How do we feed the world?

By Bartlett Durand

The rap on organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the growing (over)population of the planet. I believe that is a false argument, however, as it assumes the present aggregation and distribution model and cheap chemical/petroleum inputs remains intact. What if we blow up that model and start over?

Oil Rig
The one argument against organic (or any form of “sustainable”) agriculture that I hear from people time and again is that it can’t feed the world. Think about that for a second. Up until ~ 1940, ALL agriculture would be “organic” under today’s definitions. So the issue is not the type of agriculture but something else. One is population. Seven Billion People is a lot of mouths to feed. The other issue raised is cost. So how do you feed 7,000,000,000 “cheaply”?

I firmly believe that we cannot continue under the current model. Forget the potential crash of the international food distribution system if/when oil becomes scarce. Forget for a moment the potential for massive crop destruction by pest/disease with the monoculture, bio-engineered crops used throughout the world. The simple fact is that the amount of energy, space, logistics, and time required to aggregate all that food from disparate farms into centralized warehouses, then ship them back out to disparate retail outlets and restaurants, is silly and unsustainable. Yes, it may be an “efficient use of capital,” but it doesn’t make sense for nutrition, resilience, or community economics.

So what is the alternative? How about a DECENTRALIZATION of our food system. I am a big proponent of regional food systems, but even that can be taken too far with big centralized/concentrated warehouses. I like the small town butcher, the farmers’ markets, and the backyard gardens as the model to adopt. Check out Sweetwater Organics  and Will Allen’s Growing Power for examples. It will knock your socks off.

If everyone in the world was involved in some small way in raising food, we would make great strides in “feeding the world”. Whether it is the backyard chickens providing your eggs (and stew hens), the goats grazing city byways, sprouts in the kitchen window, or even the wild foragers, everyone can do something about their own food supply. With a direct connection to our food, we can then make better choices about which food systems, growers, and delivery methods we want to build.

Personally, I adore my CSA Harmony Valley Farm, for those who want to know), my butcher Black Earth Meats, and my food coop (Willy Street Coop). These are deliberate choices made for quality of the food and the manner of delivery—NOT based on price or convenience. And those choices all stem from a direct connection with my family’s own food production. So go ahead, get your hands a little dirty, investigate a little more, and jump in. Find more info here at Red Meat Market. You too can be a farmer. Maybe you won’t feed the world, but you can change it.