Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ultra-local food: the proximity principle

 The world is going urban

Demographic change across the globe will also force a change in how we think about our food supply. According to a study published by the World Health Organization, for the first time in history, more people live in cities than in the countryside. Every year the number of urban residents across the globe is increasing by a jaw-dropping 60 million.

Although the U.S. has an urban growth rate that is lower than in the developing world, every year one million acres in the U.S. are lost to cultivation due to urbanization, suburban sprawl, expanding transportation networks, and industrial expansion.  The future is clear. More people clustered in cities farther from food sources, and fewer families growing their own food as they leave the land for city dwelling.  As cities grow to make room for an ever-increasing population, fertile land is gobbled up by urban sprawl.  Add to the mix escalating fuel costs and environmental degradation, and you have a perfect storm that demands radical change—the necessity for a more sustainable model.

 The imperative for local food

The growth of farmers’ markets nationwide is proof of widespread support for local sourcing.  In 1970, there were 340 farmers’ markets.  Today the number is 7,175 and growing. Consumers are buying at local markets because they’re finding that locally produced food in season is similar or lower in cost than supermarket fare. The local carrot—harvested within 100 miles of consumption—beats out the industrially farmed carrot not just in lower-transportation costs but even more importantly in taste and food value.  Recent nutritional studies confirm that fresh foods retain more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Although local food production represents less than 1 percent of total food production in the U.S., it’s growing at an annual rate of about 10 percent.  In 2002, locally grown food was worth $4 billion.  This year, it is estimated that locally grown food could top out at $7 billion.  And those billions are vital to sustaining local communities as local-food dollars flow directly back into the local economy.

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