What does our local food economy need?

Recently the local politics and culture blog, brokensidewalk.com asked me to respond to the following writing prompt:

Louisville is crazy about food—whether that’s growing it, buying it, sharing it, or eating it. Many initiatives in the city are currently touching on the local food scene—the planned West End Food Porturban farmingnew restaurants claiming local food usefarmers markets, new venues selling local produce and meats, and even an emerging interest in food tech. The city has made “local food” a major component in its economic planning and development initiatives.

Given all this attention around Louisville and food, it’s natural to ask what, “what next?” What are the challenges still facing the city around local food production/distribution/consumption? What are we going to have to face next? How can Louisville overcome these challenges and become a food leader nationally?

The blog also asked for responses from two other (much better known and well seasoned) farmers: Adam Barr and Ivor Chodkowski. Our answers were each quite different. But I think that when taken together they provided a diverse picture of the problems and possible solutions for small, ecologically friendly farming to take off as it needs to in our area and beyond. If I were to summarize the article, Ivor made lucid points about some entrenched federal ag policies perverting the market against those who want to do the right things on their farms. Adam spoke about how to build the infrastructure, relationships and market necessary to build our local food shed in a way that supports the kind of farms we want to see around us. And I spoke about the need for people (eaters) to understand ecology, and use this basic knowledge to connect the way they see their food directly to the way they see the land base from which their lives are sustained. It’s not terribly long. Feel free to read the whole thing here: http://brokensidewalk.com/2015/farmers-and-local-food/

In my portion of the article I made six points that I believed would change the face of the land and farms, if eaters understood them and demanded food that was produced in light of those realities:

  • The act of producing food can have the capacity to rapidly degrade, slowly degrade, or regenerate land: above-ground and subterranean ecosystems. There is no current labeling system on your food for this.
  • These ecosystems are the primary resource base upon which human life, sustenance, and flourishing are based. This resource base is renewable, but finite.
  • Land will follow a natural progression, aided or unaided, from simple (bare, denuded soil) to complex (mature forest, prairie, marsh etc). And humans can obtain food, fuel, fiber, and medicine from every stage in this progression.
  • All humans (and all animals humans eat) obtain their calories from plants which live less than one year (annuals) and plants which live more than one year (perennials).
  • The annual tilling of land, or the use of herbicides in place of tillage, resets the ecological succession of land back to the least healthy, most carbon emitting, hardest to maintain, and least complex form of ecosystem possible in that place.
  • The use of both animals and plants in the restoration of land towards more complex ecosystems in a way that resembles natural patterns is the best tool we have to regenerate land, feed humans nutritiously, sequester carbon, build ecological diversity, and continue to thrive into the future. 

rhubarb, one of the first perennials we grew on our farm

Later on in the article, I said that I would spend my whole life delving deeper into understanding these things. I find it fascinating, and it is my passion and my profession. So, my ambitious goal is to produce six blog posts, delving further into each of these six points: because it’s my blog, and it’s a good way to think out loud about my progressing thoughts on how I farm (now and in the future), and why I farm the way I do.

Let me know what you think, as I attempt to delve into each of these six points!

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