As part of our ongoing Community Changemakers series where we shine a light on the ways individuals and communities are making sustainable change happen, we’ve been asking our readers to share their stories with us. Today, we’re highlighting Paul Davidsen, a native Chicagoan whose passion for food led him to a career in organic produce — and to develop an Instagram account dedicated to exploring and educating others about food sustainability.
The account is @Sustainibble—named as a nod to his love of eating sustainable foods—and serves as a home for showcasing the insights he’s learned along his personal and professional food journeys.
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#tbt to all the aquaponic farm tours over the years. Aquaponics certainly has its limitations in terms of what and how much can be grown, but its low dependency on inputs, year-round growing capabilities and water efficiency make it a viable agricultural technique. The principles behind its process (biomimicry, closed-loop production, and maintaining a symbiotic environment between fish, plants, and bacteria) gives us a great alternative food production method for the future, particularly in places with short growing seasons and/or poor soils. Listed below are just a few of the businesses around the US pushing the envelope in this blend of hydroponics and aquaculture: @ouroboros.aquaponics @metrofarms @plantchicago @windycityharvest @livelocalorganic @sustainableharvesters @seed.and.roe @nelson_and_pade #sustainibble #aquaponics #hydroponics #aquaculture #sustainablefood #closedloopsystem #beneficialbacteria
And what journeys Paul has been on.
Early in his life, Paul’s personal relationship with food was complicated—and ultimately unhealthy. Throughout his adolescence, he ate food in excess, often opting for processed and packaged items with questionable nutritional value. By age sixteen, he weighed 300 pounds and knew he needed to make a lifestyle change.
Like most people in similar situations, Paul’s journey to healthier living wasn’t merely the result of a new diet or exercise but rather “reinventing the role food played in [his] life.” He sought out whole foods, began growing his own produce and cooking at home. Over months and years he adjusted his behavior and, “through many trials and even more errors,” reached a point where both he and his attitude about food was healthier.
His personal journey even began to inspire his professional ambitions. Soon after college, Paul took a job as a produce broker to supply fresh veggies to wholesalers, distributors and stores nationwide. What sounded like a dream job for someone whose life was positively transformed by fresh food soon revealed itself to be a sobering look at the issues and tragedies inherent in the industrial food system.
Monocultures and soil degradation. Overdependence on fossil fuels. Inequitable profit distribution. Food waste throughout every part of the supply chain.
“It took a year or two to begin to connect the dots and realize how widespread the issues are,” he told us. “One summer, the price of tomatoes dropped so low due to overproduction that it didn’t make sense for farmers to pay a labor force to pick and distribute their crops, which resulted in the waste of tomatoes in truly epic proportions.”
Limited in what he could do in his role as a broker, he took to researching ways he could become a good food advocate. “I decided that I wanted to contribute to changing our food system and to help people connect more deeply with real, nutritious food.”
That quest led him to follow the research, storytelling and work of Food Tank, Civil Eats and the Rodale Institute among others. Paul shared what he learned with family and friends and, eventually, got a new job with Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, an organic food distributor that works with farmers throughout the Midwest.
In his role, Paul establishes relationships with businesses throughout the Chicago area and advocates on behalf of farmers and producers who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to get their food to markets outside their communities. “There’s so much enthusiasm right now from farmers, businesses, and consumers to make the food chain traceable and trustworthy while creating a healthier society.”
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It sounds so simple. It is so simple. Yet we don’t do it nearly enough. According to a study published on BMJ Open, almost 60% of the modern American diet is comprised of ultra processed foods. The overconsumption of these calorie dense, nutritionally deficient “foods” has a strong link to the development of chronic diseases. Unfortunately, processed foods are also generally the cheapest and most accessible foods to buy across the country. At the personal level, to see a shift in the food options available to us, we must demand more whole foods and demand to know the story behind them. URL to study: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/3/e009892 #sustainibble #sustainablefood #realfood #thoughtforfood
Everything Paul is doing at work and in his free time is fueling his efforts to grow @Sustainibble. Though the Instagram account is still relatively young, Paul is planning to educate and highlight the personal stories of farmers, businesses and food lovers like him who have been transformed by the good food movement.
“If nothing else, I want it to help people understand the intricacies of the food system, and why it’s important for us to take greater care in what we eat.”
Are you a community changemaker, or do you know someone who is? We’d like to feature them! Visit sustainableamerica.org/contact to submit a story about sustainable change in your community.