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Risk, Resilience and Change

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

These three words have been in my world quite frequently lately. I recently attended a workshop for nonprofit executive directors about balancing risk, change and stagnation—when NOT taking a risk can be catastrophic. The Sustainable Ag Food System Funders annual forum next year is titled, “Rethinking Risk and Resilience”  and will explore the role of philanthropic foundations in creating resilient and sustainable food systems. And just last week, I met with a group of organic dairy farmers in Ohio and the conversation focused around the change in climate and its impact on their farming.  

During my meetings, one of the farmers remarked, “If we want to know how to farm these days in Ohio, we need to look to Tennessee.” This sentiment mirrors a comment from an organic grain farmer in upstate New York who predicts that in a few years, his farming season will match what we see in North Carolina today. A farmer in North Dakota shared with me a few months ago that they no longer are able to grow wheat because the conditions have changed so much.

Changes in our climate are posing great risks to our farmers and food systems. Farming has always been a risky business; however, ongoing changes are greater, more rapid and more intense and creating greater uncertainty. As we work to manage, prevent and mitigate the risks to farmers, should we be also asking ourselves: “Is the real issue that we are NOT taking the risks needed to explore and adopt new ways to farm?”

The Organic Farming Research Foundation recently published a report, Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity. This report is a review of North American scientific literature concerning organic farming. The literature showed that organic farming practices do help slow the causes of climate change and organic farming systems seem to be more resilient in times of drought and flooding—two outcomes from recent extreme weather events. This being the case, wouldn’t it be prudent to invest further in organic farming research to expand upon these findings? And the results of this research would be available to all farmers.

In the words of Andrew Zolli, author of "Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back," "What resilience does as a new framework is it says that we will make mistakes, we will be surprised, we will ‘go over the cliff.' Resilience is improvisational, creative, collaborative working together in periods of great uncertainty.”

Could investigating organic farming methods and increased collaboration lead to greater resilience for all farmers in this time of greater uncertainty?

Maureen WilmotMaureen Wilmot (
Executive Director, Organic Farming Research Foundation | Twitter | Facebook

1 comment on “Risk, Resilience and Change”

  1. Ngwenya Nomsa
    Posted Monday, October 10, 2016 at 8:21:28 AM

    I have been farming organic tomatoes in my area now would like to venture into Conservation Agriculture to increase organic matter in my soils but want to know where to Fi d the correct implements, e,g. Roller, planters for CO practise

The views and opinions expressed in AgChllenge2050 blog posts are solely the opinions of the authors, and not those of Farm Foundation, NFP.