Changing the future of food and farming

Healthy & Sustainable Food Systems

Key research questions

  • How do farmers increase health in their farming systems and is it possible to identify general drivers of good farm health?
  • How can we successfully transfer tacit farmer knowledge and co-design new learnings to maximise health effects and adoption in organic farming and food systems?
  • How do we develop resilient food systems that provide low-impact, safe, nutritious and high-quality food in sufficient quantities through the development of sustainable and healthy food and farming systems?

The importance of healthy and sustainable food systems

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

Our research in this area focuses on getting people working together, for example, through regional and national good practice networks of all involved stakeholders of the food system – farmers, processors, advisors, consumers, researchers. 

We focus on testing, monitoring and demonstrating health concepts in organic food and farming systems in order to increase our understanding of health, its attributes, its connectedness in the various domains (soil, plant, animal, human, ecosystem), the delivery of public goods, sustainable value chains, as well as its impact on the whole food system. We have also developed a well-used method for sustainability assessment: the Public Goods tool has been developed and modified for different food and farming system contexts.

Key elements of the theme

Participatory, interdisciplinary, multi-actor networks across the UK, collaborating for healthy food and farming systems. Sustainable food systems; Environment and ecosystems; Farmers and Growers; Regional markets and value chains; Consumers and civil society.

Current projects

Farm System Health - Farmer principles of health in practice

This project uses participatory approaches to work with the established network of example farms in the UK, Germany and Austria to jointly develop a set of criteria (a) for farm health measurement and (b) for practical knowledge multiplication.

Developing best practice networks of health in organic agricultural systems.

Developing an international network of producers, advisors, scientists and other stakeholders, to jointly elaborate new and interdisciplinary approaches to health measurement and health research in ecological agriculture.

Environmental Land Management Scheme: Test and Trials

The project aims to assess the public goods that are being delivered through agricultural practices, across two landscape areas using the Public Goods (PG) tool.

Relevant Publications

  • 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:
Researcher - Agricultural Supply Chains
Head of Research
Sustainability Researcher