Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Foodshed

A foodshed is the geographical region where the food for a particular population is produced. Like a watershed it is used to describe how food flows within an area from where it is produced to the place it is consumed. It includes the land where the food is grown, transportation from farm to table and the household it ends up in. A foodshed is a hybrid social and natural concept.

The term foodshed was first used in 1929 by WP Hedden in a book he wrote called "How Great Cities Are Fed".  Hedden defined the foodshed in 1929 as the "dikes and dams" guiding the flow of food from the producer to consumer. He said "that the barriers which guide and control movements of foodstuffs are more economical than physical."

Rochester's foodshed is truly global. Last time I went to the supermarket I was able to buy strawberries from South America, cheese from Europe, garlic from China and butter from Australia. All of these products travel thousands of miles and it is truly a miracle of modern technology that food can be whisked around the world. But even if we can economically ship products around the world, the real question is should we.

Lets contrast Rochester's current trans-global foodshed, to foodsheds in the 19th century that were often only a few miles in diameter and often food for a family was drawn from just a few acres. In the 1800's and before there was an interdependence between the kitchen and the farm. Farmers owned and cared for and improved the land, which could yield a wide variety of  foods and support many farm animals such as chickens (eggs), pigs (bacon) and cows (milk). But these farms were very different than the large monoculture crops grown today. Farmers grew food directly edible by people in this much smaller food shed. People ate seasonally and preserved many foods out of season. Very few foods came from the global marketplace and when they did they were procured in small amounts, such as salt, sugar and spices. Farming, food preparation and local consumption anchored most people in early America to the land.

Depending on a global food chain makes us extremely vulnerable to disruptions. I'm not saying we should go back to brown bread, beans and rice. If we have a healthy vibrant agricultural community who are growing vegetables, fruits and meats with-in a few miles of our homes. Then our foodshed will be far more stable and secure than it is today.

For example, suppose the spinach supply is contaminated by feedlot run off as has happened with the today's national distribution system. We will have 10, no 30 local suppliers who are already in place and as a result we will have no shortages and no issues. An added benefit is the money that flows today towards other regions stays in our community. This is one of the important lessons learned by studying the foodshed concept.

Another example, plants adapt to local conditions. If we grow vegetables adapted to the local area we live in they are far more likely to help us thrive. Pollens that we aren't adapted to and other food allergens from exotic foods from outside the region can be a problem for the consumer. Minerals and other nutrients from local sources are more likely to nourish us. Adapting vegetables to our climate and conditions are both good for the plants, good for the land and good for the eaters. Again a benefit of the small local foodshed.

Finally there is the question of what is sustainable. There are schools of thought that would say that we are using cheap oil and other subsidies to make a global foodshed possible. The technology is wonderful, but it is all dependent on inexpensive energy. For now this doesn't seem to be a problem. The worry is, if we loose the varieties, the knowledge and the infrastructure to sustain ourselves locally we may never get those precious resources back. This is a recipe that we can't afford to loose. A small local foodshed is a good way to preserve and protect our communities.

As a family farm we are committed to preserving these resources, skills and knowledge.

We want to be your farmer.

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