January 11, 2010

Local Farms

We need to think carefully about how we will feed ourselves in the decade of the 2020s and possibly even before then.  With the potential for America's bread basket drying up when we run out of water from the Ogallala Aquifer and the Salinas Valley drying up as the mountain snow melt disappears, we'll have a real challenge.

Even if there is enough water in those locations, we may find it increasingly expensive to pay for the fossil fuels necessary to grow and truck the food we depend on today from the Midwest and California. When our current agriculture system consumes 10 calories of fossil fuel to deliver 1 calorie of food to our supermarkets, that isn't sustainable. It is time for a change. As recently as the 60s, we used 1 calorie of fossil fuel to deliver 3 calories of food to our tables. New Entry Sustainable Farms (here in Massachusetts) tells us it is possible to get 38 calories of food from 1 calorie of manual labor input. 

A Cornell University study found that it takes 0.44 acres of land per person to provide a low-fat, vegetarian diet. We have only 518,000 acres of farmland in Massachusetts and 6.5 million residents. That's 0.08 acres per person. We will need more farmland if we are going to grow our own food locally and we want to feed more than 20% of the people. 

Verena Wieloch from Gaining Ground suggested that once farms are converted to other uses, like soccer fields, that it is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to make them productive farms once again. 

She asked us to remember the advice of her grandmother who said that farms are a lot like teeth. Take care of them now, because you'll miss them when they are gone. 

Local farms are worth fighting for.