Feeding the future: RRU researchers explore uncertainty in food supply

The Farm at RRU helps address food insecurity in our region. RRU professors are helping communities like ours research options for stable food sources. Below is one example of our faculty sharing their expertise with other British Columbians.

The future is uncertain, so how do you plan for it? For example, what would you do if your local grocery store suddenly had a shortage of produce? What if that shortage continued for months?

Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainability Rob Newell and collaborator Professor Leslie King aim to answer these questions.

Rob and Leslie

The duo received a $25,000 Partnership Engage Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to work on the project Food Systems Scenarios in an Uncertain Future.

Many Canadians already experience food insecurity. That trend is likely to continue rising amid challenges such as extreme weather due to climate change, the knock-on effects of another global pandemic or supply chain issues caused by conflicts in other parts of the world. All of these factors affect governance and food security.

Partnering with the Community Connections (Revelstoke) Society (CCRS), Newell and King will work with community stakeholders in Revelstoke, BC to identify a future scenario that represents an equitable and resilient local food system – the ‘dream scenario’ if you will. Once identified, they will then explore alternative scenarios that respond to external pressures and shocks — such as extreme effects of climate change or impacts from global conflicts. The final stage of their research will be to identify interventions needed to achieve the dream scenario and chart the actions required to make progress toward the future ideal.

Local government, non-government organizations, community organizations and other stakeholders will take part in a series of workshops to help researchers identify the elements needed for an equitable and resilient local food system. One way they’ll examine possible scenarios and experience what food futures could look like in Revelstoke is by using an online visualization tool developed using 3D game-development software.

Users of the visualization tool can navigate various scenarios through the first-person perspective, and walk-through, for example, a virtual community farm. Their 3D explorations might reveal the need to build in more plant shelters to adapt to increases in extreme heat events. Other examinations of food supply would include the need to consider opportunities for people to have traditional or culturally preferred foods.

Screen shot of a future community

“In some ways, you’re dealing with these multiverse elements,” Newell says, the project’s principal investigator. “But that’s just reality. Certain disturbances, certain trends are going to shape where we go and what the world looks like.”

The work is the continuation of another research project with CCRS, says Newell, whose Canada Research Chair work carries a focus on improving social justice and equity in local food systems through long-term planning that looks ahead all the way to the year 2100.

“Our future deals with a lot of uncertainty. Given world trends, how might this scenario change, how might it look different? What sort of interventions, what sort of strategies do we need to have a resilient, livable food future?

“It’s a new way of being able to do scenario analysis that doesn’t keep you so locked and fixated on one particular future and helps you understand that there are multiple pathways, and it’s good to be prepared for multiple futures.”