Sep 19, 2022
Building Cross-Discipline Coalitions with Agritecture’s Food Systems Consultant
Agritecture dedicates itself to connecting clients with the expertise they require to build more equitable and resilient food systems. One expert passionate about supporting responsible farmers and consumers is Christian Kanlian, our food systems consultant.
Christian has been with Agritecture since September 2021, where he's made an impression on our policy and government-focused projects. Bringing in experience and training in agronomy and food distribution, Christian is a champion for integrated food systems approaches. He feels meaningful systems-level improvements can only be realized when food systems are analyzed from both the farmers' and consumers' perspectives.
What drew you to the urban agriculture/controlled environment agriculture industry?
Christian's journey toward the UA/CEA industry started in college. He received his B.S. from the School of Integrative Plant Sciences at Cornell University. As a student, Christian always saw the potential of agriculture and food to help people connect to each other and the natural world. For Christian, who lives in Rochester, New York, agriculture should thrive in urban areas. He worries that we've lost almost all connection with where, how, and who grows and prepares the food we consume every day.
"The integrated approach that AGR utilizes - also called "Hybridization of Ag" by Henry and Brakeley - was particularly attractive to me. I don't think we can make progress needed to address climate change and food insecurity without understanding things from multiple perspectives."
The Hybridization of Agriculture illustrates the notion that there is greater potential output when we consider all the possible methods of agriculture and match them to find synergies. The integrated approach is critical to how Christian views his work and the industry as a whole. In his work, he hopes to contribute by balancing the needs of farmers and consumers in a way that respects the biodiversity and balance of the natural world.
What prior experience does Christian bring to Agritecture?
Before joining the team at Agritecture, Christian worked at a regional food hub in upstate New York. He managed the produce supply chain for direct-to-consumer, wholesale, and institutional distribution programs.
"I coordinated fruit and vegetable orders from over 50 different small and mid-size farms, balancing the needs of farmers, chefs, school food service directors, and other buyers. The goal was to provide high-quality, ethically produced food at an affordable price to customers of different types. This type of balancing needs and priorities, between the world as it is now and the world as I think it should be, is central to my personal and professional philosophy."
Christian feels that while most people prefer to focus only on narrow portions of the agrifood system they most closely interact with, this is not enough.
"To accomplish the transformations we need and avoid the worst of climate change, we must work across disciplines. We must build coalitions of farmers, consumers, and policymakers that value human and environmental health above financial profits."
Christian appreciates the opportunity to work on systems-level projects and collaborate closely with urban planners, government officials, and entrepreneurs. He cherishes the opportunity to interact with intelligent, motivated actors trying to use food to improve their local communities by building resilience and equity.
What are some of your favorite projects from your time at Agritecture?
Christian has been an integral part of a number of projects, including our work with the City of Dallas which is one of our largest projects to date.
"Dallas has been fascinating because most people we've talked to generally want to do the right thing (more local food, fewer barriers to growing). But because of 'silo-ing' between the City and private stakeholders, there is huge unmet potential for Urban Ag in Dallas. Connecting those dots and identifying gaps and barriers has been a huge focus of our work."
Understanding local political and agricultural histories (which are always related) is interesting for experts like Christian. In places like Dallas and Singapore, Agritecture has been trying to balance local stakeholder priorities and economic realities to produce as much local food as possible. Such interventions play a massive role in improving supply chain resilience and food security.
Where do you hope to see the industry in 5 years?
Christian wants to see local food move beyond direct-to-consumer distribution models and expand its presence in schools, hospitals, and institutional settings. Such a trend would require governments and private foundations to think beyond individual farms and consider the broader agro-socioeconomic landscape. Christian proposes the adoption of two key funding streams to support that vision:
"(1) Cost sharing for construction of key cold-chain and distribution infrastructure and (2) conservation incentives or insurance that "de-risk" farmers' transition to more agro-ecological production methods – like reducing tillage and using synthetic fertilizers – that encourage more microbial life in the soil, but often take a few growing seasons to establish profitably."
Christian explains that many farmers across production systems and crop categories want to reduce their dependence on expensive fertilizers and pesticides but risk short-term yield losses while the biologic capacity of their farms rebounds. "With more agroecology comes more carbon sequestration, more water holding and nutrient cycling capacity of soils, increasing the nutrient density of food, and reduced pollution in waterways."
If the agriculture sector adopts this new paradigm, Christian foresees numerous health, resiliency and long-term profitability benefits for farmers, consumers, and ecosystems.
Christian considers the National Young Farmers Coalition and the Skywoman Community out of Sylvanaua Farms to be two of the most impactful organizations addressing food system resilience and equity at scale, and encourages anyone interested in getting more engaged to look into them.
Christian is happy to connect with those already engaged in food systems work, or considering how they can adapt their individual or organizations efforts to support a more just and resilient food system.