rebuilding soil’s organic matter, farmers and ranchers sequester carbon and other greenhouse gases, while improving their water holding capacity, and increasing the health of their crops. Through this transition, farmers and ranchers are able to enhance the vitality of local ecologies, while boosting their profitability, allowing them to invest in their operation, increasing renewable energy production to reduce overall energy costs and build on-farm infrastructure to support enterprise diversification. By 2050, inputs such as pesticide, nutrients, and energy will be generated from nature-based, renewable sources, produced on the farm or within the bioregion. 

By 2050, all working lands are managed as interconnected systems that symbiotically meld with the broader ecology of the region. The current heavily industrialized system are reliant on toxic agro-chemical inputs. These operations degrade our environmental and public health, make for poor working environments, and displace rural economies. In direct contrast, regenerative agriculture enhances ecological, hydrological, and biochemical systems and results in production practices that are more aligned with natural ecology. Improving soil health provides a buffer to floods and droughts, while increasing water infiltration potential and providing soil cover that reduces evapotranspiration and regulates soil surface temperature. Soil fertility is enhanced through polyculture inter- and cover- cropping, wind/hedge rows, livestock integration, and enhanced wildlife habitats. These practices dramatically reduce the reliance on synthetic inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides, and chemical seed coatings(6) by fostering agrobiodiversity. A reduction in the use of synthetic and fossil-fuel inputs benefits surface and groundwater quality, air quality, and provides a healthier working and living environment for farmworkers and the surrounding communities.

As agriculture operations strive for net-zero emissions, state and federal policy must support fair markets for renewable energy developments. Idaho can produce more than sufficient energy from solar, wind, and geothermal sources instead of relying on environmentally harming dams and the importation of coal-based energy that are reliant on subsidies and the externalization of costs which create market disadvantages for renewable energy development. Renewable energy infrastructure on farms, such as  adding solar to the corners of pivot fields, can reduce water pumping-related energy costs & provide additional revenue streams.

A renewed vision and action plan for management of public lands, based on the best science and engagement with multiple stakeholders, is key to leveraging myriad ecosystem services that occur naturally in our region. Grazing on public lands, for example, will be holistically managed, as is currently being pioneered by Alderspring Ranch and Lava Lake Lamb in central Idaho. Both operations bolster ecosystem services, including restored riparian habitats, fire mitigation, increased vegetative health, and increased levels of soil organic matter which enhance the capacity and resilience of our public lands, while providing profitability for ranchers. 

Lastly, by 2050, our region produces a variety of high quality food calories that supplies the majority of food needed to sustain a thriving, healthy human population. Unlike the patented seed sowed on most Idaho's fields today, our 2050 food system utilizes bioregional seed and plant propagation to ensure varieties are adaptable to our climate, from cold, snowy winters to dry, hot summers. Enhancing biodiversity throughout Southern Idaho will provide many ecosystem benefits, enhance pollinator and wildlife habitats, provide ethnobotanical experiences, and build resilience into our society. Our 2050 Food Vision for Southern Idaho ensures that the industrial, degenerative agriculture system that strips the soil of its life, releases carbon into the atmosphere, eliminates the biodiversity of ecosystems, poisons the population with chemical inputs, and nutritionally bereft calories from nowhere, no longer defines Idaho’s working landscapes. A transition to a regenerative agricultural system is required to sustain this region for generations to come.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

In our 2050 Vision, the new Standard American Diet is composed of diverse, nutrient-dense, bio-regionally appropriate foods. It honors food choices tied to culture and ethical beliefs while simultaneously reflecting shared community values and proper nutrition for all. The sort of nutrition cultivated by regenerative agriculture remedies the diet-related chronic health conditions that plague so many Americans, and adds delectable variety and flavor to our plates. Nutrient-dense, seasonal meals have become the norm thanks to our pre K-college schools serving locally sourced, seasonal meals to students and staff. Students are engaged in eco- and food-literacy curriculum through hands-on experiences in school gardens and teaching kitchens. All public institutions have adopted procurement policies to ensure regional farmers have stable markets while providing the freshest, most nutrient-dense food to at-risk populations in schools, hospitals, elderly care facilities, and rehabilitation facilities. 

Diets that include a plethora of vegetables, fruits, grains, and high quality pastured animal products provide a full spectrum of nutrients necessary for health and vitality. In order to expand food and nutrient diversity to the plate, we expand diversity on the farm. By supporting regional farms, the variety of crops grown locally boomed. The iconic russet Idaho Potato has been replaced by Idaho Potatoes--an array of potatoes including dozens of varieties that grow in a variety of microclimates, pack enhanced nutrient profiles such as antioxidants (from bright skin hues) and taste delicious. From row crops to cereal grains, fruit trees to perennial pastures, Southern Idaho’s microclimates provide growing opportunity for a wide array of crops that symbiotically support one another. Diversity on the plates leads to diversity in the microbiome, which contributes to a long and healthy life(7).

In 2050, it is well understood that the growing, harvesting, storage, and processing methods matter when it comes to the nutritive value of food. Proper storage and processing can ensure preservation of vital nutrients, as well as transit time and harvesting period. Within our region, we have the infrastructure necessary to grow, harvest, store, and process a variety of animal and vegetable food products. To keep optimal nutrient density, fresh produce can be frozen, canned, or dehydrated which preserve the nutrients and extend the season of summer crops. Dairy products are processed into gut-healthy, cultured foods like yogurt and kefirs, while meat can be enjoyed in a balanced way, utilizing the full animal to provide essential amino acids and bodybuilding nutrients. Regional nutrient powerhouses, such a teff or sorghum and legumes, support diverse farmlands and diets, while providing key nutrient cycling benefits for the soil. The supply chain of the world’s most economical, nourishing proteins and fibers are used in local school and senior food programs, restaurants, and at the market to ensure all are nourished through the food on their plate.

In 2050, the Southern Idahoan’s diet is deeply rooted in place, reflecting our regional bounty and culture. Sustainable hunting, fishing, and foraging contribute to a bio-regional diet, while the farm is shifted to the center of the community. A true Idaho cuisine and food culture is developed collaboratively and shared with great pleasure. 

The 2020 COVID pandemic showed the brittleness and fractures in a sprawling agricultural supply chain: people chose to create regional food networks, ensuring multiple streams of high quality calories, and nimbleness to shift production as needed. From 2020 onward, families and individuals are connected to their food and value local production, preparation, and consumption-helping farmers aligned with that vision thrive, and farmers curious to learn more access the tools, know how and support they need to make the transition. Now, children take part in gardening and cooking,which integrates them into the food culture from a young age. We see members of every generation growing their food literacy and sharing forward their food lore as part of our regional food vision.

As today’s agricultural communities are paradoxically often food deserts, ensuring the availability of diverse regionally produced food for those working and living in the region is key to both community and personal resilience. Our regionalized food system ensures we are no longer a community reliant on welfare for nourishment. Community members have knowledge of, and passion for, growing, sourcing, and cooking seasonal meals and eat a diversity of regionally sourced fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal products. In 2050, most every meal enjoyed by a resident or visitor in Southern Idaho will be connected to our regional food system. 

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Across the globe, women produce more than half of all the food that is grown, but in Idaho, less than 6% of farmland(8,9) is owned by females. Empowering women in agriculture through programs like She Grows Idaho and Annie’s Project will cultivate the future female leaders of our regional food system. Along with female leadership, we need diverse demographics represented at all levels of leadership including policymakers, business owners, and community advocates. Diversifying the board room, along with the farmland, will boost the economic prosperity of all communities and cultures within Southern Idaho by 2050. 

Economies related to the production of food, fiber, and renewable energy will characterize Southern Idaho in 2050. This regenerative economy will be self-perpetuating because of its emphasis on sustaining environmental and human health. Circular economic principles, a tenet of which is elimination of waste, will guide every aspect of these modes of producing, resulting in a low environmental footprint, as well as multiple revenue streams, and job creation. Although many current agricultural practices are being automated, the transition to regenerative practices by and large requires more labor to steward the land. It brings with it an increase in job opportunities in value-added enterprises. Food processing will be common and decentralized throughout rural and urban communities. These businesses will be modeled as cooperatives and/or employee-owned entities, ensuring they work for the betterment of all involved. Food production and processing jobs will take place in decentralized agricultural hubs throughout the region, including in the Snake River plain, the rangeland grazing livestock regions, and at market gardens in urban centers. For example, there will be a cooperative glassery which provides farmers a market channel for seconds and bumper crops, while ensuring consumer access to local food year-round. Products made in this type of cooperative would include tomato sauce, canned beans, frozen corn, fruit jams, and canned, prepared meals like chicken soup or chili. These sorts of enterprises will be sites for the expression of traditional knowledge, often held by women and the many immigrants who call Southern Idaho home. Food production and processing will offer meaningful work for people of all types of abilities and backgrounds.

Trained engineers, designers, builders, and manufacturers will ensure scale-appropriate infrastructure and tools for food production, processing, and distribution. Food science and formulation jobs will ensure all by-products are used, ensuring circular production. Manufacturing, including in textile and construction, will utilize by-products of food production and  may include wool insulation, hemp concrete, and fabrics. Careers in education, workforce training, occupational health and safety will center around regenerative natural resource systems. Individuals with varied, and diverse skills and interests in engineering, biochemistry, ecology and natural resources, social sciences, gastronomy, ethnobotany, fashion design, human health, and education, are interconnected through our vision. Our vision of 2050 ensures that livelihoods are well met by whichever choice of employment residents make, while building an interconnected regional culture that uplifts individuals across all sectors. 

By 2050, we envision the agricultural sector as the largest component of the workforce while providing living wages as well as fair benefits, safe occupational settings, and additional compensation for farmers providing ecosystem services in their farm management practices. Food, fiber, and energy products will all be sold at fair value set by a market that values people, planet, and quality of produce. This vision will necessarily require a paradigm shift in how we view our economy and how we assign and understand value, which will rely on a shift in cultural values. While refining our vision, our community was hit hard by the COVID pandemic which provided an opportunity to evaluate our behaviors and existing systems. We reached a tipping point within the Wood River Valley where we could no longer continue to undervalue farmworkers and food producers, restaurant cooks and servers, and grocery store staff. While there is much work to be done to shift from late-stage capitalism to an economic model that takes into account the environmental and social implications of our current system, we believe our food vision creates a shared, regional future that provides equity for all.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

Our 2050 vision is based on diversity on our farmlands and plates, and also in our communities, where truly honoring relationships with, and gratitude for, each other and the natural world have been cultivated.

A similarity shared in many religions, spiritual practices, and earth-centered ways of living is one of earth stewardship. Before white Western expansion, indigenous people of Southern Idaho lived for millenia in deeply reciprocal relationships with the flora and fauna. The natural world was honored, revered and listened to. In 2050, our food system thrives because we’ve learned again to listen and to see, serve and give, and not simply “take,” or “take for granted.” We’ve revived and learned the spiritual and relational wisdom from our indigenous elders and other cultures; and even our science has cultivated an honoring of subject, from biomimicry that learns from the wisdom of nature’s millions of years of R&D, to Nobel Prize-winning Barbara McClintock among others inspiring curious scientists to get down and “listen” to what they are studying, as she did with corn genetics (10). We have true, reverent relationships with the non-human intelligence in the world around us.  

This witnessing and learning from nature that informs our relationship with our food has inspired and mirrored shifts in our human relationships. In 2050, the red and blue divides of 30 years prior have been resolved through deep, ongoing and committed community development work by multiple organizations, community leaders, and citizens to build bridges, collaborative systems and social cohesion. This work has greatly increased respect and reduced the fear and threat of the “other,” which has in fact been replaced by a sense of kinship. This default sense of interrelatedness welcomes novelty while respecting tradition, walking the careful balance of honoring identity and difference while encouraging wise change. Cultural, spiritual, and community traditions are respected and appreciated, and engage in dialogue as needed regarding their impact on and from the larger community. We envision a region where all voices are heard, leadership has representation from all stakeholder groups, and those who have been historically underserved or displaced now not only are critical voices, but have a deep sense of belonging and are empowered decision makers. 

Currently in 2020, new and old immigrants to Southern Idaho, from refugees that work at Chobani to the Basque settlers whose 150-year-old Idaho herding culture is celebrated in our regional stories and events, contribute to our cultural heritage. Food is culture, and an integration of food diversity supports the integration of diverse cultures. Food then becomes a powerful catalyst to promoting open-mindedness, acceptance, and inclusivity. Global Gardens, a Boise organization, provides a model for integrating refugees into our communities while providing them with entrepreneurial food production opportunities. This model can be used to spur inclusion of refugees and immigrants into our communities. We envision a flourishing of diversity in all elements of the social fabric of Southern Idaho, which will radiate outward to wider society. 

Early settlers of the Mormon faith upheld some Native cultural traditions like wildcrafting medicine, hunting, and food preservation, even after colonial displacement of the tribal nations. Agricultural communities throughout Southern Idaho who have roots in Mormonism have cultural values that empower each individual and family to be connected with their food and the natural environment. Cultivating this intimate connection with nature, first through food and then through all daily actions, sparks an awareness of interconnectedness. This cultural connection to nature brings about practices that are centered around natural rhythms. These rituals are shared between generations, creating a culture that honors the natural cycles and ecology, and the connections between soil and sustenance. 

In 2050, seasonal and cultural celebrations that include cooking competitions that highlight how a single crop can be prepared in a variety of ways are flourishing community traditions that reflect the heritage and culture of the diverse people who have come to call Southern Idaho home. The deep connection with food and the natural world create a common ground throughout our communities, inspiring all community members to steward and protect our lands, waterways, flora and fauna. This trust and appreciation of each other reinvigorates the commons, where community forestry and agriculture is democratically managed and tribal communities regain an authoritative role in the stewardship of Southern Idaho’s landscape.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

In 2050, resource use will be driven by biomimicry, artificial intelligence, and circular models. Mimicking natural ecosystems and niches found within allows for technology developments to be rooted in circular models; eliminating “waste” by turning it into an alternative product, like compostable packaging, organic fertilizer, or construction material. Artificial intelligence, using sensors, will enhance monitoring capabilities to increase water use efficiencies, reduce chemical inputs, and harvest at optimal conditions. Producers and consumers will have access to open-sourced technology, knowledge, and materials. Existing inequities in the tech sector, such as lack of access to capital, are no longer barriers as peer-to-peer knowledge and tool sharing are commonplace. The technologies utilized in the past that have been driven by resource extraction and global production models are replaced by technologies that are reflective of indigenous practices. Technologies are developed with bioregional resources and by a grounded knowledge base to solve problems experienced in daily existence. Biomimicry and circular economic principles ensure that all materials are utilized to their full potential while reducing both input costs and externalized environmental and public health costs.

Currently, Idaho underutilizes geothermal energy sources(11,12) while relying on imported, coal derived energy. In 2050, geothermal is utilized for residential, commercial & institutional heating, while the piping systems themselves will generate electricity through scale-appropriate hydroelectric turbines. Indoor, cold season food production will no longer be reliant on fossil fuel heated greenhouses, as geothermal hot spots are utilized as food production areas, modeled by Onsen Farm in Buhl. Greenhouses attached to buildings of all sizes and uses incorporate food production and vegetation into spaces we live and work in each day. This shift in building practices will enhance the energy production capacity of each building, reducing its footprint, and the reliance on a fossil fuel based energy grid. 

Infrastructure development for mid-scale, diversified farms and ranches is necessary to increase market access, ensure food safety, reduce fossil fuel use & the reliance on synthetic inputs. Artificial intelligence will be utilized to maximize storage and distribution channels for food. From multi-species harvesting equipment to scale-appropriate storage and processing, on-farm vermicomposting to renewable energy production for irrigation, each food production entity will need the appropriate scale infrastructure to ensure profitability.

Many future forward food thinkers believe automation will take over the majority of the weeding, harvesting, and processing jobs currently performed by humans(13). While this may cause disruption in the existing labor force, this can be used as a way to uplift farm labor from physically demanding and repetitive jobs to participating in diverse ecological stewardship. In 2050, farm workers are land stewards, imbuing management based on intuitive knowledge, ecology, soil microbiology, & plant & animal nutrition with indigenous methodologies. Their time is spent less on the backbreaking labor of weeding and harvesting, and more on developing the tools and technology needed to harvest crops in an efficient way while minimally disturbing the soil, planting a succession crop, adding organic matter, or any combination of the processes needed to maintain healthy food production systems. Artificial intelligence provides us with ease of information gathering to help mimic natural systems. This monitoring improves water use efficiencies, promotes carbon sequestration, and allows for better understanding of nutrient cycles existing within the ecosystem. 

Technological developments over 30 years ensure storage and distribution infrastructure weaknesses are a thing of the past. Cold chain development will provide top notch food safety and it will reduce the environmental footprint of the 2020 refrigeration technology, an identified Drawdown solution for reducing global warming(14). While many identify the last-mile of transportation to be the biggest weakness in distribution logistics, the use of self-driving, net-zero vehicles will provide the majority of the distribution services necessary to develop a robust regionalized network. Artificial intelligence and biomimicry allow for enhancements in efficiencies while eliminating harmful, extractive activities that create unsafe environments. 

Past technology focused on band-aid fixes for management problems, whereas technology in 2050 will be focused on mimicking natural systems to eliminate waste and enhance resource use. For broad adoption of such technologies, policies must ensure that they are open-sourced and accessible to all. Our vision relies upon the ingenuity of indigenous and contemporary land stewards to mimic natural systems to the benefit of our society.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Our 2050 vision is supported by policy shifts at federal, state, and local levels. Advocacy focused on the federal Farm Bill will ensure that by 2050 the subsidization of the global, industrialized food system is superseded by regionalized, regenerative, circular models that are co-created by and representative of the bioregions in which they exist. Subsidies for ethanol production are eliminated and no longer incentivize farmers to grow crops for fuel as combustion engines will have been replaced in most all vehicles. Monopolization and vertical integration by multinational corporations will no longer squeeze locally owned and operated businesses out of the marketplace, while providing lobbying dollars to ensure policies benefit them and not the regionalized systems that are desperately needed across the globe. The nutritional aspect of the Farm Bill no longer holds the view that a calorie is a calorie, but focuses on nutrient-density, ensuring all individuals have access to real, biodiverse, nutrient-dense food grown by regional farmers. The 2050 Farm Bill incentivizes and regulates for regenerative, agro-ecological farming practices, holistic land management principles, and consumption of the New Standard American Diet based on diverse, nutrient-dense food consumption tied to human health. 

As a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic of 2020, our views toward the labor force shifted from undervaluing workers in the food, farming, health care, and service industries to recognizing their critical and vital role in our food system and our economy. Over the next 30 years, workers in these sectors will see an increase in wages, workplace safety, and societal appreciation of their vital services. Federal and state policies will insure that all individuals have access to safe work and home environments by eliminating the majority of environmental toxins, while increasing the domestic production of nutrient-dense food. Legislation that protects the right-to-fix makes technology accessible for all, while reducing the reliance on multinational corporations for equipment and maintenance that often lead to incurring more farmer debt. 

State and federal policy will ensure that industrial agriculture no longer has a free pass for pollution. One such model is the existing point source pollution policies that keep nitrogen pollution issues caused by improper dairy waste management to be held to environmental standards necessary to regenerative watersheds. Amending and strengthening federal environmental legislation will make industrial agriculture unfeasible, promoting the alternative as a result. State policies, like a Healthy Soils Act can provide the necessary funding to support the transition to regenerative agriculture practices. These policy provisions will enhance their carbon sequestration, nitrogen fixing, and water usage efficiencies, while reducing run-off and the negative watershed impacts so endemic to industrial agricultural models. The creation of natural resource marketplaces managed by state policy makers is perhap the best mechanism to create a fair playing field for farmers and land managers of all sizes. Carbon markets offer alternative revenue streams to enhance farmer profitability while paying fair prices for essential ecosystem services provided by regenerative farming practices. 

Local policies will ensure that all residents are able to grow their own food, fiber, and medicine and/or to purchase food, fiber, and medicine. Policies that existed in 2020 that promoted the “get-big-or-get-out” mentality will no longer be commonplace in 2050. State policy that incentivizes entrepreneurial efforts, such as cottage food regulations which allow for more person-to-person commerce will establish food sovereignty. Policies will enable the development of regionalized infrastructure for production, processing, storage, distribution, and access within each bioregion. This, in turn, offers farmers and ranchers access to necessary infrastructure to grow diverse, nutrient-dense, and profitable food and fiber crops for all levels of buyers.

Institutional procurement from regional supply chains will be the norm in 2050. Subsidies, along with true-cost accounting, will make it economically feasible for school districts, hospitals, prisons to purchase food from local farmers and aggregators. By 2050, all local school districts, healthcare, rehabilitation and correctional facilities, and publicly hosted events will source from regional farm and food coops. Purchasing at this scale ensures market access for all sizes of farms and ranches, while ensuring volume necessary to grow at a profitable scale. Across the board, policies around food and farming must fundamentally change to address environmental, economic, and public health concerns. Policies that protect regional autonomy and bioregional resources ensure a just transition to a regenerative, regionalized economy. 

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

A systems approach to our 2050 food vision necessarily requires the interconnectedness of all six themes. Food systems are inherently interwoven because of the fundamental necessity of food. For instance, policy changes influence the environment, the economy, diets and culture. Whereas, culture influences policy, the environment, the economy, adoption of technology, and dietary choices. Food can be used as a tool to address any and all of the existing social problems. From environmental collapse caused by reductionist management, to physical and mental health deterioration in those with nutrient deficiencies and a life filled with degrading work and stress, food has both the power to harm, or, as we envision, to heal every living thing on this earth. The way we build our food systems makes or breaks societies. It always has & always will. Our 2050 food vision is one in which the food system enhances all aspects of society in Southern Idaho.

In 2050, the farm and kitchen are geographically and conceptually shifted to the center of the community. From rangeland pastures to riverside orchards, food production is intermixed with the natural and built environment. Children are raised with a relationship to the flora and fauna, and the water and nutrient cycles around them. They have a deep connection to and knowledge of the biological, geological, and hydrological region they call home. This relationality and cross-species sociality is mutually enriching and sustaining. Kids play in nature and young people have ample outdoor experiences to show them the diversity of opportunity the natural world holds. This type of education inspires the next generation of land stewards, regenerative food producers, ecologists, food scientists, and seed breeders. Moreover, because the food system of 2050 is technologically advanced, the next generation can tie any career field including engineering, computer science, chemistry, to name a few, to place.

Biodiverse diets, engagement in natural landscapes, and overall healthier individuals, are all conferred by this reattachment to the soil and reidentification as terrestrial beings. These individuals promote a politics based on a commitment to equality and the Earth, for a transition to a regenerative economy necessitates community activism and a praxis of theories about environment, culture, and how things should and should not be. Farming regeneratively is that praxis, a form of activism direly needed in the face of the climate crisis.

The interwoven food system of 2050 takes a triple bottom line approach to its structure, ensuring economic, ecological, and social prosperity within Southern Idaho. This shift will provide a better quality of life for each and every individual residing within the region, allowing for a more harmonious and prosperous life for all.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

A regenerative system supports the economic, environmental, & social welfare of those who live & visit the region. The primary barrier to this vision is the actual transition and making sure that it is just & equitable. The current reliance on extractive, industrial agriculture, & mining industries in rural communities hinders the paradigm shift necessary to transition to a regenerative economy. The current system displays its own set of tradeoffs: environmentally destructive corporations may provide funding to local schools, non-profits, hospitals, and municipalities. Eliminating existing economic opportunities might further marginalize rural communities. A just transition is necessary to ensure a stable and reasonable economic shift. Including workers in decision making and giving them ownership in the new food vision through employee owned companies is one necessary step. Corporations rely on thin margins, so shifting to models that are employee-owned and environmentally friendly takes time. While B-Corps or otherwise ‘conscious’ companies can help model better business practices, our 2050 vision is based on regionalized, circular economic models that are not reliant on the global commodity market. 

Through a regenerative transformation, communities currently impacted by conventional agricultural practices become safer places to live and work. Regenerative, triple bottom line minded businesses provide safer work environments, raise wages, reduce chemical trespass, and provide ample economic opportunities for entrepreneurs and artisans. However, a reliance on renewable energy is dependent upon mined minerals, often imported from marginalized communities. While the transition to renewable energy is a must, the reduction in overall energy consumption must be addressed. Tourist destinations throughout our region will be impacted by the shift away from a consumer-driven lifestyle, and tourism is one of the first expenses to go when facing financial limitations. Transitioning from a tourist based economy to a food and farm production economy is reliant upon the local multiplier effect, helping to recirculate dollars throughout a community. To ensure economic viability, consumers will have to pay fair prices for their food, fiber, and medicine, which means that luxury expenses may be reduced. 

Many of us currently alive in the United States have become used to a certain level of consumption, from buying new clothes seasonally, to purchasing foods from across the world year-round from supermarket shelves. This way of living is reliant upon exploited labor and resources, with an enormous amount of externalities. Indeed, the food industry is the most environmentally damaging of any sector in the US economy. Externalities equal at least 224% of the food industry’s revenues(13). For our 2050 vision to become a shift towards a less consumptive and extractive economy is necessary. 

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Within three years, we will have a regional leadership team to ensure broad consensus from decision makers and stakeholders. This regional round-table will represent workers in the various industries within the agricultural sector, along with Tribal leaders, universities, policy makers, students & educators, natural resource managers, and community members working together to transition to a regenerative food system. This group will assess the region’s whole system management plan, taking into account the resources, threats, opportunities, & potential voices missing from the discussion. This representative team will ensure a just transition occurs throughout the region by catalyzing a nexus of resources, policy, & public will.

The 2nd milestone will be the realization of essential infrastructure needed to secure the regional food supply. Potential projects include a cold storage aggregation facility for regional food producers needing access to processing, storage, & distribution and a livestock processing facility to ease the pressure on the limited number of existing, mid-scale processing facilities within the region. These types of mid-scale infrastructure developments enhance farmer profitability, consumer access, & regional economies by providing job opportunities & new business enterprises. 

The 3rd milestone will be the creation of a regional regenerative farmer fellowship & fund, to help new farmers access land & resources needed to build a profitable operation, and to transition existing conventional farmers into regenerative operations via risk mitigation. Along with capital access, this fellowship would provide peer-to-peer networking & education. Within three years, we need to see quick movement to support new, younger farmers, and regional farmers transitioning to regenerative practices, a development of scale appropriate infrastructure to provide food chain security, & a diverse leadership group to ensure the shared vision maintains its shared vision.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

Our vision relies upon the transition from industrial, exported commodities to diversified crop production that meets the dietary and economic needs of those residing in the region. By 2030, we need to see at least 30% of existing conventional production land transition into regenerative, organic production models to meet the growing demands. We will also see an increase in purchasing more directly from farmers and generally reducing the food miles between harvest and plate - and across the purchasing landscape.

By 2030, all public schools will have implemented procurement policies that source as much as possible from regional farmers. This will include flour, grains, and legumes, seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, and egg products, as well as frozen, canned, and dried goods that are considered value-add products for many farmers. This will fundamentally change the eating habits of Idahoans, as data shows that food choices are impacted by experiences children have in school settings(14). Educational curriculum ensures youth understand ecological systems, holistic management, and basic skills such as herding livestock, seed saving, and cooking from scratch. 

Not only is there a dramatic increase in the production and consumption of regionally grown food, but the environment is responding in ways that fit the vision. The salmon and trout tributaries have rebounded to flourishing populations. Air and water quality is better due to a reduction of tillage and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on farm and ranch lands. There is an increase in safe, secure agricultural jobs available for all people, that provide fair wages, access to health care, and hazard free work environments through regional supply chain infrastructure development. Overall the region shows a movement towards establishing a regenerative food system and adopting regenerative ways of living.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

We would leverage these funds to grow and refine our regional vision, and to accelerate the our transition. First, we would use the Prize funds to broaden our stakeholder outreach through a presentation circuit. We would take our vision materials to groups across the region and present our ideas, ask for feedback and collaboration, in hopes to broaden our existing Blaine County Regenerative Agriculture Working Group across southern Idaho into a regional roundtable working group comprised of farmers, ranchers, and conservationists working towards the transition to regenerative agriculture at all scales of production. 

Second, we would use a portion of the funds as seed money to set up a risk mitigation fund to ensure financial support while farmers transition their production models to regenerative. Working with our partners, including American Farmland Trust and rePlant Capital, we will set up programs to help transition conventional barley growers to certified organic growers, a necessary step to fill the demand for organic malting grain by Coors and AB inBev. While these projects are in the pipeline for 2020/2021, additional funding for our program would ensure staff and resources necessary to bring these initiatives to fruition. 

As we are a small organization with only two Food & Farm program staff, a portion of this prize money would be used to hire an additional staff-person to accelerate the  work plan of our Food & Farm Program, the Local Food Alliance. This will allow us to scale our current work of providing matchmaking services for local food producers and buyers, raising awareness of the importance of a regionalized food system, and leading collaborative efforts across diverse stakeholder groups. All in all, with a budget less than $200,000 per year, a prize at this size would double our capacity in the short-term, and provide exponential opportunities to scale our work in the future. 

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

While Idaho is currently famous for the Russet potato, our vision is for Idaho to be known for its fertile land, thriving watersheds, ample wildlife, and a food system that embraces the natural landscape and honors the bioregional uniqueness that is Southern Idaho. The dominant system has almost entirely disconnected food from its geographical and social origins. The opposite of this disconnection—the geographic and conceptual shifting of the farm to the center of the community it serves—and the expansion and strengthening of community and terrestrial interdependence is why our vision is rooted in regenerative agriculture. Southern Idaho holds ample potential for this vision as it currently relies on agriculture as a main source of GDP and jobs, while allowing degenerate practices to put the health of surrounding communities and the environment at risk. Through regenerative agriculture adoption, farmers and ranchers provide the roots for a nourishing region - one where the food system meets all the material, ecological, and social needs. By 2050, southern Idaho will be a region uplifted- environmentally, economically, and socially- through food system transformation. Idaho's bounty is poised to serve as a center of innovation, with farmers, advocates and academics already transitioning Idaho from a past of industrial agriculture to a future of a diverse, equitable, healthy, thriving food future, protecting our special state and benefiting all Idahoans.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

Our food system map shows the transformation from the degenerative food system of 2020 to the regenerative food system of 2050. The second image shows the 2050 stakeholders, norms, and outcomes. Each image utilizes the six areas of food system vision--economy, environment, policy, technology, diet, and culture--color coordinated to simplify the message for the reader. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Erin DeMarco

I am feeling so uplifted to have stumbled upon this entry to the Food System Vision Prize.
I have long thought that cities and small communities should deliberately invest in localizing their food system, resiliently, and directly support small scale agriculture.
A future where people like myself can consistently, easily find and get regeneratively grown meat, dairy, eggs, seasonally available produce, fiber, and more, from my neighbors, is a future and food system of which I want to be apart. There is so very much work to do towards this future.
I am full of hope reading your proposed vision, and especially that it is coming from an organization based in the region where I live. I truly hope Idaho makes it into the final Accelerator round!

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