Farming on the Edge: The Berkeley Symposium on Sustainable Food

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Food production and distribution are entering revolutionary times. Energy and fertilizer, the underpinnings of global food production, are nearing peak availability and increasing scarcity. The demand for protein is driving the rapid collapse of ocean fisheries and the on-going loss of terrestrial fauna. As the recent National Academy of Sciences Report [1] indicates, a wholesale change in agriculture as we now know it is needed to avert crisis by mid century. Coupled with a change in practice, a change in the education of students [2] and researchers is needed to address these problems.

Independent of these issues, there are remarkable changes occurring in the food sector. Urban dwellers are growing and marketing food. Young urban “entrepreneurs” are opting for careers in small farm agriculture. There is an increasing demand for advice in gardening and animal husbandry by suburban residents. Most of all, the origin of what appears on the plates of many restaurants is as interesting to the consumer as the recipe.

The Berkeley campus is a rapidly evolving center of expertise in food sustainability [3]. It lies within the epicenter of a grassroots movement that is challenging the status quo of American agriculture. The event will be a showcase of campus expertise, and a blend of invited international scholars, that will be attractive to faculty, students and to groups of local professionals (business, farmers, chefs, writers).

A very tentative outline of symposia themes include:

  • Food Systems in Transition: Energy and Resource Limits in the 21st Century
  • Farming on the Edge: Urban Agriculture
  • Farming without Oil: Lessons from Traditional Agricultural Systems
  • Empty Seas: The Exploitation of Global Fisheries
  • Eating Wildlife: The Economics and Policies Affecting Bushmeat Consumption
  • Thinking About What We Eat: Formal and Public Education on Food
  • The Disappearing Landscape: Preserving and Sustaining Farmland
  • Legislating Change: Toward a Sustainable Farm Policy


[1] Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century. 2010. National Academy of Sciences. ISBN: 0-309-14897-9, 598 pages

[2] Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World. 2009. National Academy of Sciences. ISBN978-0-309-13221-3, 220 pages