Local Food: Transforming Our Food System

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Photo By Fotolia/princess57
Thousands of ordinary people across the country are launching community-supported agriculture programs, farmers markets and neighborhood gardens — and remaking their communities as they do so.

All across this country, ordinary people are remaking the food system. They’re turning away in droves from industrial agriculture toward sustainable and local alternatives.

Driven by concerns about food safety and quality, as well as disgust with inhumane treatment of livestock, people are queuing up to join community-supported agriculture (CSA) ventures — or to start their own farms. They’re launching farmers markets as well as schoolyard and community gardens by the thousands. And they’re revitalizing communities as they do so, getting to know their neighbors and reinvesting in the places where they live.

Steven McFadden, author of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century, estimates that 6,000 to 6,500 CSA programs are now operating in the United States. Considering that the first two such enterprises were founded in 1986, that’s some significant growth. (To find a CSA program near you, visit Local Harvest.)

Hundreds of beginning farmers are learning their vocation through programs such as Community CROPS (Combining Resources, Opportunities, and People for Sustainability) in Lincoln, Neb., and Farm Beginnings in Illinois, Minnesota and other states. These new farmers are often remarkably creative at finding land to work. Kate Canney, for example, farms two-thirds of an acre spread out over six backyards in her town of Needham, Mass., as well as a 3-acre field that’s part of another farm.

The Edible Schoolyard Project has helped launch more than 2,195 gardens since its creation in 1996. Rooftop gardens are sprouting in many cities, while organizations such as Urban Patchwork, a nonprofit farm network in Austin, Texas, are helping neighborhoods produce quality food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has tracked a 364 percent increase in the number of farmers markets in less than two decades — from 1,755 in 1994 to 8,144 in 2013!

The number of winter farmers markets is skyrocketing, too — the USDA reports a 52 percent rise, from 1,225 in 2011 to 1,864 in 2012. “Winter farmers markets offer additional opportunities for farmers to generate income year-round,” says USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “These investments are a win-win. Farmers have more stability, and consumers have a reliable supply of local food, regardless of the season.”

People who don’t have access to winter markets can turn to delivery services such as Door to Door Organics, which brings organic produce and pantry items to its members’ kitchens.

Local food — and the benefits it brings to communities — isn’t some temporary trend of the foodie elite. It’s driven by economic and environmental concerns, as well as the deep belief that good food, sustainably and humanely produced, should have a place at every table.

We find these positive developments to be exhilarating. The current industrial food system — which has only been around since the end of World War II, after all — must change. Many communities are making impressive progress in building local, sustainable food networks. We’re all for a food system in which everyone wins, from farmer to diner to the little frog in the pond.