By Walter Sorochan
Posted January 20, 2011 Disclaimer The information presented here is for informative and educational purposes only and is not intended as curative or prescriptive advice.
Purpose of article
The world, in 2011, is experiencing shortages of food; resulting in higher food prices. Food shortages are expected to trigger food wars, riots, starvation and food related illnesses. This threat of food shortages has spurred interest in growing food at the local level.
One way to deal with anticipated food shortages and expensive food is to grow food where people live. This article documents and collates information about growing food locally.
The world food system, especially United States, has changed substantially over the last fifty years. This is in part due to more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities, and the numbers are growing. UCLA: Sustainability
How and where we grow food has also changed in the past 100 years. For example, in 1870, 100% of the apples consumed in Iowa were produced in Iowa. By 1999, Iowa farmers grew only 15% of the apples consumed in the state. Hill: Food miles
Another example of how our food system has changed: Despite being the nation’s largest food producer, California currently imports more than half of its food. According to the International Society for Ecology and Culture, 43% of California’s raw farm tonnage is exported, and 59% of our state’s demand for raw farm products is brought in from elsewhere. Ironically, California imports many of the same agricultural products that it also produces for export, resulting in duplicative trade and wasteful use of resources. Blythman: Cost of food miles
Another reason for a food system change is due to a global economy, where the food industry has
centralized and the food supply
has become concentrated in the hands of fewer, larger suppliers. For example:
Centralizing the food supply has resulted in making food available the year round in rich countries like Canada, United States and Europe. Food, like avocados from South America, apples from New Zealand, cherries, lettuce and broccoli from Chile are all flown at an increased price during the winter months. Ecoshock: growing insane However, the bad side of such a food supply system is that it has caused a great disparity in the food supply available to the poor and rich countries of the world.
For example: The average disposable income spent on food, beverages, and tobacco ranges from 17% in high-income countries to 53% in low-income countries. On average, Americans spend less than 10%, while Nigerians spend 73%. Univ Michigan: Social Development The point being made here is that people in rich countries can afford to buy foods imported from outside of regional, state and even national boundaries at consistent products at low prices, while people in poor countries simply do not have money to buy expensive food from outside their countries. Consequently, people in poor countries face starvation and death while people in America face lower nutritional quality and higher food prices.
Food crisis ... Everything peaking at same time Chaos:
There is an astounding lack of awareness and understanding that the world appears to be reaching peak water, oil, economic and food crises .... all occurring at the same time. Tabb: global food crisis There is a real threat of devaluation of US monetary purchasing standard occurring at more or less the same time that food, water and oil shortages are occurring. That these crises are happening at the same time throughout the world is an event unprecedented in the history of the world. This situation poses an imminent threat to food security and political stability: Brown: Food bubble collapse Tabb: global food crisis
This peaking of crises all at the same time triggers the need to think about surviving in a futuristic world of consumer shortages and possible chaos. One way to survive is to ensure a steady supply of food by growing food locally.
Food bubble about to burst: Food Riots January 17, 2011:
Lester Brown, an agricultural policy expert and founder of the Washington- based Earth Policy Institute, warns this week, in both his book and a new article in Foreign Policy, that the "food bubble" may be about to burst; laying out why there is good reason to believe that the new year, 2011, may be disastrous on this front. Brown: Food bubble collapse Consider Brown's comments below:
Rising food prices serve as a powerful reminder that we humans are inextricably linked to our environment, and when it suffers, we suffer. It's also a reminder that development and environment issues cannot and should not be treated as separate from food. As Gawain Kripke, policy director for Oxfam America noted last week, unless we address both the underlying issues of both climate and development, "we will find ourselves perpetually on the knife's edge of disaster." Sheppard: food bubble bursting
Today's Food System in USA, Canada and the World:
Our food system is particularly energy-intensive and vulnerable to fluctuations in energy prices. These energy prices are not included in the real cost of food.
North Americans enjoy a diverse abundance of cheap food – spending a mere 9.8% of disposable income on food. However, store prices do not reveal the external costs – economic, social, and environmental – that impact the sustainability of the food system. Considering the full life cycle of the U.S. food system (graphic above) illuminates the connection between consumption behaviors and production practices. Univ Michigan Fact sheet
Speculation on Wall Street: Another overlooked aspect of the cost of food is Wall Street speculation on the food supply. Speculators are gambling on the future cost of food, thereby indirectly also causing a food shortage in the world.
Until deregulation, the price for food was set by the forces of supply and demand for food itself. [ This was already deeply imperfect: it left a billion people hungry. ] But after deregulation, it was no longer just a market in food. It became, at the same time, a market in food contracts based on theoretical future crops – and the speculators are driving the price through the roof. Hari: Stock Market impact on Food prices Eli Brown: SPECULATING IN HUNGER
Hidden costs: But the biggest affect on cost of food is the hidden and covered up cost of food production and distribution. According to Lester Brown, our market-based economy is not telling the truth about the real costs of fossil fuels supporting the growth of food.
Hidden energy use within the food system.
The graph below projects the cost of energy used to provide food.
While studies vary, a typical estimate is that the food industry accounts for 10% of all fossil fuel use in the United States. Of all the energy consumed by the food system, only about 20% goes toward production; the remaining 80% is associated with processing, transportation, home refrigeration and preparation. Hill: Food miles
The energy consumed in a system is often a useful indicator of its sustainability. Modern agriculture and the food system as a whole have developed a strong dependence on fossil energy. We generate much of our electricity for refrigeration from fossil fuels.
In many ways oil powers the world. It powers our transportation systems and our commodity distribution systems. If the price of oil goes up, the price of EVERYTHING, including food, goes up. A realistic way to fight the impact of fossil fuels on the cost of food is to grow food locally; thereby lowering the transportation and refrigeration costs.
It has been shown that local food systems do reduce food miles, which in turn tend to reduce energy consumption; but there are exceptions. But ... it also depends on the kind of local transportation used. Air freight emits more greenhouse gases per food mile than any other mode of transport. Big trucks are second in emitting greenhouse gases and emit more pollution than smaller trucks. The table below compares the distance cost of locally grown foods to imported foods.
Source: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Hill: Food miles
Weighted Average Source Distance & = WTSD
Food sold in U.S. supermarkets averages some 1,500 miles from farm to plate--a 25% increase from 1980, according to Worldwatch Institute, a Washington nonprofit. Local food movement Smith: 100-mile diet Hill: Food miles Blythman: Cost of food miles
What is localized agriculture? A new trend in the global food supply is decentralizing how we grow food and how we plan cities. Cities are planting surrounding streets and open landscapes "green;" thereby making cities more habitable and sustainable. UCLA: Sustainability Growing food locally [ localized agriculture ] has many advantages over food grown "air miles away" in a distant country. Local food reduces the number of "food miles" between farm and plate, and helps to keep agricultural profits in the local economy.
This means that farms and farmers grow their food locally and also sell their produce and food in the areas in which food is grown within their region. Localizing agriculture helps local economies improve by keeping the money local, buying local produce from farmers in your area and creating jobs locally. Localizing cuts down on the transportation, refrigeration and storage costs of shipping food around the country.
Localization of Food Growing Trends:
Growing food in your local community includes all of the following trends that sustain food availability for people during good and bad times:
Buying local food:
Many schools and universities are now making a point of buying local food because it is fresher, tastier, more nutrient-rich and it fits into new campus greening programs. Supermarkets are increasingly contracting seasonally with local farmers when produce is available. For example, in late 2010 Walmart announced a plan to buy more produce from local farmers for its stores. Some year-round food markets are evolving a supply of only locally produced foods, including not only fresh produce but also meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and other farm products.
Home gardening [ back yard ] was given a big boost in the spring of 2009 when First Lady Michelle Obama worked with children from a local school to dig up a piece of the White House lawn to start a vegetable garden. There was a precedent for this: Eleanor Roosevelt planted a White House victory garden during World War II. Her initiative encouraged millions of victory gardens, which eventually grew 40 percent of the nation’s fresh produce.
Victory [ home ] Gardens: Example San Francisco, Ca..2008 is a program of Garden for the Environment and the City of San Francisco's Department for the Environment. A two-year pilot project to support the transition of backyard, front yard, window boxes, rooftops and unused land into organic food production areas, Victory Gardens 2008+ derives its title from, and build on, the successful nationwide Victory Garden programs of WWI and WWII. "Victory" is growing food at home for increased local food security and reducing the food miles associated with the average American meal. San Francisco victory gardens 2008
Many cities now have home garden projects like the one in San Diego, California. Sterman: homegrown San Diego
Community Gardens: Many cities and small towns in Canada, United States and England are creating community gardens that can be used by those who would otherwise not have access to land for gardening. Providing space for community gardens is now seen by many local governments as an essential service, like providing playgrounds or parks. California Farm Link
School gardens are another welcome development.
Illustration on right is an example of an innovative urban garden on the roof top of a school in Manhattan, NY.
Illustration on left is a school garden in a Chicago school.
Market Gardening: Market gardening is the commercial production of vegetables, fruits, flowers and other plants on a scale larger than a home garden [ one to two acres ], yet small enough that many of the principles of gardening are applicable. The goal, as with all farm enterprises, is to run the operation as a business and to make a profit. Market gardening is often oriented toward local markets Bachmann: Market Gardening
Roof Top Gardens: High rise buildings the world over are building roof top gardens as a way to grow food locally and to also provide energy savings.
Hotels are going local, establishing partnerships with area farmers and growing food in rooftop gardens. They are catering to travelers seeking to eat healthily on the road. Mohn: Hotel roof gardens
Sustainable City Movements:
Urban gardens are gaining popularity throughout the world.
Many cities are passing ordinances that support local food production and discouraging importing of foods from far away places. Canadian cities have started the movement to local food production. Eight cities in Ontario have set strict limits on how far food can travel, before appearing in a "Farmer's Market". Gone are the long-haul truckers pretending to be local farmers. The big city of Toronto, and surrounding cities, are looking at their "food-shed" and how to encourage local growers. Ecoshock: growing insane
Anne Arbor, Detroit, and Flint Michigan are also doing winter farming, Elliot Coleman, and more local food growing. There is a large and growing number of Farmer's markets in New York' even deep in the poorest neighborhoods, where fresh vegetables were almost non-existent previously. Ecoshock: growing insane
Many more cities, like Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego, have also initiated movement to" small is beautiful!" Many other European and Asian countries [ China on left ] likewise have also started similar movements. Jaffe: profitable roof gardens Ecoshock: growing insane Sterman: homegrown San Diego
The whole idea is to plant food, trees and shrubs to help a city feed itself, and food gardens especially for the poor.
Changing eating habits: There is also an awakening cultural trend about sustainable eating habits. An American living high on the food chain with a diet heavy in grain-intensive livestock products, including red meat, consumes twice as much grain as the average Italian and nearly four times as much as the average Indian. Adopting a Mediterranean diet can cut the grain footprint of Americans roughly in half, reducing carbon emissions accordingly. Brown: Food bubble collapse
Hypocritical Politicians: Michael Pollan, professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has hit the nail on the head with his comments about lack of real political support for fixing the food system:
Advantages of growing food locally:
The current food system is unsustainable. It is dysfunctional. There is a somewhat silent world food growing-distribution revolution taking place. Although many places in the world are making their roof tops green, they are not really growing a lot of food locally on the roof tops. More show than go! Most roof tops were not built to support a heavy green roof. From the review of information herein and from a common sense point of view , growing food locally and minimizing transportation and storage expenses [ getting rid of fossil fuels as dependent sources of energy ] is the best way to fix an unsustainable food system.
There can be no real health care reform without a reform of agricultural subsidies, of the food system and of the life styles of people. Politicians need to wake up to the reality that growing food locally is a lot better than importing it from distant regions! Grow your own food, cook in home and eat at home! Doing so helps you to control your own destiny! Sustainability is accepting the idea that surviving in a troubled and shrinking world is more important than making money!
Alter Bonnie, "Victory Gardens: War on Waste," Tree Hugger, May.30.08. Alter: Victory Gardens 1940
AquaPro Holland Groasis Waterboxx Waterboxx: grow tree in desertGroasis:steps illustrated
Bachmann Janet, "Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide Market Gardening," National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Bachmann: Market Gardening
Barrett Jon, "An grassroots army marches on its stomach," February12/2009. Barrett: Sustainable growth
Blythman Joanna, "Food miles: The true cost of putting imported food on your plate," The Independency Green Living, Thursday, May 31, 2007. Blythman: Cost of food miles
Brown Lester R., "Adapted from Chapter 9, “Feeding Eight Billion People Well,” in Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization," Earg Policy Institute, December 01, 2009. Brown: localizating agriculture Lester R. Brown is founder and president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Brown Lester R., "Rising food prices point to a looming global food crisis," The Citizen, January 15, 2011. Brown: Looming food crisis
Brown Lester R., World on Edge: How to prevent an economic and Environmental Collapse, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2011 by Earth Policy Institute. Brown: Food bubble collapse
DeHaemer Christian A., "The Day They Burned the Price Chopper," Wealth Daily, January 17th, 2011. DeHaemer: food riots 2011Hari Johann, "How Goldman gambled on starvation," The Independent, July 2, 2010. Hari: Stock Market impact on Food prices
Hill Holly, "Food Miles: Background and Marketing," National Sustainable Agriculture Information, Published 2008 ATTRA Publication #IP312. Hill: Food miles
The term 'food miles' refers to the distance food travels from the location where it is grown to the location where it is consumed, or in other words, the distance food travels from farm to plate. Recent studies have shown that this distance has been steadily increasing over the last fifty years. Studies estimate that processed food in the United States travels over 1,300 miles, and fresh produce travels over 1,500 miles, before being consumed.
Holmgren David, "Permaculture," Permaculture Principles. Holmgren: Permaculture
Jaffe Sam, "No Green Acres? Try Skyscrapers," Wired, September 28, 2005. Jaffe: profitable roof gardens
Leahy Stephen, "In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold," IPS [Internet Press Service], UXBRIDGE, Canada, January 13, 2011. Credit:UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran Leahy: Farmland Is the New Gold "More than 100 billion dollars has been invested in buying farmland since 2008, mainly in Africa by foreign companies and state entities."
Lee Mike, "Eating into slow food," San Diego Union, video Lee: Video home grown food
Linsley Benjamin and Ted Caplow, "Sustainable Urban Agriculture," Urban Land Green, Spring, 2008. Linsley: urban farms
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"Local-Food Movement: The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet," Time Magazine, June 11, 2006. Local food movement
locavore: “Local foods” is often thought of as a geographic concept, referring to the distance from production to consumption. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines its 2007 word of the year, “locavore,” as a person who tries to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. However, there is little consensus that 100 miles equates to local. locavores
MacIntyre April, "Jennie Garth throwing a Garden Party, Zucchini and Eggplant need not apply, the interview," M & G, Jan 22, 2010. MacIntyre: Celebrities endorsing localied farming
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Martinez Steve W., "Locally grown foods continue to grow in popularity," Western Farm Press, November 23, 2010. Martinez: local food popularity [ History of food production in USA and Canada ]
Mohn Tanya, "Hotels are ‘going local’ with rooftop gardens, beekeeping," New York Times, October 19. 2010. Mohn: Hotel roof gardens Hotels are going local, establishing partnerships with area farmers and growing food in rooftop gardens. They are catering to travelers seeking to eat healthily on the road.
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, "Why Local Foods?" June 16, 2010. NSAIS: local foods
Pollan Michael, "Big Food vs. Big Insurance Twitter," The New York Times, September 9, 2009. Pollan: local farmers vs. Big farm industry
Radio Ecoshock, "LOCAL FOOD – GROWING SANE," December 3, 2010. Ecoshock: growing insane
Reinagel Monica, "HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING ORGANIC FOODS," The Dekarske Company, April 13, 2009. Reinagel: Health benefits organic food
Rocha Cecilia, "An Integrated Program for Urban Food Security: The Case of Belo Horizonte, Brazil," Ryerson Polytechnic University, Toronto, Ontario, April 2000. Rocha: Brazil food program
Sheppard Kate, "Beware of the Food Bubble," Mother Jones, January 14, 2011 Sheppard: food bubble bursting
Smith Alisa and J.B. MacKinnon, "100-mile Diet," Wikipedia. Smith: 100-mile diet
Sterman Nan, "Homegrown harvest," The San Diego Union-Tribune, August 3, 2008. Sterman: homegrown San Diego San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project: Three local kitchen gardens show that you can do it, too. T
Tabb William, "The Global Food Crisis And what has capitalism to do with it?" ZMagazine, September 2008. Tabb: global food crisis
UCLA Center for Sustainable Urban Systems, "Center for Sustainable Urban Systems." UCLA: Sustainability
University of Michigan, "Social Development Indicators," Center for Sustainable Systems. Univ Michigan: Social Development
University of Michigan, "U.S. Food System," Center for Sustainable Systems. Univ Michigan Fact sheet
Velazquez Linda, "GPW: ESRI Canada’s Garden in the Sky," Sky Gardens, May 19, 2010. Velazquez: Canada roof gardens