My First Nibble: Sustainable Agriculture

I am completely ignorant.  That is, on topics of farming, food security and community supported agriculture.  But I am interested!  Today I had my first taste, and I think I'll be coming back for seconds.
The following provides my hastily jotted notes from the lunch seminar I attended today.  As someone with no background in the sustainable agriculture movement, I found the topic fascinating.  New vocabulary, new ideas, and a peek at a whole culture that is sweeping America.  Don't judge me for my ignorance as I proceed to share my thoughts and scribbles.

John Carroll, Professor of Environmental Conservation, Univ. of New Hampshire
Pastures of Plenty: The Future of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Conservation in New England.
Hosted by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University
Carroll started his lecture with two quotes.
"Agriculture is going to come back to the center of the American way of life in a way that we couldn't imagine."--James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

"Agriculture is the first victim of peak oil."--Kenneth Deffeyes, Beyond Hubbert's Peak: The End of Oil.

New England used to be an agricultural region, until grazing declined and ended in the 1960s.  However grazing will be the centerpiece for food security in this region.  (err.. which states are New England?  NE: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Thank you,

The Social Movement for Local Foods
1. The Explosion of Farmers Markets. (oh yeah!, I have noticed this.)
This is not wholesale markets, like Haymarket.  (*shock* Oh no, I like Haymarket!)  This is the direct interaction between farmers and consumers.  Farmers markets provide a substantial transfer of revenue to the farmer.  For the economists, this poses endless frustration.  Economists cannot measure exactly how much money is exchanged at farmers markets, nor how much food it produces.
2. The Rise of Gardening.
This includes home gardens, community gardens, and urban gardens.  Community Supported Agriculture, CSA.

3. Livestock Revolution.
Particularly chickens.  Surprisingly, urban areas may be the forefront for this increasingly widespread practice.  Did you know Arlington passed a  law allowing 6 chickens per household? (Arlington is a town 6 miles northwest of Boston.  Population 42,389 as of 2000).

Benefits of Local Food
1. Food Security
Currently diesel powered trucks rely on the deteriorating infrastructure of highways and roads to deliver foods from long distances.  Quality produce may travel over 3,000 miles from California (yay, CA!), and we are increasingly transporting food from China as well.  Local foods can avoid these transportation insecurities.

2. Fresh
Local food is fresh, and fresh food is nutritious.  Yes, fresh food is usually more expensive.  Currently Americans spend about 9% of their income on food.  What if we were willing to spend 20% of our income on food?  In Europe they spend 18-23%.  If we were willing to invest in food, we would not have a problem with farmers markets or CSA prices.  (Hmm good point.  Although right now I am still a grad student.  Meaning, no income!)

How does New England become locally sustainable?
1. Pastures.
New England must get back to grazing, also called "grass farming."  Vermont leads the region with their Grass Farmer's Association.
2. Intensive Rotational Grazing
This type of farming requires an intimacy between the farmer and the land.  No absentee farmers. 
3. Biointensive Agriculture.
(This point went way over my head.  oops!)
I am happily shopping and munching at my local Trader Joe's and Shaws market, while all around me the currents of a social movement called "Local Food" ebbs stronger.  I want to learn more.  As a future dietitian, I must learn more.  I need to prepare for the day when the values of sustainable agriculture and the values of nutrition intermingle and meet.  Oh wait; that date has already passed.


Anonymous said...

i like this post!

Jeffery Thorp said...

Nice job Rachel,
I think you would really like this video by Mark Bittman of the New York Times. Let me know what you think.


ps. Thanks for visiting my site and for the nice comment.

Rachel said...

Jeff, thanks for the comment! I'm in the library now (with no headphones) but I'll check out the video as soon as I get home. thanks!

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Disclaimer. I am not a Registered Dietitian yet. I provide nutrition information intended for the general public, not for the treatment of a specific medical condition. I try to use scientific research and reliable sources when forming my opinions and messages.
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