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Thread: Can (insert your town here) feed itself?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Can (insert your town here) feed itself?

    I'm exploring the ways in which we have attempted to answer the question "Can we feed ourselves?" that arises in discussions about sustainable local agriculture. Here in Hawaii, where we import much of our food (and other household staples such as toilet paper!) from across the ocean, the debate is heating up.

    Research has shown that, in Hawaii, we import a high percentage of our food (75-85%?) and that our population would be in trouble within 3 days - 2 weeks after a major disaster (earthquake/tsunami/hurricane) that might disrupt supply lines. Keep in mind that we have had some recent brushes with disasters - and the island of Kauai (pop. ~50-60,000) suffered a pretty devastating hit from Hurricane Iniki as recently as 1992. Scarier still? The original track of that storm - before it veered off at the last moment - was headed directly over Honolulu (pop. now almost 1 million!).

    Proponents of "sustainable agriculture" argue that we should be promoting local agriculture through zoning, education and cultural avenues. And yet, a great deal of our former agricultural lands in Hawaii (mostly sugar and pineapple plantation) continue to be converted to residential use.

    We are also concerned - in this growing age of technological connectedness - with energy sustainability - how do we keep our homes and industries powered so we remain connected?

    Here are some research and descriptive resources on the subject here in Hawaii:
    Hawaii’s farm future: Fertile fields?http://hawaii-agriculture.com/hawaii...ertile-fields/
    "Seeds of Hope" - documentary trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Y6uI...layer_embedded

    And here's an interesting review and update of a 1975 book titled "Can Britain Feed Itself?" http://transitionculture.org/wp-cont...CanBritain.pdf

    Are these issues being discussed regularly where you live? If so, how are they issues being addressed?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MCasey View post
    I'm exploring the ways in which we have attempted to answer the question "Can we feed ourselves?" that arises in discussions about sustainable local agriculture.

    Are these issues being discussed regularly where you live? If so, how are they issues being addressed?

    Just rhetorical questions on a slow day, right?

  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MCasey View post
    Are these issues being discussed regularly where you live? If so, how are they issues being addressed?
    All the time. I've never been in a place where I've met so many people whose main profession has something to do with food advocacy of some sort, whether it's related to diet or source.

    I don't know if the Ithaca area could feed itself, though. The area's topography is very hilly, and while farmland is prevalent, it's the kind of flat or gently rolling land that is also desirable for development. There's a lot of fallow farmland that reverted to scrub forest, and there might be problems with returning it to agricultural production; we have right-to-farm laws, but groundwater/watershed protection and stormwater management are big issues here.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    Local food-sourcing and low food-miles are always bug topics here. We have an established agricultural base, more dairy farms than drug stores, and an active farm-to-school community. Our growing season is short, so it would require commitment and extension of farm lands to produce enough for everybody, but I believe it could be done.

    If all else fails, we are home to Ben and Jerrys research and development. They'll create something for us

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    New Mexico gets something like 80 percent of its food from outside the state, so this is a big issue for us. More recently (like in the last 5 years or so) there has been a movement to support more local farms (through agricultural land trusts, favorable zoning, etc.), an explosion of growers markets (where people can gain access to locally produced food - they even accept WIC) and attempts to create a local Food Shed spearheaded by our local food coop.

    A lot of advances have been made, but we still have a long way to go. We live in a high desert, so it has become easy for us to rely on outside goods for survival over time. Originally, the Native communities and later the Spanish settlers were self-sustaining by necessity, but the population is so much larger and the networks so much more vast, that agriculture has fallen by the wayside and, like much of the rest of the country, few people actually engage in agricultural activity. I see some people making a go at running farms, but mostly the change has been in more people growing more of their own food.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmm.....

    I'd like to know if Iowa could feed the entire USA by itself That would be cool. We would have to eat cactus here in Arizona..... The big agricultural products in my part of the State are Pecans, Melons, cotton and feed crops.
    Skilled Adoxographer

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    NH3/Ammonia for Sustainable Ag and Energy

    Interesting you're from Hawaii. I hear that there is some interest in NH3/Ammonia as an energy carrier and fuel for Hawaii. It is also important in global (local? however defined?) agriculture as a fertilizer. Hawaii might play an important role in ocean energy and OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) sourcing of NH3 for local and export use. I'm an intern with the NH3 Fuel Association. Feel free to contact me through the "Contact" option at my website modelsustainablecities.weebly.com if this is of use to your thinking. These topics are on my mind often...

  8. #8
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Aloha MCasey!

    An interesting point to bring up in this discussion is the fact that researchers believe that Hawaii had approximately the same population before European explorers made contact that it does now. The population took a dive after Europeans introduced several diseases and several tens-of-thousands of native Hawaiians died of disease and starvation due to economic considerations (the Alii having people who would have been spending time in the agricultural fields were out foraging the forest for hardwoods to trade with Europeans and Asians in exchange for metals and other technologies, among other things).

    The point is, before all of this - Hawaii was believed to have a population of about 1 million people, the same approximate population it has now. Before 1800 the islands were capable of feeding all those people, whereas now we import practically everything (and then export all the garbage that is produced by this system). Could the Hawaiian Islands once again feed 1 million people? I am sure it would be possible, though it would probably require some lifestyle changes, such as eating less meat and everyone either paying more for food or contributing to the food production process.

    Juvik & Juvik have done a fine job of detailing this research. They work in the Geography Department at UH Hilo. I believe this topic is discussed in their Atlas of Hawaii (1998 if I'm correct).

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Ontario has had a number of initiatives to protect farmland.

    One is a general policy of requiring municipalities to consider the quality of agricultural lands when expanding their urban boundaries. This in itself doesn't always prevent good agricultural lands from being developed but if there is a choice between two otherwise equal options the area with poorer quality farmland will probably be the first to be developed. Many rural municipalities created two distinct zones in their rural areas, one for prime agricultural lands and one for poorer quality lands, to help enforce this (e.g. sends a message to speculators not to buy the prime land).

    The second initiative is the protection of various very specific sensitive and/or threatened areas, particularly the Niagara fruit lands and the Holland marsh areas. These created very strict limits on uses and also controlled surrounding uses that could have a negative impact on the agricultural viability of these areas. Most of these regulations have now been encompassed into the Greenbelt plan.

    The third and most recent initiative is the Greenbelt legislation which creates a large greenbelt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area in which no new urban development it allowed.
    http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page187.aspx

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Great point - Hawaii pre-contact population

    Terra Sapient,
    Great point comparing Hawaii's pre-contact population to today's. Indeed, Hawaii did once manage to sustain the population through the ahupua`a system. But I think you are also right in suggesting that the diet of pre-contact Hawaiians was drastically different from what we see people eating today! The typcial "plate lunch" reflects almost all of the cultural influences that have arrived since Capt. Cook - but in order to become 100% food self-sufficient, we'd have to move back to the diet that could be supported by our ecosystem. (Way more fish on the protein side - and probably much greater cultivation of taro and breadfruit on the starch side).

    The last thing I would say is that the ahupua`a system worked because:
    1) Hawaiians had extensive experience and knowledge of the capacity of their resources (over 1,000 years?)
    2) The system had some strict rules and those rules were enforced - sometimes in very dramatic ways
    3) The system was MORE than simply a "land" or "resource" use plan. It really was part of the overall social system.

    In this era (at least in the US) of "individual rights" - I'm not so sure that there would be a lot of political support for such a structured control of life. Of course, I also think that is the tension of these sustainability discussions: Where does the society feel comfortable along the continuum that runs from strict individual control all the way to strict "governmental" control. I know that when we experience disasters we almost always look to the larger structures (government) that try to provide a safety net for the whole population.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Rhetorical ??

    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    Just rhetorical questions on a slow day, right?
    Yes, I guess my afternoon was slow - so being new to cyburbia, I posted a few questions to see what thoughts might gather. My apologies...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    You are correct. One would be hard-pressed to find much support for going back to a system that was dependent on communal living. Private property didn't exist in Hawaii in that era. I hypothesize, however, that it is feasible to grow and harvest all of our food in the islands with the right mixture of human ingenuity and technological capabilities. At the very least, should disaster strike and our food system shut down, I think we would find that people's willingness to work collectively would improve significantly.

    Then again, I think we should be focusing on sustainable agriculture now - before we are forced to adapt due to disaster! Very interesting thread MCasey!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Thank you

    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    The third and most recent initiative is the Greenbelt legislation which creates a large greenbelt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area in which no new urban development it allowed.
    http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page187.aspx
    This is very impressive - I'm assuming modeled after greenbelt concepts used in UK? - Thank you for the link - it's always nice to have some concrete examples to share. I know that there have been some efforts here in Hawaii to "codify" concepts from a traditional system for land use and resource management which uses slices of the islands that run from mountain to sea (see above "ahupua'a"). Has spring yet sprung for Toronto?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm.....

    Since Taco Bell uses sand as a filler in their taco's, I guess that means Arizona could feed itslef to itself
    Skilled Adoxographer

  15. #15
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MCasey View post
    Yes, I guess my afternoon was slow - so being new to cyburbia, I posted a few questions to see what thoughts might gather. My apologies...
    Simply pointing out they are being discussed to death, but only tiny things at the margins actually get done.

    The vast %age of our food comes from industrial ag. No changing that anytime soon in any meaningful % for a small population. Caveat: I think this is unfortunate. At least the small fraction gain is helping some local farmers, which is fortunate.

  16. #16
    Though we love local produce in the summer, I wouldn't want to survive on just what can be grown in New England. Eat as local as you can. But doesn't make sense to try to eat locally everywhere all the time.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Though we love local produce in the summer, I wouldn't want to survive on just what can be grown in New England. Eat as local as you can. But doesn't make sense to try to eat locally everywhere all the time.
    I'm pretty much done with parsnips and turnips by January. We have increasingly cr*ppy health here in the States. Nutritionists insist on better diets for our fat, unhealthy people who cycle through our...um..."health care" system. Trouble is, the nutritionists call for asparagus for their patients. In November. Grapes. In April.

    We have forgotten how to eat in this country. Locavores are cute and squishy and have nice scarves, but the ingrained habits of consumers who go into a grocery store and expect seedless grapes in April - as well as desperate staff in fat mills trying hard to get their poor, pale charges to eat well is a hhhhhuge hurdle.

    Jus' sayin'


  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MCasey View post
    This is very impressive - I'm assuming modeled after greenbelt concepts used in UK? - Thank you for the link - it's always nice to have some concrete examples to share. I know that there have been some efforts here in Hawaii to "codify" concepts from a traditional system for land use and resource management which uses slices of the islands that run from mountain to sea (see above "ahupua'a"). Has spring yet sprung for Toronto?
    Right now we're alternating between 15C (60F) days with sun and 0C (30F) days with rain/snow.

    Regarding the Ontario Greenbelt - the legislative system in Canada is different than in the USA so it may be a lot more difficult to implement such a plan (e.g. take people land rights away) in the USA.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Though we love local produce in the summer, I wouldn't want to survive on just what can be grown in New England. Eat as local as you can. But doesn't make sense to try to eat locally everywhere all the time.
    Indeed, the days when we could only eat locally because there was no massive transportation system to move food around or technology to store/preserve it saw a lot of famine and malnutrition. A significant part of our human history involves striving to better provide/forage/grow/herd food. The problem with an entirely local diet is that crop failures or other misfortunes can devastate the food supply. The vast network we have today for accessing food really does increase food security, though I would say this is really a by-product of the food industry and not its intention. Its really about finding new and larger markets for goods. And the main thing that drives it is cheap fuel. Also, in the US I think we are largely interested in "recreational" eating and not really nutritionally-based consumption. We've lost a lot of basic knowledge about what even constitutes a balanced diet and so we consume a lot of empty calories as a consequence (that recent article int he New York Times magazine about sugar addressed a lot of this).

    ColoGL, you need to stop dancing around the subject and tell us how you really feel! But I'm right there with you...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Around here we grow mostly hay, lambs and cows. Of course cows are tasty all year. Lambs are available seasonally. And, as for hay, help yourself, buddy.

    During the summer we have a good supply of locally grown vegetables, both at the farmer's market and through friends. Around August you have to be careful to lock your car because someone will leave a grocery bag of zucchini on your back seat.

    If you have the room, you can store carrots, turnips and the like in your basement for winter, or can like crazy. Sometime though the call of fresh vegetables will require you to go to the grocery for California-grown brocolli and beans.

    The farms my wife's family have down in Colombia come as near to feeding one's self as I have ever known. Guavas. chocolate, bananas, plantains, coffee, vegetables, chickens, turkeys, and cows are all raised on the land. Basically all they need to buy are beans, rice and fish.

    Besides that, other plants on the land are used for folk remedies to treat a variety of common ailments and injuries.
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Wisconsin has a diverse agricultural economy. Our soils can grow many grain and vegetable crops, as well as fruits. We even have the second-highest number of organic-certified acres and lead in production of many organic crops. We can raise poultry and livestock. We even have the Great Lakes for fishing. The two problems I see with feeding ourselves are 1) we would need to convert a substantial amount of land from commodities to vegetable and fruit agriculture, and 2) we are limited by climate. That means we would not be getting many fresh vegetables in winter and we would not have the same variety we enjoy today. Oranges, bananas, coffee beans, cocoa beans and other basics would still need to be imported.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    We just started reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder with our youngest (did it with our son as well and, even at 10, he wants to hear them all again). There is a ton of information in there about subsistence and survival skills. They don't live near a town (later they do in the book about Silver Lake, but at this point, they are alone in the woods) and so they do a lot of crop raising and hunting. The book is full of info about hunting, skinning and preserving animal meat like bear and deer and even a scene where the girls sit in front of the fire helping "pa" make shot from melted lead. Canning, salt curing, etc. Its all in there. Very interesting stuff.

    Anyway, it seemed pertinent to this discussion about sustaining oneself. Has anyone else read these books?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    ...the legislative system in Canada is different than in the USA so it may be a lot more difficult to implement such a plan (e.g. take people land rights away) in the USA.
    Oh my goodness - don't we know it! My family has been dealing with some inherited ag land in the UK - and we've since discovered a great deal of very practical knowledge regarding the differences between our systems ... (I'm guessing that Toronto is similar).

  24. #24
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Hawaii has a rather unique problem among the States.

    We can grow and harvest food year round. However, we import most of our food. Due to the extremely high cost of land and energy out here, very little food is stored. All goods - including food - are essentially shipped in and transported to their destination where it is stocked from the crate to the shelf. As MCasey pointed out, that means we only have a few days supply of food on the islands at any point in time. Should something disrupt the shipping routes, food would have to be flown in which would increase the cost. Should food not be able to be flown in either, we would have a serious situation.

    How locals grasp this situation is evident whenever a tsunami alert or hurricane warning is issued. The stores literally empty of food and water as people try to stock up in the event of disaster.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    We just started reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder with our youngest (did it with our son as well and, even at 10, he wants to hear them all again). There is a ton of information in there about subsistence and survival skills. ... Anyway, it seemed pertinent to this discussion about sustaining oneself. Has anyone else read these books?
    Great idea - My boys loved those books as well - (I only remembered the TV show from my youth!) and, now that they are getting a little older, are quite interested in reading some of the books that describe the survival of "one boy or man, alone, in the wilderness." I think that these kinds of books inspire kids to begin exploring the idea of what we need to survive, and how - when faced with adversity - we are forced to use all of our resources and creativity, and to re-discover the knowledge of our parents, grandparents, ancestors, other civilizations - how did they trap animals? fish? grow crops? build shelters? etc. Maybe they don't give us "answers" - but they certainly have inspired some "food sustainability" related conversations!

    If you're interested, here's a list of what my kids have recently read:
    "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen
    "My Side of the Mountain" Trilogy and "Pocket Guide to the Outdoors" by Jean Craighead George
    "The Sign of the Beaver" by Elizabeth George Speare
    "White Fang" by Jack London

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