This post originally appeared on my blog in the summer of 2011, just after I'd finished my Month of Local Eating (more on that later), and it also appeared on Homegrown.org.
A while back, The Outlaw Farmer asked: Is it possible to feed the world on locally, sustainably grown vegetables without the use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers? Could the earth produce enough “organic” plants to feed 6.92 billion people?
For almost all of human existence, family farms fed the world as a matter of course. Times have changed, though; the population has exploded, fewer households grow their own food. Is it possible to grow enough food to feed the nearly 7 billion people on this planet using sustainable practices?
The answer is yes, but… drastic and immediate change of strategy and perception is required.
The World Watch Institute, a non-profit agency dedicated to promoting an environmentally sustainable society, focused its 2011 State of the World [see my review of the report here] report on the problem of hunger and innovative solutions to solve that problem. In the foreword, Olivier De Schutter writes:
“We live in a world in which we produce more food than ever before and in which the hungry have never been as many.” As it turns out, we are quite adept at producing food, but our delivery system fails on a grand scale.
What happens to that glorious abundance of food? Jonathan Bloom author of American Wasteland, reports that “Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption.” It’s tossed out because it isn’t perfectly round or perfectly red, much of it rots in storage while waiting to be delivered to hungry people, or it rots during transport across continents and oceans. The obvious course correction is to return to a local-food system; in other words, eat it where it’s grown.
State of the World 2011 reports on a number of strategies aimed at eliminating hunger through just this sort of local strategy. The One Acre Fund, founded in 2006, provides rural farmers in Kenya and Rwanda with resources to help them grow enough food to feed their families with surplus to sell. “After one growing season, Kenyan farmer Lydia Musila sold enough beans to build herself a new house.” Others sent children to school, purchased livestock, and increased the ability for local growers to become self-reliant.
In Kenya, produce grown by students in school gardens is used for school meals while any surplus is made available for local families. These gardens not only produce healthy and fresh food, but contribute to the success of communities in a myriad of ways: knowledge of gardening skills is passed on to younger generations, awareness of local food is encouraged, entire communities learn sustainable use of soil, and everyone gains respect for the environment.
Some of us grew up with the admonition to clean our plates because children in third world countries were starving, and we wondered how eating lima beans in Illinois or Montana made anything better for kids in countries on the far side of the world. What our mothers really meant was Don’t waste that food; you’re lucky to eat three meals a day because lots of people don’t even eat once a day. As it turns out, the lesson still waits to be learned.
We know the current system does not work. We have examples like Kenya to prove that locally grown crops and sustainable practices can feed the village as well as support a healthy local economy.
How long do we have to watch failure before we change course?
What can we do to transition to a sustainable and workable system of food delivery?
• Break it down to the basic unit — the village, the community, the neighborhood, the backyard.
• Recognize that there is an abundance of food; we don’t need more factory farms or genetically modified organisms; we need more efficient distribution and recognition of of the importance of nutrients over calories.
• Recognize that nothing is more efficient than eating it where it’s grown
• Eliminate spoilage and waste by going local
• Return to traditional organic methods, plus innovative sustainable practices like permaculture and microfarming
• Use biodiversity as insurance against blight
• Remember that smaller amounts of nutrient-dense food nourishes and fills better than excessive consumption of artificial fillers
• Recognize that a significant percentage of food cost is transportation
• Remember that soil is the foundation