Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 573–592 | Cite as

Metropolitan foodsheds: a resilient response to the climate change challenge?

  • Laura LengnickEmail author
  • Michelle Miller
  • Gerald G. Marten


The twenty-first century challenges of climate change and resource scarcity bring a new urgency to the widely recognized sustainability challenges of the US food system. Environmental and social impacts associated with the geographic concentration and specialization in production, processing, and distribution that accompanied industrialization of the US food system have degraded our nation’s capacity to adapt to changing climate conditions. A consensus is emerging in sustainable food system scholarship that two fundamental changes—a transformation of production methods from industrial to sustainable and a transformation of food system geography from regional specialization to regional diversity—should enhance the resilience of the food system to climate change. A review of the literature suggests that transition to a nationally integrated network of sustainable metropolitan food systems (“metropolitan foodsheds”) would improve climate resilience by enhancing three key qualities associated with resilience in social-ecological systems—diversity, modularity, and balanced accumulation of capital assets. These qualities promote the capacity of a system to respond, to recover, and to transform in ways that reduce damaging effects and take advantage of opportunities created by change. Using a set of behavior-based resilience indicators in a review of case study research, this article examines the general resilience of sustainable production and supply chain systems. Sustainable production systems managed by award-winning sustainable food producers expressed all of the behaviors of a resilient system and demonstrated remarkable resilience to weather variability and extremes. These producers attributed the climate resilience of their farms and ranches to high-quality soils, planned biodiversity, and diversified marketing. Like many sustainable producers, these farmers and ranchers not only produce crops and livestock, they also participate in processing, distribution, and retailing. Resilient behavior was also expressed in sustainable supply chains developed by networked community cooperatives and through government investment in a large nonprofit food terminal. As recent food system planning projects in the USA illustrate, there is growing recognition of the potential sustainability and resilience benefits of regional food systems designed to develop positive relationships between the metropolitan core and surrounding areas. We can begin now to shift public support for a transition to more diversified production, to develop regional food system infrastructure, and to conduct comprehensive research to refine resilience indicators and develop food system performance metrics to guide a transformation of the US food system to a more sustainable and resilient future.


Agriculture Food system Sustainability Resilience Climate change Metropolitan foodshed City region Megaregions 



Regina Gregory contributed to the final editing of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Lengnick
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michelle Miller
    • 2
  • Gerald G. Marten
    • 3
  1. 1.Cultivating Resilience, LLCAshevilleUSA
  2. 2.University of Wisconsin - Center for Integrated Agricultural SystemsMadisonUSA
  3. 3.EcoTipping Points ProjectKailuaUSA

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