Why grow local?

Why local food?

Centralizing food production may have once made sense as a strategy for feeding large numbers of people efficiently — and at low cost. Creating multi-acre farms that focus on single crops — and ranches that fit as many cattle, chickens, pigs, and other animals into as small an area possible to produce the greatest amount to eat — seems like a reasonable approach if feeding large numbers of people is our goal. And implementing that approach is far easier if we look at animals and plants as individual products being managed in a controlled “factory” environment.

Once we isolate types of animals and plants from the rest of the ecosystem and put them in a factory, however, we have to supply what they’re now not getting from the environment. For instance, where once they would have developed resistance to local pests and diseases or failed to thrive, we now have to kill the pests and vaccinate against disease for them. Where once they would have gotten the nutrients they need from the land and soil, we now have to provide food and soil amendments for them. All these changes over time lead to increased costs and reduced efficiency — undermining our original goal.

In addition to added costs and less efficiency, increased dependence on outside intervention leads to decreased individual resilience. Weaker strains that would not have survived to reproduce now do. Over time this results in a less-healthy overall population — even when breeding is carefully managed. We’re now recognizing that while centralized food production was once a cost-effective way to provide reasonably healthy food,  it’s becoming more expensive, less efficient, and less healthy.

Letting plants and animals revert to some natural state from which each of us must then rely on hunting and foraging for our food as our pre-agricultural ancestors did is not a sustainable solution for feeding the numbers of people we have on the planet today. We are part of the ecosystem, and we have a hand in shaping it. However, we can shape it more smartly than we have been with big agribusiness and factory farming.

What can you do?

Localizing food production and adapting it to each environment is a step in the right direction. Each of us can do our part. I started growing my own vegetables, and soon will be adding bees so I have healthy pollinators (with honey as a side benefit), and raising animals for fertilization and food. Getting to this point for me was part of a 10-year plan. Knowing what I know now, though, I would have gotten started sooner. Looking back, here are some things I might have considered doing earlier:

  • Planting a few varieties of tomatoes and peppers in patio containers (ideally non-GMO, open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds to start). See which ones produce best. Save seeds from those varieties (get them from a mature tomato or pepper, rinse the seeds off, and dry them). Plant them again. Repeat for the ones that did well. Share the successful seeds with others in the area and ask them to do the same. Over time I’d have learned which are best adapted to the local environment.
  • Volunteering at a community garden. Some cities have community gardens. Checking local schools as well.
  • Starting with just a few vegetables in a mini garden plot. Getting educated about what kind of soil the vegetables like. Picking up a soil tester online and test the soil. Adding amendments to the soil as needed to provide a healthy growing environment for the plants.
  • Connecting with people who are doing something I might consider doing, but am not sure yet. Attending a local beekeepers meeting and let them know I’m just researching. Going to a local garden meetup. Taking an online class about soil building, raising chickens, or saving seeds. Seeing what resonates with me most, and taking the next steps to do that.

Building local food resilience will become increasingly important as the climate goes through a period of change. Areas that were once good for growing apples might now be good for growing peaches. Big agribusiness may not be nimble enough to adapt to these changes on such a large scale due to practical and economic constraints. As small-scale local growers you and I have a better chance of adapting to change and ensuring we have healthy food to eat for ourselves and our families in the near future.

© 2024 Ise Lund