Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Growing it alone?

Back in 1979 I was hired by the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture to lead an effort to organize a network of famers' markets in Boston and surrounding communities. The department under the leadership of commissioner Fred Winthrop had recently released a plan designed to revitalize the state's flagging agricultural sector. Direct marketing strategies -- efforts to create direct connections between farmers and consumers was a centerpiece of that plan.

Interestingly enough, some neighborhoods that were considered to be ideal sites to host farmers' markets originally opposed the idea -- vehemently. They thought that the state was subsidizing efforts to aid already-rich corporate farmers (Massachusetts had and has none) that would run their local supermarkets out of business.

How things have changed. During the past few decades more and more consumers have been turned onto the many virtues of locally-grown food. How far can the pendulum swing?

Can locally grown food feed a city?

By Bill Jackson
The Tribune
September 7, 2008

Here's an interesting question:

Can a city such as San Francisco feed itself with local food?

That was the question posed by the California director of the American Farmland Trust, who co-authored a study based on that question with Alethea Harper from Sustainable Agriculture Education and Sibella Krauss, director of the Agriculture in Metropolitan Regions Program at the University of California-Berkeley.

The premise of the study: Could a major international city such as San Francisco feed itself with local food from farms and ranches within 100 miles of its iconic Golden Gate Bridge?

The answer was yes -- sort of.

"No place in the United States, and perhaps in the world, is as blessed as San Francisco by an amazing cornucopia of products grown nearby," Thompson said in a press release from the AFT.

San Franciscans, the study found, consume 935,000 tons of food each year, and 5.9 million tons in the Bay Area as a whole, while the "foodshed" -- agricultural operations within 100 miles of the Golden Gate Bridge as defined in the study -- produces 20 million tons of food annually.

In all, more than 80 different commodities are represented, with only a few not produced in abundance to satisfy the hunger of the city and Bay Area residents. The study also found that food products sold directly to consumers -- for example, at farmers markets -- are a small fraction, 0.5 percent of total regional production. However, that sector of the food system is expanding rapidly, with production of food for sale directly to consumers up 9 percent a year from 1997-2002 in the San Francisco foodshed study area.

"It's impossible to determine precisely how much locally grown food is consumed in the city of San Francisco or, in fact, how much of what is consumed is produced on local farms and ranches," Thompson said.

"The commercial food system in the region, as throughout the United States, does not track the origin of what it sells, primarily because consumers do not yet demand to know the origin of the foods they eat," he continued.

Most of what is produced in the San Francisco foodshed is grown in the Central and Salinas Valleys. Three-quarters of the value of agricultural production in this area comes from less than one-fifth of the land that is irrigated cropland, the land that is under the most pressure from urban development.

A key, perhaps, to the study:

"Without local farmland, there can be no local food," Thompson said. "New development in this region is consuming an acre of farmland for every 9.7 residents -- the epitome of urban sprawl. If we continue at this rate, we'll lose another 800,000 acres by 2050, and much of that will be an unnecessary waste because of how inefficiently we are paving over the best land on earth."

That sounds vaguely familiar.

It could, perhaps, pertain to the South Platte River Valley of Colorado. Colorado has gone to 2.6 million acres in 2007 from 3.4 million acres of irrigated cropland in 1997, with the South Platte Valley being the fastest growing area in the state.

Weld County's diverse agriculture could go a long way in feeding Greeley, if not Denver, when combined with Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Morgan counties. Weld has vegetables, milk and meat products, but it does not have fruit and nuts, as would be the case in northern California.

But in California, as in northern Colorado, the loss of farmland is one of several significant obstacles that must be addressed to increase both the production, marketing and local consumption of locally-grown food, the study continued.

Among the challenges:

* Encouraging the traceability of the origin of locally grown food.

* Educating consumers about eating foods in-season.

* Providing capital, expertise and infrastructure to enable growers to transition to producing foods for local markets.

* Assuring access to healthy, local food for low-income consumers.

"Despite the challenges, there are great opportunities to increase eating locally in San Francisco and the Bay Area," Thompson said. "The local foods movement has momentum in this region. Public and private institutions are starting to source food locally. And as the fossil fuel era wanes, local food may gain an advantage in the marketplace over food that is processed and shipped long distances."

And he concluded:

"No pun intended, we hope this report offers food for thought for San Francisco's consumers, area producers and other cities across the country."

Amen to that.


Post a Comment

<< Home