Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dream Planning - A Radical Approach to Food Systems Thinking

I was first introduced to the work of Peter Warshall and the Dreaming New Mexico project at the EcoFarm 2011 conference, where he spoke before a packed audience about the unique process that informed the DNM Plan. The idea behind the project was to explore possibilities for energy and food self-reliance at the state level. There was a high chance that the end product would be a highly-lauded, yet rarely-read report, the fate of so many planning documents. But through an imaginative and engaging process, one that started with the question "what do you dream for your future?",  the product is a beautiful series of maps which reveal a new perspective on the land and its uses.

[Diagram of edible plant lifecycles, via Dreaming New Mexico]

In their own words, Dreaming New Mexico:

"... arises from the love of our place. The program began as a place of refuge from the trials and tribulations of everyday attempts to make the world a better place. We asked: What do we really desire? We sought insight and data from diverse state residents—government workers, farmers, energy consultants, non-government activists, educators, philanthropists, entrepreneurs—to dream how their work fits into the Big Picture of the longer-term understanding of what they want for themselves, the next generation and the Earth."
Key investigations include identifying "agro eco-regions" within the state - distinct production zones defined by soil and climate; naming all food crops that are, or can be, grown in New Mexico, with the goal of eventually producing 25% of the state's food locally; creating a value chain concept; and recognizing "legacy foods" that have a specific cultural meaning to groups within the state, such as the San Juan Pueblo Chile and Hopi Blue Corn.

[Agro-ecoregions of New Mexico, via Dreaming New Mexico]

[Food system diagram, via Dreaming New Mexico]

The plan is organized around a series of "dreams", and subsequent integration of those dreams with facts, goals and potential methods of achieving those goals. For example, the dream for land security is followed with strategies that include state programs to purchase lands for incubator farms, and a suggestion that mapping high quality farm land can contribute to its preservation.

Reading the full document, I imagined approaching all planning projects this way, with the open-ended and simple question of dreams, and wondered how the results would differ if we began without the usual agendas and expertise.  As we face unprecedented challenges of population growth, resource depletion and environmental change, we need to find new ways of approaching our problems, and hopefully new answers will follow.