Why There Will Be More Locally Produced Food in the Future
Recently, I have had some good conversation with a number of people over 65 years old who remember very clearly their experiences of working on dairy farms in Loudoun County, Virginia (USA). One man remembered that when he was in high school, just about everyone else in his class lived on a dairy farm. That got me to wondering just how many dairy farms there were in Loudoun County when dairy farming was at its peak, so I went to the local library, to see what might be in the local history section. On this occasion, I found just the document I was looking for on my first visit: a spiral bound edition of “Dairy Farming in Loudoun County”.
The book “Dairy Farming in Loudoun County” had sections on the history of dairy farming, inspections, transportation of the milk, youth group activities, breeding for high levels of production, etc. I also found out that at the peak of dairy farming in Loudoun County, there were more than 400 dairy farms. There were three important reasons why there were so many dairy farms: 1) the land was excellent for growing feed for the cows 2) the landscape was mostly rolling hills, which were better for grazing cows than large scale monocropping and 3) there was a large market for the milk in nearby Washington D.C. (and a railroad line facilitated the process of shipping the milk in great quantities). The book also included a community by community list of the names of many of the farms, which provided an opportunity for me to ask people to see what farms they remembered.
Readers may be wondering now: how many of the dairy farms are still there? The answer may be difficult to believe: just one. Some of the reasons for this unprecedented transition from one way of life to another very different way of life: 1) expansion of housing developments and associated infrastructure from Washington D.C. outwards created many jobs which made it possible for people to make more money while working less hours 2) the above mentioned expansion causes parcels of land to increase in value 3) the combination of higher costs without a corresponding higher income left many dairy farmers with no choice but to change to another way of earning a living.
This unprecedented transition was, in part, made possible because in the last 60 years technology and energy cost accounting concepts have made it possible for energy costs to be very low in comparison with the perceived benefits. Recently, however, there are an increasing number of people with expertise associated with energy production who feel that energy costs were artificially low in the past, in relation to the actual costs associated with ecological sustainability (for some specific evidence of this, see references to “ecological footprints” in a document titled “1000Communities2”, which I wrote, at http://ipcri.net/images/1000Communities2.pdf. Furthermore, much of what we thought were positive outcomes of an energy intensive infrastructure do not seem to be serving us as well as we thought they might. As just one example of such a "perceived benefits vs. real benefits" view, I would suggest that 75% of the people who still remember what a farming community was like when much of the work was done by hand will say that it was a good life then, but they are not so sure about what is going on now… even though many of them worked 12 hour days then, and it was hard work. Are we really so sure about where we are going?
My feeling, expressed by the “1000Communities2” proposal (and in a number of shorter descriptions of the proposal—see the Fall, 2008 issue of The IPCR Journal/Newsletter at http://ipcri.net/images/The-IPCR-Journal-Newsletter-Fall-2008-B.pdf, is that more and more people, in more and more parts of the world, are coming to the conclusion that all of us have important responsibilities associated with resolving a significant number of very serious challenges in the years ahead. I also believe that overcoming these challenges will require problem solving on a scale most of us have never known before. I also believe there are a growing number of people who believe that there will need to be much more locally produced food in the future than there is now.
In the context of this particular “journal entry”, I would like to identify some of the articles and excerpts from publications which have convinced me that there will be much more locally produced food in our future. Since this is really an informal “journal entry”, I will simply list these resources, without any commentary. Some readers may already be familiar with these sources. Others may find some very interesting reading, looking into the complete texts of the excerpts referred to here. The goal of a “journal entry” like this, as in the goal of the “1000Communities2” proposal, is to encourage a more comprehensive assessment, by each and every one of us, on the subject of 1) are we really well informed about the challenges ahead? 2) are we really as well prepared as we would like to be to meet and overcome the challenges ahead? I encourage readers to share their thoughts: a) on whether they also believe there will be more locally produced food in the future b) on whether what they understand as “the good life” includes a large percentage of people being able to earn a living producing food—and to share whatever other comments or experiences arise from considering the thoughts and resources shared here.
In the Spirit of Sharing and Learning,
Some Resources Related to the Likelihood of More Locally Produced Food:
1) From “The View from Oils Peak” by Richard Heinberg at http://www.richardheinberg.com/museletter/184
“Agriculture: Here there are two primary categories of strategies:
a) Maximize local production of food in order to reduce the vulnerability implied by a fossil-fuel based food delivery system
b) Promote forms of agriculture that rely on fewer fossil-fuel inputs
“While efforts along these lines require support at the national level, some local polices could be extremely helpful, including the promotion of farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture; promotion of gardening, including community gardens, rooftop gardens, and school gardens; and the favoring of local and organic production over conventional food for school food programs and other purposes that are under the control or influence of government.”
2) From “Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) Primer” by Adam Grubb at http://www.eatthesuburbs.org/edap-primer/
“The phrase energy descent was first used by Australian permaculture co-orginator David Holmgren. He wrote in 2003 that ‘I use the term ‘descent’ as the least loaded word that honestly conveys the inevitable, radical reduction of material consumption and/or human numbers that will characterise the declining decades and centuries of fossil fuel abundance and availability.’”
3) From “Energy and Permaculture” by David Holmgren at http://www.permacultureactivist.net/Holmgren/holmgren.htm
“The transition from an unsustainable fossil fuel-based economy back to a solar-based (agriculture and forestry) economy will involve the application of the embodied energy that we inherit from industrial culture: This embodied energy is contained within a vast array of things, infrastructure, cultural processes and ideas, mostly inappropriately configured for the "solar" economy. It is the task of our age to take this great wealth, reconfigure and apply it to the development of sustainable systems.”
4) From the FAO Newsroom section of The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations (FAO) website. In the “Focus on the Issues” subsection, see “High-level conference on
world food security…”, and then see “Conference News” (6/6/2008). Specific article “Food
Summit Calls for More Investment in Agriculture” (paragraphs 1, 2, and 9) (at
“The Summit on soaring food prices, convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) (June 3-5, 2008), has concluded with the adoption by acclamation of a declaration calling
on the international community to increase assistance for developing countries, in particular the
least developed countries and those that are most negatively affected by high food prices.
“’There is an urgent need to help developing countries and countries in transition expand
agriculture and food production, and to increase investment in agriculture, agribusiness and rural
development, from both public and private sources,’ according to the declaration.”
….“On climate change, the Declaration said: ‘It is essential to address (the) question of how to
increase the resilience of present food production systems to challenges posed by climate
change... We urge governments to assign appropriate priority to the agriculture, forestry and
fisheries sectors, in order to create opportunities to enable the world’s smallholder farmers and
fishers, including indigenous people, in particular vulnerable areas, to participate in, and benefit
from financial mechanisms and investment flows to support climate change adaptation,
mitigation and technology development, transfer and dissemination. We support the
establishment of agricultural systems and sustainable management practices that positively
contribute to the mitigation of climate change and ecological balance.’”
5) From “A History of American Agriculture 1776-1990 (Farmers and the Land)”
(first accessed at the website of the United States Department of Agriculture,
in August, 2001) (currently accessible at www.about.com, in the section titled
“Inventors”-- web address http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blfarm4.htm
% of Total Labor Force working as Farmers, U.S., 1790-1990
1790—Farmers made up about 90% of labor force
1840—Farmers made up about 69% of labor force
1850—Farmers made up about 64% of labor force
1860—Farmers made up about 58% of labor force
1870—Farmers made up about 53% of labor force
1880—Farmers made up about 49% of labor force
1890—Farmers made up about 43% of labor force
1900—Farmers made up about 38% of labor force
1910—Farmers made up about 31% of labor force
1920—Farmers made up about 27% of labor force
1930—Farmers made up about 21% of labor force
1940—Farmers made up about 18% of labor force
1950—Farmers made up about 12.2% of labor force
1960—Farmers made up about 8.3% of labor force
1970—Farmers made up about 4.6% of labor force
1980—Farmers made up about 3.4% of labor force
1990—Farmers made up about 2.6% of labor force
6) From “Letter to the New Education Secretary” by Worldwatch Institute at http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5971
“American workers, managers, and professionals at all levels and in all sectors must understand the foundations of a green economy as represented in leading environmental and sustainability education programs. These foundations call for redesigning the human economy to emulate nature: operating on renewable energy, creating a circular production economy in which the concept of ‘"waste" is eliminated because all waste products are raw materials or nutrients for the industrial economy, and managing human activities in a way that uses natural resources only at the rate that they can self-regenerate (the ideas embodied in sustainable forestry, fishing, and agriculture).”
7) From “Fifty Million Farmers” by Richard Heinberg at http://www.energybulletin.net/node/22584
“One way or another, re-ruralization will be the dominant social trend of the 21st century. Thirty or forty years from now—again, one way or another—we will see a more historically normal ratio of rural to urban population, with the majority once again living in small, farming communities. More food will be produced in cities than is the case today, but cities will be smaller. Millions more people than today will be in the countryside growing food.
“They won’t be doing so the way farmers do it today, and perhaps not the way farmers did it in 1900.
Indeed, we need perhaps to redefine the term farmer. We have come to think of a farmer as someone with 500 acres and a big tractor and other expensive machinery. But this is not what farmers looked like a hundred years ago, and it’s not an accurate picture of most current farmers in less-industrialized countries. Nor does it coincide with what will be needed in the coming decades. We should perhaps start thinking of a farmer as someone with 3 to 50 acres, who uses mostly hand labor and twice a year borrows a small tractor that she or he fuels with ethanol or biodiesel produced on-site.
“How many more farmers are we talking about? Currently the U.S. has three or four million of them, depending on how we define the term.
“Let’s again consider Cuba’s experience: in its transition away from fossil-fueled agriculture, that nation found that it required 15 to 25 percent of its population to become involved in food production. In America in 1900, nearly 40 percent of the population farmed; the current proportion is close to one percent.
“Do the math for yourself. Extrapolated to this country’s future requirements, this implies the need for a minimum of 40 to 50 million additional farmers as oil and gas availability declines. How soon will the need arise? Assuming that the peak of global oil production occurs within the next five years, and that North American natural gas is already in decline, we are looking at a transition that must occur over the next 20 to 30 years, and that must begin approximately now.”
8) From “The Food and Farming Transition” by Richard Heinberg at http://globalpublicmedia.com/museletter_199_the_food_and_farming_transition
“It is reasonable to expect that several million new farmers would be required—a number that is both unimaginable and unmanageable over the short term. These new farmers would have to include a broad mix of people, reflecting the UK’s increasing diversity. Already growing numbers of young adults are becoming organic or biodynamic farmers, and farmers’ markets and CSAs are also springing up across the country. These tentative trends must be supported and encouraged. In addition to Government policies that support sustainable farming systems based on smaller farming units, this will require:
a) Education: Universities and community colleges must quickly develop programs in small-scale ecological farming methods—programs that also include training in other skills that farmers will need, such as in marketing and formulating business plans.
b) Apprenticeships and other forms of direct knowledge transfer will also assist the transition.”
c) Financial Support: Since few if any farms are financially successful the first year or even the second or third, loans and grants will be needed to help farmers get started.
d) A revitalization of farming communities and farming culture: Over the past decades UK rural towns have seen their best and brightest young people flee first to distant colleges and then to cities. Farming communities must be interesting, attractive places if we expect people to inhabit them and for children to want to stay there. “
9) From p. 6 of the Fall, 2008 issue of The IPCR Journal/Newsletter at http://ipcri.net/images/The-IPCR-Journal-Newsletter-Fall-2008-B.pdf
“b) People can, one by one, decide to deliberately focus the way they spend their time, energy, and money so that their actions have positive repercussions on many or all of the action plans which emerge from Community Visioning Initiatives.
c) The result can be that there are countless ‘ways to earn a living’ which contribute to the peacebuilding, community revitalization, and ecological sustainability efforts necessary to overcome the challenges of our times.
“Furthermore, Community Visioning Initiatives can include “Job Fairs” in the final phases of the process, which summarize the knowledge accumulated during the Visioning process.
Here are some excerpts from “Step 12: Summary Presentations and Job Fairs” of the “15 Step” outline (see p. 22-42) provided in the “1000Communities2” proposal:
“Job Fairs will provide a forum for organizations and businesses working in solution oriented fields of activity to describe employment opportunities and future prospects, to discover local talent, to hire qualified prospects, and to build knowledge bases and skill sets for the future.” (from p. 39)
“Special Commentary: By now, there will have been sufficient public discourse for those people with understanding about high level shifts in investment portfolios to have learned something about what directions future shifts will be leaning towards. The job fairs which come at the end of the Community Visioning Initiative process provide opportunities for all key stakeholders in the community (businesses, organizations, institutions, government, etc.) to demonstrate their upgraded awareness—and their interest in the welfare of the community—by offering and facilitating new employment opportunities… and thus helping with a just transition from patterns of investment which in only limited ways represent solutions to prioritized challenges to patterns of investment which in many ways represent solutions to prioritized challenges.” (from p. 39)
“[Note: As mentioned on p. 125, one aspect of this just transition can be that people who do deliberately focus their investments of time, energy, and money towards solutions identified by the Community Visioning Initiative being carried out in their community may receive, as encouragement, local currency. And then such local currency can, in its turn, be redeemed in ways which will be particularly helpful to people transitioning from less solution-oriented employment to more solution-oriented employment.]” (from p. 39)
Concluding Note to Readers: I hope this information has been helpful in some way. Please know I would be happy to respond as soon as I can if you have any questions, comments, etc. (SP)