By Emma Grace Fairchild:
We are in an unusual and unfortunate circumstance in terms of our global food supply. There is a contradiction of rising malnutrition and hunger when obesity and diet related diseases are increasing at the same time. This is happening not only in Western countries but also around the world. Contributing to this reality are countless factors, from climate change to and more. Individuals and organizations around the world are considering how to best approach the way we grow and supply food.
There is enough food grown in the world to feed all of its inhabitants, but managing and distributing all of these resources often falls short of that goal. Given the estimated 795 million undernourished people in the world, we can see that sufficient global production does not guarantee appropriate distribution and access. Acute cases of hunger (for example, famine caused by war or drought) are poorly handled and result in millions of unnecessary deaths. (Read more about how we still experience famine around the globe .)
Our current system of industrial agriculture doesn’t have the greatest reputation in terms of environmental impact or overall efficiency. The widespread use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides cause runoff from fields into the surrounding environment, which in turn pollutes surrounding habitats. Water loss from sprinklers and evaporation, and a large carbon footprint from long distance transportation and distribution also have a lot of environmental impact. Factory farming and feedlots pollute ground and surface water from poorly managed manure, and come with a host of ethical issues surrounding animal welfare. You can read more in-depth commentary about these issues at .
Solutions such as genetic modification of plant crops and livestock come with their own issues. These are relatively new industries, and there are uncertain outcomes when we consider long-term consumption by humans, and the effects on both our health and the health of nature. Additionally, corporations dominating the market have come under scrutiny for their ethics. You can read more about some issues surrounding genetically modified foods and the politics around it at the .
Approaching food production from a smaller scale and a local level offers solutions to many problems we are currently facing. One hundred years ago, around 60% of the population practiced agriculture; now, less than 1% grows crops or raises livestock. Practices possible with small scale farming, such as crop and grazing rotations, polyculture, and choosing heirloom varieties support the local environment and provide a variety of flavors and nutrient rich foods. Small farmers don’t need to transport their foods to holding sites and then distribute them around the country because they can focus on providing food for their own community. This, in turn, could keep the economy of a village, town or city much more localized as local consumers pay local farmers for their goods. (This can be seen in action through programs such as .) Additionally, crops and livestock native to that area would take precedence over other varieties, as they are more adapted to grow and thrive in their local environment.
Small scale farming offers multifaceted benefits: fewer carbon emissions, reduction in deforestation and soil depletion, and the potential to build local economy, for example. However, these variables are countered by the downsides. For one, it is highly labor intensive and not economically viable — most small farmers barely make enough to cover costs. In turn, it is difficult to enter the retail market when competition is monopolized by major agricultural conglomerates. These issues, among others, have created a deficit of new farmers, especially in Europe and the U.S.
When we consider feeding the global population in the coming years, one could predict that localized agriculture will play a big role — but maybe not the only one. There definitely are things we all can do to see changes like this happen, however. We can begin by supporting the local farmers in our community as much as possible. We can go to the farmers’ markets, buy a meat share, or Additionally, we can consider giving gifts that support organizations or small business that support local farmers and artisans! Have you had any experience with the benefits or downsides to small scale agriculture?