Sunday, October 16, 2011

Local Organic Food IS Clean Technology

In honor of World Food Day, October 16th, a few words about the technology of food.

In production systems, efficiency increases with scale.  Or does it?  Has the massive scale of modern American agriculture led to choices that increase efficiency?

Ninety percent of the fresh vegetables eaten in the US are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

The average American dinner travels 1,500 miles before its eaten.

This transportation-intensive food system is possible only through the use of large quantities of fuels.  Feeding one American for a year now uses over 400 gallons of fossil fuels.

And while dependence on transportation is a big problem in our inefficient US food economy, the biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage is overuse of chemicals. As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides.

Buying locally-produced food immediately begins to eliminate waste, and supporting sustainable farming practices further benefits local communities by protecting local resources of soil, water, and air quality.

For many, the most appealing thing about buying local is that dollars spent on local food sales are often transformed into local jobs, as study after study demonstrates:
  • A U.S. Department of Agriculture study in North Carolina found that if  individuals spent just 10 percent, or $1.05 per day, of their existing food dollars on local foods, an additional $3.5 billion would be available in the local economy.
  • A study in Oregon schools found that allocating just seven cents per school lunch to the purchase of Oregon-grown food not only served to support Oregon farms, but reverberated into 401 of the state's 409 economic sectors. 

And for those who haven't shopped their local farmers market lately, know that even mega-giant retailer Wal-Mart recognizes the need to change their practices and source more local and sustainable food products.

Wal-Mart's new global commitment to sustainable agriculture pledges to support farmers and their communities by selling $1 billion worth of food from one million small and medium farmers who will be trained in sustainability practices. This move will effectively double the amount of locally-grown food they sell in the US, while increasing revenue to smaller farmers by 10-15%.

Can we depend on the big retailers to fix our wasteful ways?  Better stop by your local farmers market, just in case.  Local organically-grown food isn't just a great economic idea, its delicious.

Happy World Food Day.


  1. Thanks Steve! As a die-hard local food advocate, and founding director of a non-profit devoted to supporting local family farms in my community, I appreciate your facts based approach to telling the story of our modern food system.

  2. Thanks for your post Steve. The stars aligned yesterday and my first ever delivery of locally grow beef was delivered to Bainbridge Island. The fact that it occurred on World Food Day feels to me like a sign that the local food movement is gaining traction. For anyone who is interested

  3. This is a very informative post. These food facts and figures are pretty shocking. I better go do my part by heading out to the local farmer's market today.