Saturday, May 2, 2009

Our food, our future.

Today's agriculture with its modern processes and use of chemicals has a burdening effect on the environment due to its intensity. The use of mechanization creates a huge load with large energy inputs in the form of mineral and natural fertilizers, pesticides, and various land improvements. The facts about corporate food-by the numbers.

In the 1930s, about 25% of the country's population resided on the nation's 6,000,000 small farms. By 1997, 157,000 large farms accounted for 72% of farm sales, with only 2% of the U.S. population residing on farms. As of the census of 2000, less than 1% lived on farms.

No other human activity affects the Earth -- or what we put in our bodies -- so directly, as farming.

There are alternatives to the mechanized, chemical-laden, corporate farms, with their questionable products. A return to regional and local farms is a viable solution to the issues of energy output, sustainability, and healthy food products.

This is being implemented in many areas, especially urban locations in big cities.
At the northern outskirts of Milwaukee, in a neighborhood of boxy post-WWII homes near the sprawling Park Lawn housing project, stand 14 greenhouses arrayed on two acres of land. This is Growing Power, the only land within the Milwaukee city limits zoned as farmland.

Founded by MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow Will Allen, Growing Power is an active farm producing tons of food each year, a food distribution hub, and a training center. It’s also the home base for an expanding network of similar community food centers, including a Chicago branch run by Allen’s daughter, Erika. Growing Power is in what Allen calls a “food desert,” a part of the city devoid of full-service grocery stores but lined with fast-food joints, liquor stores, and convenience stores selling mostly soda and sweets. Growing Power is an oasis in that desert.

Community food systems begin with small farms working with natural cycles and end with fresh food and stronger communities in nearby cities. Small farms, sustainable distribution, local markets, and home gardens are all elements of this system.

Other solutions for improving the food system include: restore seed diversity and native varieties, steward water, build resiliency, process locally and cooperatively, treat everyone fairly, get local foods to local outlets.

People worldwide are rediscovering the benefits of buying local food. It is fresher than anything in the supermarket and that means it is tastier and more nutritious. It is also good for your local economy--buying directly from family farmers helps them stay in business.

LocalHarvest is an organic and local food website.
They maintain a "living" public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources. Their search engine helps people find products from family farms, local sources of sustainably grown food, and encourages them to establish direct contact with small farms in their local area. An online store helps small farms develop markets for some of their products beyond their local area.

Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

Nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers by the year 2050.Conservative estimates show the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An area of land roughly 20% larger than the size of Brazil will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. According to the FAO and NASA today, worldwide, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use. Some 15% of that has been destroyed by poor management practices. A potential solution? Farming vertically.

There are a multitude of viable solutions to the current food and environmental crises. It will take a concerted effort on the part of the global human population to embrace a return to older, more traditional systems of agriculture.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.