Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Future of Food and Farming

In 2002 the US government counted farmers - the last time they have done so - and found that the average age of a farmer was 55 years old. The good news is that thousands of young people are becoming farmers, especially organic farmers. Truly good news for society, food production, and awareness of the need for greater sustainability in agriculture.

According to a story in NPR's food blog, The Salt, there is "a new surge of youthful vigor into American agriculture — at least in the corner of it devoted to organic, local food. Thousands of young people who've never farmed before are trying it out."  The old priorities of corporate ladder-climbing and the pursuit of big paychecks is giving way to the lure of the outdoors, and a return to living off the land.  Our current global economic crisis is, at least partly, responsible for encouraging some to try growing their own food.

Victory gardens were started during World Wars I and II as a way for civilians to counter extreme shortages in the food supply. In the same way, today's families could benefit from a small garden planted with vegetables, raised organically, to provide healthy food for little money.  Apartment and condo dwellers with sunny patios or balconies can plant container gardens with vertical supports for pole beans, tomatoes, peas, squash, etc.  Strawberry pots can be used for growing a kitchen herb garden - several common herbs all in one container.

Small family farms have been on the decline for decades.  One idea for making those farms profitable again would be for small farmers to offer plots of land to individuals or families who want to grow their own food. The plots could be rented monthly and the revenue would help keep land in families that have farmed for many years, but can no longer make a living at it.

Small farms are also ideally situated for CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. The farmer sells "shares" for each growing season.  The investors help the farmer share the risk, and the reward is fresh, locally grown, usually organic, produce, eggs, milk, and meat.  Local Harvest is an excellent resource for finding local CSAs, farms, and farmer's markets.

The slow food movement also makes a case for growing and consuming locally produced food.  Slow Food began in Italy with the founding of its forerunner organization, Arcigola, in 1986 to resist the opening of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome.  Promoted as an alternative to fast food, Slow Food strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

Jennifer Maiser is the editor of the Eat Local Challenge website, which is a place for authors nationwide to share their experiences with finding locally grown and locally produced food.
In her article, 10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore, she states:

"Locavores are people who pay attention to where their food comes from and commit to eating local food as much as possible. The great thing about eating local is that it's not an all-or-nothing venture. Any small step you take helps the environment, protects your family's health and supports small farmers in your area."

In these difficult times there are opportunities for all of us to become closer to the land,
re-establish healthier eating habits, and support a way of life that is on the brink of extinction.

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