In Massachusetts, only 15 percent of the food consumed by residents is produced in the state. 15 percent! If there were a world food crisis (or just California turning into a dust bowl), we would be in serious trouble. The same is true for many states, particularly in the colder climates.
How do we go about feeding locals in any climate? How do cities pile vegetable patches on top of its citizens? We have a few ideas:
Reassess Land Use
In Seattle, they’re planting edibles in city parks and opening them up to whoever would like to harvest the produce. Many municipalities are allowing chickens on a small scale. In Boston, the city owns 26 parcels of land that could be developed into micro-farms. New York City successfully developed several rooftop gardens. Let’s start looking at ways we can expand local food production with land already available.
While land is important, think vertical as well. Herbs and lettuce are easy to grow in a vertical format. Growing things on sides of buildings not only produces food, but also improves the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the building and provides insulation in cooler months and heat-dissipation in hotter months. This is an easy win that can be done casually on urban balconies or more formally through urban planning.
Soil free agriculture is a huge area for growth. Hydroponics can reduce the use of pesticides, grow food faster, and easily nestle into urban areas. If you add the vertical element, you can get a lot more food out of less square footage.
Extend the Growing Season
New Englanders are pretty excited about this, using greenhouses, hoop houses, cold frames, indoor growing techniques; there are myriads of ways to extend the growing season. No matter what we’re not growing vegetables outside in February but there are ways to prolong the availability of fresh produce without dialing up California.
An urban farm in Springfield, MA generated 6,000 pounds of produce on less than an acre of land last year. Fields don’t need to lay fallow if farmers take the time to rotate crops thoughtfully, amend the soil, and use other strategies. Farmers can also use a field more than once per season, replacing an early strawberry crop with perhaps lettuce. Sophisticated farming techniques will yield a much higher gross per acre than we’ve done in the past.
There are some environmental issues still to work out, and we’re not talking about shoving millions of chickens into a horrific environment. But hydroponics sometimes outdoors, and sometimes in a warehouse can be beneficial for local food supply. Another example is the SKY8 shrimp farm that raises sustainable shrimp in a warehouse in a Boston suburb. They pump in Atlantic seawater and raise the shrimp in large tanks ready for wholesalers in the local economy.
Seafood environmentalist, Barton Seaver, thinks the best way to raise seafood sustainably is through aquaculture, creating vertical farming columns in nearby waterways to provide locally-based seafood. He also thinks the best way to eat seafood sustainable is simply to ask, “what’s the catch of the day. We can develop local fisheries in the ocean (or how about trout in a lake) to feed the population. If done with sustainability in mind it doesn’t have to be destructive to the local environments and, in fact, can improve them.
So much technology is already available to increase local food supplies. Let’s be clever and put these ideas to work and create regionalized, sustainable systems that produce super tasty food!
What do you think? Do you think we should shift our farming practices to improve the local food supply?