Welcoming new faculty member Dr. Vivian Valencia: Research Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action.

Welcoming new faculty member Dr. Vivian Valencia: Research Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action.

“How can ‘lighthouses’ enable a transformation towards sustainable food and farming systems?” This is the key question that drives Dr. Valencia

Dr. Vivian Valencia joined Bishop’s University as a Research Chair in Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action at the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS) program in October 2022. The SAFS program is a new program that just launched this past fall semester, offering majors, minors, certificates and tailor-made master’s degrees in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (www.ubishops.ca/safs). Dr. Valencia explains that this program is quite unique and exciting because it places emphasis on improving the sustainability of all aspects of agriculture and food systems, focusing on the social, economic and environmental aspects of agriculture. As parts of SAFS, she created her first class on food systems, AGR11 ‘Lighthouse Farms for Sustainable Futures’, which started this Winter session 2023. In this brand-new course, students develop critical thinking skills to analyze food and farming systems from social and ecological perspectives. Students also discuss how ‘extraordinary’ cases in food and farming systems— ‘lighthouses’—inspire positive visions for what (more) sustainable futures may look like, and how ‘lighthouses may shine light on plausible pathways towards desirable and sustainable food and farming systems.

Dr. Valencia explains that the current food system is an important drivers of climate change—responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions—and also of the biodiversity loss crisis. Food systems are neither working for the environment or people, both in terms of nutrition and social justice and equity outcomes. Reforming our food systems is key to tackle these crises. This calls for a systems-level change; that means not only reforming how food is produced but also the whole supply chain, all the way to our consumption habits. This won’t happen in small incremental changes (we simply don’t have the time given the climate and biodiversity crises!); we need rapid, structural and value changes. This is what Dr. Valencia calls a (radical) food system transformation.

Solutions to the limitations of our current food system will require new visions for the future, collaborations from stakeholders across the value chain and, above all, it will require disruption. Good disruption, says Dr. Valencia, the kind that makes us think differently about what is possible. Dr. Valencia seeks this ‘good disruption’ in ‘lighthouse’ farms and food systems initiatives. This way ‘lighthouse’ farms, and other ‘lighthouse’ initiatives in food and farming systems, may show the way forward, away from the undesirable aspects of our dominant food system and onto new, more sustainable pathways.

Dr. Valencia’s research on ‘lighthouses’ started when she was an Assistant Professor at Wageningen University (Netherlands), where her group pioneered the “Global Network of Lighthouse Farms” (https://www.lighthousefarmnetwork.com/), which brings together exemplary farms and foodscapes from around the world that have found radical solutions to address the sustainability challenges we currently face. This global network serves as a platform for collaboration with farmers, policy makers and other food system stakeholders. It is also an ‘outdoor classroom and laboratory’ for shared learning with real practitioners. Dr. Valencia continues her engagement with the Global Network of Lighthouse Farms as a Research Partner.

Dr. Valencia is continuing her exploration of lighthouses in the food system. She is now focusing on the Canadian context with the aim of identifying local farms and food system initiatives that are showing new, more sustainable ways of operating in the local context. Her students in AGR11 ‘Lighthouse Farms for Sustainable Futures’ have already pointed her to many interesting examples in the region.

Ultimately, through her teaching and research, Dr. Valencia wants to inspire other people to think differently about what kinds of positive futures are possible—also as a way of escaping dystopian views of our future and to assuage the ‘eco-anxiety’ that some students experience when learning about the issues that plague our food systems. She hopes that her teaching and research will enable students to become future changemakers to lead the change needed towards sustainable food systems.

“We need a radical change—there is no time for small, incremental changes”


Joannie St-Germain M.Sc.