Mentorship Spotlight: Can Regenerative Food and Farming Enhance Community Resilience?

Mentee Laura Lengnick is an award-winning soil scientist with 30 years of experience putting sustainable values into action in food and farming.  She contributed to the 3rd National Climate Assessment as the lead author of the USDA report, Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation.  In 2015, Laura founded Cultivating Resilience, LLC, a private firm that works with organizations of all kinds to integrate resilience thinking into operations and strategic planning. Her award-winning book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, explores climate change, resilience, and the future of food through the adaptation stories of some of America’s best sustainable, organic and regenerative farmers and ranchers. In September 2021, Laura joined the Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming to serve as the Director of Agriculture.

Mentor Tonya Graham is the Executive Director of the Geos Institute and the Director of its ClimateWise Initiative. She and her ClimateWise team help community leaders understand likely future conditions, determine vulnerabilities, and develop strategies to address them that care for both people and nature.  In 2019, Toyna led the launch of Climate Ready Communities, an “assisted do-it-yourself” climate resilience planning program that provides affordable assistance to small, mid-sized, and/or under-resourced communities nationwide. She co-authored A Practical Guide to Building Climate Resilience, a free, step-by-step planning guide that serves as the foundation for the Climate Ready Communities program. 

Since launching her consulting firm in 2015, Laura has served as the working lands climate resilience lead on a number of local, regional, and state adaptation planning projects. These experiences highlighted a troubling lack of awareness among community-based planning leaders of the potential resilience benefits of working lands – especially small and mid-scale farms using regenerative farming practices to produce food for metropolitan markets.  Working together, Laura and Tonya made a plan to develop a new resource for the Climate Ready Communities program that introduces the community resilience benefits of regional, regenerative food and farming.  Laura got started by learning more about the conceptual and practical barriers to integrating working lands resilience benefits into community resilience planning.  These range from the inability or unwillingness to recognize that different agricultural production methods produce distinctly different kinds and qualities of community co-benefits, to a lack of available resources suitable for use in community planning processes.  About the time that Laura’s work turned from research to drafting the brief, she received an unexpected job offer that shifted the course of this project.  Tonya’s willingness to share her insights gained through many years of experience supporting community-based resilience planning was instrumental in Laura’s confident decision to move into the new position. For now, the work that Tonya and Laura planned to do together is on hold, but Laura intends to finish the project once she has settled into her new position.