As recent as yesterday I had a conversation with someone discussing the vast opportunities that local farmers had in supplying New York City with more locally grown food. At least as of September 13 2008, there doesn’t appear to be an abatement of demand or desire for local food….at least on the surface. Problem is that our current food distribution systems doesn’t support actually working with local growers and as the costs of even local transportation–say from farm to farmers market–rise, it may become harder for New Yorkers to get local food because it’ll be harder for local farmers to stay in business. That is unless we have a revolutionary movement–a modern day Boston tea party–where local communities eschew produce brought in from all over the world in favor of the same crops grown right around the corner.
A recent study by The American Farmland Trust suggests that in the Bay Area of San Francisco/Oakland, California that only 0.5% of the total food consumed is sold direct to consumer (e.g., through a farmers market), but that there is more than enough food grown in the region to supply the Bay Area food needs and then some. SO, if I understand the study correctly, that means that 99.5% (or 5.87 million tons of food) is sold through other channels (probably global supermarket chains mostly). According to the study, however:
“It’s impossible to determine precisely how much locally-grown food [~20 million tons] is consumed in the City of San Francisco, or in fact, how much of what is consumed is produced on local farms and ranches,” 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.” [from the American Farmland Trust–www.farmland.org/programs/states/ca/Feature Stories/San-Francisco-Foodshed-Report.asp.
So, if in fact we are to realize all of the benefits of a strong local farm and food economy, then we need a massive shift in how food is transported off of the farm onto the plates of Americans.
In New York’s Hudson Valley, we’re losing farmland annually. Yet, the demand from food savvy New Yorkers for local food is growing. Everyone, Californians and New Yorkers, and everyone in between, alike need to demand that they know where their food comes from. Even if you don’t want to shop at a farmers market, or can’t get to one, ask your whomever is in charge of providing you with food to tell you where it came from, who grew it, how they grew, can you meet the farmer. If they don’t know, then leave. Go somewhere where they can answer those questions.
By demanding that more local food go into local communities we can shift how food moves from farm to table, save farmland, and get a great meal to boot.
For more information, visit the The American Farmland Trust web site: http://www.farmland.org