Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why local food is important and local food supply chain reading list

Locally grown food is a very small deal in proportion to the entire food network. I have read claims that it is less than three-tenths of one percent (0.03%). Think about it: that is virtually nothing. Since we are on the producing end of this statistic, I think that it may be close to accurate.

In broad sweeps, our food network has grown out of the cattle drives from Texas to Chicago that became significant then necessary after the American Civil War. Trains brought the next big change, along with more cost-effective canning technologies in 1880s. In the late 1940s and well into the 1950s, mobile electric refrigeration for trains and trucks made shipping fresh fruits and vegetables over thousands of miles possible. This immediately harmed the canning industry, but was a huge benefit to trucking companies that became part of the grocery chains. Finally in the 1960s and 1970s came refrigerated cargo containers that could be quickly transferred from ships to trains to trucks. I have yet to see and explanation of how air transit works in this economically. This is the history of the large bones of the skeleton of our food supply chain.

The importance of local food

What happens if/when our food supply chain fails as have significant parts of our financial system, which in turn brought down the auto industry? What happens if the food chain equivalent of Merrill Lynch, AIG, or General Motors fails? First off, people starve to death. There will be food riots just as there have been in other parts of the world.

Some would like to say that our food supply chain is too large to fail, a statement that has been bandied about concerning the banks and stockbrokers. That is just wishful thinking. Perhaps these systems are too large to survive. It is likely that they became unsustainable due to their size. We can adjust to less money and credit, fewer cars, even fewer jobs, but we cannot adjust to significantly less food.

We may be fat because we eat 500 or more calories a day in excess of what we should, but those calories are not usually from the basic life-giving food; usually they are excess fat calories. However, that is immaterial when one considers that a 50% failure of our food chain system would result in too little food to produce adequate calories to keep most all of our population from starvation, and one-third to one-half from starving to death. If you think this is trivial, consider yourself and your two closest relatives or friends, and consider a life where only two of you survive, at best. This is why local food in significant amounts is important.

Not so light reading on building a local food supply chain

There are many articles on how to produce local food. Here is a list of a "small" selection. Just this list will give you an appreciation of how far we have to go. When you read some of these articles, you will learn what you can do to become part of the local food chain. This is provided by the USDA from the online source the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center National Agricultural Library, USDA, ARS


Patricia Harrington said...


I hadn't thought about the/our "food chain." And do appreciate your commentary. After this will slip over to the site link you gave. I do try to buy local as much as possible. Do know about and have supported sustainable local food growers. Well written and thoughtful piece. Thanks for the info and hope all is well with you.

Pat Harrington

mjholt said...

Thanks Pat. I hope that you will eat locally for Thanksgiving. Hope to see you soon.