Healthy & Sustainable Food Systems

Key research questions

  • How do we develop resilient and productive food systems that provide low-impact, high-quality food through the development of sustainable food and farming practices?
  • As measures of health, how can we successfully monitor the public goods delivered by farming systems in the UK?
  • How can we support the development of best practice in decision-making for healthy and sustainable farming systems?
  • How can farmers monitor, improve and maintain good soil health in the context of sustainable production?

The importance of healthy and sustainable food systems

The increasing pressures on our food systems – including rising populations, climate change, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, environmental contamination, rising populations, and global health crises – call for a comprehensive and holistic systems approach to finding solutions. That means linking up individual disciplines and collaborating towards transformative change.

Our research in this area focuses on facilitating the development of healthy and sustainable farming and food systems. This ranges from growing regional and national good practice networks with stakeholders to developing online decision-aids.

We focus on testing, monitoring, and demonstrating agroecological practices and have developed a well-used method for sustainability assessment: the Public Goods (PG) Tool. The PG Tool has been developed and modified for different food and farming system contexts during the past decade.

Working on the principle that “The health of soilplantanimal and man is one and indivisible”, we understand the importance of a healthy soil as the foundation of a healthy, sustainable farm system and as such work to support farmers’ understanding of soil health through practical assessment ensuring a “living soil”.

Key elements of the theme

Participatory, interdisciplinary, collaborative, multi-actor networks; Decision support; Sustainable food systems; Environment and ecosystems; Farmers and Growers; Practical soil health assessment; Regional markets and value chains; Consumers and civil society.

Current projects

Joining the Dots (Phase 1): Scoping a collaborative distribution network for agroecological food producers

The Joining the Dots project will lay the groundwork to develop a collaborative distribution network to catalyse growth of an agroecological food system in Cornwall.

Public Goods Tool

The Public Goods Tool was designed to capture data about farm practices and represent the sustainability and produce of public goods. The PG Tool offers a simple way of visualising the state of a farm in relation to 12 indicators

Relevant Publications

  • Mullender, Samantha; Sandor, Mignon; Pisanelli, Andrea; Kozyra, Jerzy; Borek, Robert; Ghaley, Bhim; Adrian, Gliga; von Oppenkowski, Moritz; Roesler, Tim; Salkanovic, Eldina; Smith, Jo; Smith, Laurence. (2020). A delphi-style approach for developing an integrated food/non-food system sustainability assessment tool. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 84. 106415. 10.1016/j.eiar.2020.106415
  • Gerrard C, Smith L, Pearce B, Padel S, Hitchings R and Measures M., 2012 Public goods and farming. In: Farming for food and water security, 10. Sustainable Agriculture Reviews, no. 8380. Springer, Dodrecht Heidelberg New York London, pp. 1-22.
  • Smith, L.G., Padel, S., Pearce, B., Lampkin, N., Gerrard, C., Woodward, L., Fowler, S., and Measures, M., 2011. Assessing the public goods provided by organic agriculture: lessons learned from practice, in The third scientific conference of ISOFAR: Organic is life – knowledge for tomorrow, Neuhoff, D., Halberg, N., Rasmussen, I.A., Hermansen, J., Ssekyewa, C., and Mok, S., Editors: Namyangju, Republic of Korea. p. 59-63.
  • Vieweger, Anja; Döring, Thomas; Bloch, Ralf; Bachinger, Johannes; Klimek, Milena; Paxton, Rebecca; Woodward, Lawrence (2017). The IFOAM principle of health – how do organic farmers apply it in practice? Scientific Conference “Innovative Research for Organic Agriculture 3.0” 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, India, November 9-11, 2017
  • Paxton, Rebecca; Klimek, Milena; Vieweger, Anja; Döring, Thomas; Bloch, Ralf; Bachinger, Johann; Woodward, Lawrence (2017). The Role of Intuition in Managing Organic Farm System Health. Scientific Conference “Innovative Research for Organic Agriculture 3.0” 19th Organic World Congress, New Delhi, India, November 9-11, 2017
  • Vieweger, Anja; Bloch, Ralf; Klimek, Milena; Bachinger, Johann; Döring, Thomas (2016). Was macht einen gesunden Landwirtschaftsbetrieb aus? – Zum Prinzip Gesundheit in der ökologischen Landwirtschaft. Lebendige Erde, 03/2016, p30-32
  • Vieweger, Anja and Döring, Thomas (2015). Assessing health in agriculture – towards a common research framework for soils, plants, animals, humans and ecosystems. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 95:3, p438-446, DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.6708
  • Döring, Thomas; Vieweger, Anja; Pautasso, Marco; Vaarst, Mette; Finckh, Maria and Wolfe, Martin (2015). Resilience as a universal criterion of health. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 95:3, p455-465, DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.6539

ORC Researchers and staff

These ORC team members are currently involved in food system projects:
Principal Researcher, Agroforesty