Breaking Boundaries to Avoid a Food System Crisis - Part 4

By Guest Author on 21 July 2020

Making it a culture - Building the Path to a Better Future

True impact will be achieved when a food systems mindset is embodied throughout the organizations and stakeholders within the food system. The hurdle to true impact lies with providing opportunities to foster and grow the shift to a food systems approach. To begin that journey, the first action is for current leaders to recognize the need and identify future leaders with desire to lead in the VUCA food systems paradigm. Opportunities for development of the food systems skills will be required for leaders, and many programs already exist to assist in this development.

Many organizations provide training for their next level of managers that are specific to their context. However, to achieve the food-secure future envisioned, an expanded leadership mindset with food systems thinking across roles and departments will also be needed. Organizations should encourage and support expanded food systems leadership training and development opportunities not only to help their next-level managers gain a broader leadership approach but also develop emerging leaders who have demonstrated interest, growth, and desire to promote change.

Continuing education provides one option to access expanded food systems leadership development. There are several programs, courses, and workshops focused on leadership and critical thinking as well as food systems. However, many of these are either too narrow or too general in focus to tackle the complexities of the entire food system. A newer approach is to embed leadership development within a program focused on expanding food systems understanding and thinking.

In addition to the formal training programs within an organization or offered by academic institutions, informal development opportunities are available and play an important role in creating a broader food systems approach.These include industry and professional associations, conferences, and mentors. To promote the broader food systems view, joining and participating in association committees that are outside of role or disciplines will be needed. When attending conferences, intentional selection of sessions outside of an individual’s domain expertise, networking, and asking questions of those in different specialty areas should be encouraged. On a more personal level, discussion with peers and identification of mentors outside of specialty areas will help build and leverage relationships and conversations that can lead to expanded knowledge and sharing across disciplines. Really, it’s about identifying opportunities to think beyond one’s boundaries, becoming involved, and being willing to raise a hand to explore new ways to approach the broader and rapidly changing food system.

Through a multi-pronged approach including both formal and informal food systems leadership development, our future leaders will be able to grow their skills and add near immediate value to their home organizations.

Averting a Crisis and Moving Our Food System Forward

In addition to growing leaders who are fluent in a food systems approach and comfortable with the VUCA nature of the food system, it will take engagement from all stakeholders in the food system to avert a crisis. When thinking about stakeholders, disciplines and sectors are both important, and we must break boundaries and build bridges between them. For example, public-private partnerships, multi-cultural cooperation, and cross-disciplinary innovation will grow in importance. We must be willing to think more holistically and outside of the norm. We must foster a culture of enhanced collaboration that drives discovery and innovation across the continuum of the food system.

Most importantly, we need to work with and instill in our emerging leaders a food system mindset. This will allow us to develop and implement more effective food system solutions, and achieve a more sustainable global future. By fostering and embracing a food systems-thinking approach, which focuses on the inter-relationships and complex interactions found in our multi-faceted food system, we will be able to mitigate negative aspects and promote positive factors that will allow us to avert a crisis.

Let’s break boundaries. Join my quest to shift our orientation to a more holistic, food systems-thinking approach—an approach that will allow us to effectively collaborate, innovate, and discover better paths to address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Together, we can ensurea food system crisis is averted so that our children and their children have both a food-secure future and a robust, healthy planet.

Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D., is the director of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program, director of the Food Protection and Defense Institute, and associate professor at the University of Minnesota.


2. Katz, B. 2019. “Poor Potato Crops Could Lead to a North American French Fry Shortage.”Smithsonian Magazine.

3. Nickel, R. 2019. “Frozen Harvest Leaves Bitter Taste for U.S. Sugar Beet Farmers.” Reuters.

4. Cortina, M. 2019. “How Climate Change Has Impacted the 2019 Harvest.”Olive Oil Times.

5. Wallace-Wells, D,The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming(New York: Penguin Random House, 2019).


This article was republished with the permission of Food Safety Magazine

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