Monday, February 2, 2009

Re-regionalizing Food

Talking recently with Michael Jones of Local Matters, I realized once again how counter-intuitive our agricultural policies have been for the past forty years or so. (dating, for convenience sake, from Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz's advice to American farmers: "Get big, or get out--the starting point for Wendell Berry's polemical classic, The Unsettling of America).  Michael reminded me that, policy-wise, food is a "specialty crop;" what most farmers produce are commodities, links in an industrial supply-chain.  In fact, until quite recently, the Ohio DoA didn't have anyone on staff working on sustainable agriculture. 

Turning that around is a key part of the sustainability challenge, leveraging social needs and public goods out of the great conceptual glacier that is Economic Growth.  Over at the Gristmill, Tom Laskawy has an interesting discussion looking at the infrastructure for local food and why "food miles" isn't necessarily the critical tool we need, since locales still need to be linked:

But as we explore ways to reform industrial agriculture and its
reliance on fossil fuels in food production, more, smaller farms
inevitably come up as an alternative -- and for that sort of system to
work, they would need to be proximate to population centers. Speaking
of the food miles argument, it's likely that, using our existing
infrastructure, exclusively procuring produce from farms within, say,
75 miles of urban centers would cause the transportation component of
agricultural carbon emissions to go way up. 
On the bright side, Tom reports that a major organic farm in Florida, long accustomed to shipping to the Northeast, has re-opened a greenmarket in the Miaimi area to respond to local demand. 

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