Resilient local food systems enable communities to weather disruptions and continue to produce and consume the food they need to live active and healthy lives. In the United States, globalization and economies of scale in the production and transportation of food has led to fractured local food systems that offer little overlap between production, distribution, and consumption. During the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions exposed the risk of these divided and underdeveloped local food systems and foreshadowed the clear risk climate change–driven hazards can pose to local production and distribution.

Such climate risks may exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities (PDF) in agricultural production, food access, and food insecurity stemming from systematic disinvestment in communities of color, meaning residents who already struggle to meet their food needs will likely bear the brunt of the hazards.

To explore connections between racial equity, local food systems, and climate while engaging communities, the Racial Equity Analytics Lab, an Urban initiative that seeks to use data to address complex challenges in advancing racial equity, developed a pilot data tool that combines local-level data on climate hazards, food insecurity, agricultural production, and racial disparities. With this tool, we hope communities with overlapping challenges, policymakers, and other stakeholders can collaborate and accelerate evidence-based decisionmaking to strengthen local food systems.

Climate hazards could exacerbate disparities in food security and agricultural production

As climate hazards become more extreme, equitable adaptation requires accounting for differences in exposure and resources across communities. Following a disaster, communities of color tend to receive less Federal Emergency Management Agency recovery assistance (PDF) than affluent white communities, hindering their ability to rebuild. For an already food-insecure community, a hurricane that closes the one accessible grocery store could devastate households and worsen food access and security barriers, especially if that closure becomes permanent.

Using local-level data to address the intersection between racial equity, food systems, and climate hazards

Counties with elevated climate risks from wildfires, droughts, and floods and high rates of food insecurity may face outsize challenges building and restoring resilient food systems. To help these areas amid growing climate threats, policymakers could prioritize policies designed to help local communities manage climate risks and better meet local food needs.

Policies and practices to support food system resilience should center racial equity for greater impact

Discussions of food system resilience, climate hazards, and racial equity are deeply interconnected but not often addressed holistically by policies and practices. Our pilot data tool can help decisionmakers begin to address the complex, interconnected challenges of food system resilience and inform responsive policymaking that is grounded in evidence.

Read the full article about food system resiliency by Kassandra Martinchek, Elaine Waxman, Noah Johnson, Amy Rogin, Judah Axelrod, and Sonia Torres Rodríguez at Urban Institute.