The purpose of life is a life of purpose
I think that people everywhere in the US and Canada, except for a relatively small number, would be in serious jeopardy if something disrupted the food supply chain for a relatively significant period of time. The reason is that most people live in cities and suburbs while even locally grown food is produced miles away.
Density and realistic agriculture practice are mutually exclusive. A backyard chicken coop and a 4 x 8 raised bed is not going to feed many people for very long, even when veggies are in season. Urban farms, no matter what they produce, need space for crops to grow, animals to be, and waste to be composted just like rural farms
One more thing. In many catastrophic natural disasters like floods, brush fires or hurricanes, crops and livestock are devastated, too. Produce can be washed away or buried in mud or left rotting in the fields because there's no way to harvest and disperse it. Food supplies for animals may be destroyed and animals have to be slaughtered to prevent them from starving, but there's no way for the meat to be processed and distributed to local residents who need it.
Here in Hawaii, I think we are still somewhat unique in the US, due to:
1) the distance between us and our food suppliers (min 2,500 miles from CA)
2) transport of our food is by air and sea only
And thank you for reminding me that most (maybe I should say all?) large disasters would most certainly have a big impact on local agricultural production. Even if you develop a strong local food economy - a hurricane, tsunami, wildfire, etc. during "harvest" could change everything in a very short period of time.
That said, this will reduce maybe a trip or two a week. And as transport is ~18% of food cost, this makes locavorism problematic.
Nevertheless, I am counting on semiretirement income being teaching people how to grow a little food in their McSuburb parcel, as our societal systems are obviously becoming unstable and every bit helps. We can't feed ourselves in our country and won't for some decades, but we can make a buffer against corporate control of our stomachs.
All the yammering about local green jobs is IME trustafarians who work for a year at a CSA, find they don't want to work that hard, then do something else and then stop singing the praises of a new world of local food.
[/grumpy old hard-core gardener]
We have a community garden plot.
Year before last, we lost all our tomatoes in the great blight. A few years ago, we tried planting corn, the squirrels ate it all.
I am rather thankful that we can get food from elsewhere.
But we depend on everything from elsewhere. Prescription drugs, etc. Most of us wouldnt last a year without our outside connections, even if we could grow our own food.
I grew up on a farm where we were largely food self-sufficient. My father was a truck farmer, but we had a huge home garden where we raised non-commercial vegetables and fruits for ourselves, and my mother canned, froze or pickled just about every kind of fruit and vegetable we ate. The only thing we bought was canned pumpkin and yams at Thanksgiving. We had a root cellar for potatoes, squash and onions. There were braided garlic rings hung in the mud room. My mother literally spent all her time from May through October either tending the garden or "putting up" food.
My father bought pigs and steers in the spring, fattened them through the summer, and then trucked them to the local slaugherhouse in the late fall. We kept a good-sized flock of chickens, sold eggs, and regularly culled the non-laying hens for soup. My absolute least favorite job was plucking dead chickens, and even my very stubborn mother recognized that it wasn't something I could do, so I got to clean stalls and pens instead. To this day, I cannot stand the smell of wet feathers
My plans for retirement include moving back to the old family farm. I've even thought about raising a few cows when I retire but the thought of eating a critter I fed and watered and called "Bossy" or even "DumbA##" just isn't something I could do. Sending them off to a commercial slaughterhouse (the small local ones are all gone) to be cruelly done in is even less appealing. My disgust at plucking feathers aside,I would oppose putting "Mamie" in the soup pot when her egg-laying days are done on the same grounds that I couldn't eat "Bossy": I can't eat things I've named. Instead, I'll just keep some horses and be an eccentric old bat with a big garden.
I guess that I am OK, however, with some changes to our current system that will allow us to shift the proportion of "locally-produced" foods to a higher % of the mix. And, I also think that, despite our collective fears of socialist agendas, there seems to be a growing realization that we are going to HAVE to figure out something that works to support some "communal" (there, I said it!) goals.
LindaD makes some great points about the challenges - especially coming from someone with first hand experience living on a farm! I'm not sure that there are a lot of Americans who stand ready to slaughter and pluck their own McNuggets - and I had never even considered the stank of wet chicken feathers.
Nevertheless, I'm sure many more will learn about food production when food prices continue to rise from climate impacts, water shortages, and cheap energy going away. That's my semiretirement income...
Truck farming -- the growing of fruits and vegetables -- tends to be much higher risk and much more labor intensive than growing staples like grains. It can also be the agricultural segment that is the most profitable. In order to encourage local farming in urbanized metros, I think these are some ideas that might work:
- protect farmland by zoning/tax abatement. I'm not talking about an urban growth boundary because not all land x miles beyond some point is NOT necessarily good farmland. I'm talking about identifying productive farmland, especially if it is already producing crops or livestock, and making subdivision and/or development of that more difficult. In return, taxes on that land is less, and if it's actually in production, then the taxes should be still lower.
- subsidize farmers for growing food crops but not for flooding the market. One of the big problems with the farm subsidies programs that grew out of the Great Depression was that their aim was to limit production of staples but also to subsidize some production. The idea was good but the implementation wasn't. The subsidy program cost billions upon billions, didn't actually prevent surpluses, and flowed primarily to the biggest farmers and later to corporate farms while doing nothing for rest. Ending ag subsidies hasn't proven to be a better idea as it's driven many farmers out of business (ie, dairy farmers). This is a real dilemma. If farmers could make better livings, many more would stay in business.
- come up with some means of transferring farms from older farmers to younger ones, especially to non-relatives. A corollary would be to come up with some means to assist young farmers to acquire abandoned farms on productive land and put it back into production, specifically food production.
- accept that food production in the US is going to continue to require migrant labor, and that that labor is going to have to come from outside the US because most Americans can't and won't do it.
American farmers have always struggled with labor shortages, going back to the colonial period. It's why they had indentured servants and then slaves. It's why peonage and share cropping developed in the post Civil War South, and why farmers in other parts of the country imported first Italian immigrants and then Latin American immigrants as labor.
My dad's parents were farmers (which is considerably higher up the economic scale than farm workers), and my dad was the only one of nine who became a farmer. Everybody else bolted for the city at 16. None of my siblings are farmers, and I'm sure not. I can think of only 1 of my schoolmates who took over his father's farm, and he quit about a dozen years ago because he wasn't making any money.
Anyway, point being is that Linda and others who know would never assume that there will be an army of Jeffersonian Yeoman farmers waiting anxiously for their chance at pastoral democracy. Not going to happen. It is true we should give those who want to every opportunity to have a go at it, and allow them to make a little money and not suffer crushing debt. But besides ConAgra, Monsanto and Cargill standing in their way, it is too hard for most people. And the weather is changing.
Off to load the truck a few times.
[QUOTE=Linda_D;587464]Is this "centralized food planning authority" going to force some people to be farmers or farm workers when they don't want to be? As with many people who live in urban situations, you don't understand the real problem with agriculture in the US -- and probably in most of the developed world: agriculture is a hard, poorly paying livelihood. It's why people have been abandoning farming and flocking to cities for a couple of centuries at least -- and that's NOT a phenenomen limited to just the US or North America.
No - I did not propose that the planning authority could "force some people to be farmers" - nor did I mean to suggest that.
But we do - currently have quite a few authorities with planning and regulation duties (USDA? State Ag Depts? Local planning authorities?) - and I would claim that they don't do a good job of understanding the current realities of ag - AND they do not work well with each other. This results in a very poorly coordinated approach to oversight of agriculture in the US.
You make some great recommendations - which, I think, would require quite a bit of coordination between those authorities before the ideas could become reality. I'd love to see that happening.
I think that the thread I began was to start a discussion about this issue - and for me to learn more about what others in cyburbia are hearing, doing, reading, etc.. I apologize to those who find the discussion - or my thoughts on the discussion - to show a lack of knowledge, naivete, or stupid idealism. I simply wanted to hear more from folks who were students or active planners in the field.
Finally, I understand that we are having this discussion in cyberspace, so maybe I should figure out a way to be more comfortable with the "punch/counterpunch" nature of such discussions - or perhaps I should take my random thoughts to a more appropriate venue?
In 1916 it was written, “It would be a matter for wonder if the ordinary city child did posses any particular knowledge of how his food is produced or where it comes from, other than the corner grocery and brought by the delivery van.”
Peter Bruce in "Effect upon public health and natural prosperity from rural depopulation and abnormal increase of cities" published in the American Journal of Public Health
Think of it as a big, virtual, public meeting. With everything that implies...
Back on topic, I wanted to revisit the topic of Food Sheds. So, here in New Mexico, our local food coop, which owns several coops around the state, has been pushing for establishing a food shed in the region. This is essentially a geographic area within which food can be produced for local consumption. I am not clear on all the details, but it seems like they are pushing for some sort of government-sponsored incentive for such producers under the argument of securing local food sources (which, lest we forget, was a major push for all metro areas after WWII). Who knows if it will fly or what form it will take.
But if they did succeed, it would mean that, if you were to start farming within the food shed, you may enjoy some government help (tax incentives?) and also have more of a guaranteed local market. Small producers will never be able to compete nationally, of course, but this approach is intended to create a competitive local market for local producers. Again, I don't know a lot about the details, but this is what I have gleaned.
Lastly, there is a small but growing contingency of young people very interested in farming as an enterprise. I don't think they have illusions about getting rich doing it either - this generation knows there is not much in store for them as far as huge incomes, so they are going for things that fulfill them in other ways. Still, I think the number of people leaving family farms still outstrips those starting new ones, but upstarts are on the rise, so there is potential for growth there. I wouldn't write off the small farm yet. A lot of changes are around the corner in our economy, so I'm holding out hope...
The purpose of life is a life of purpose
And even more thanks for the lead on Food Sheds - I had a chance to check it out online and apparently there is some connection with folks here in Hawaii - which gives me an even better lead with our own Ag folks here at the University. Appreciate the scoop!
by Mark Winne
1) Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty
2) Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas
The movie Food Inc has pretty much ruined my appetite.
My apologies as well for taking your comments personally. I do appreciate the discussion we've been having - and I am gaining some very helpful insights from you and everyone else that has participated. I hope that I can begin adding some insight of my own soon.
This is really my only "online presence" - so I am new to this method of communicating - and I think I have to keep in mind that it's different than other venues. The interesting thing I have noticed about myself is that I come to cyburbia when I have a short break in the work day - therefore, I may only have a short time period to read/digest/respond.
And, back on point, I think that our oversight of ag has been long and increasingly fragmented, often working at cross purposes among the agencies that share that oversight. We support big ag, we promote "efficiencies" that may not be the best for us in the longer run, and we have to understand that we are all linked to a large global food system that has good and bad aspects. I do believe that there is a need for better coordinated planning - and "management" (better word than "oversight?") of our food system. I'm interested in learning more, and generating an ongoing discussion about ideas and actuals deeds in this area.
Appreciate your thoughts, insights, and discussion - hope to continue "talking" with you here - and in other discussion areas!
I am more than slightly unsold on the locavore ethos. I still feel that it is best to minimize total environmental disruption, my thoughts have been similar to Owen ("Green Metropolis") in this regard. Better to use the most fertile lands to produce the most yields, then load it on trains and ship it to metropolitan areas.
Not everyone can have a tiny farm in their back yard; many people might want the status of having that farmland, but their productivity with it will be zero. If thats where our food is coming from, we're going to go hungry. Leave the farmland for people to raise lots and lots of grains and vegetables and animals and things.
That said, the tendency to get out of season luxury foods from far-flung places does get a bit out of hand at times. There is a happy medium here.
There are a few foods I can get locally here; I love them and eat them often, but I can't make my whole menu from them. The rest gets flown up via our international airport. I wish we had better sea transport, and I wish we had rail connection to the U.S. and maybe even Russia, but alas.
I also note that for lot of people here, "eating the local food" means eating meat that was processed by burying it and letting it decompose for several months in order to release the nutrients from the bones. Apparently, there are some holes in the local nutritional landscape that are really only filled for humans in that way. I don't know that that would gain popularity with most people; it certainly is not liked by the food safety people here.